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‘Fertile land forcibly acquired from farmers for Andhra Pradesh’s new capital’

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By Sapan Kapoor

Prime Minister Narendra Modi today laid the foundation stone of Amaravati, the new capital of divided Andhra Pradesh amidst serious allegations that more than 30,000 acres of fertile agricultural land has been forcibly acquired from the state’s poor farmers for this purpose.

Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu has promised that Amaravati will be a world-class and ‘people’s capital’. While the government of Singapore has prepared a masterplan for the capital, Naidu is seeking Japan’s partnership in building the city.

The state government claims that farmers have voluntarily donated over 30,000 acres of land for the building the capital. Therefore, some of the farmers were also felicitated at the foundation stone laying ceremony.

However, that is only half of the story. Concerned citizens, farmers and civil society activists unhappy and distraught about the manner in which land has been literally usurped for the capital have been running pillar to post, writing letters to powers-that-be and moving courts of law claiming that the state government has violated environmental norms, exposing the criminal nexus between the government and real estate developers.

EAS Sarma, former Secretary, Economic Affairs, Ministry of Finance, government of India, who is now an activist, in an exclusive interview told NewsGram that rules were not followed while acquiring fertile agricultural land and wetlands for the new capital – nearly 40% of the total area of 33,000 acres – where some 100 varieties of grains, vegetables and fruits are cultivated.

Furthermore, in a letter dated October 11, 2015 to Mr Nripendra Misra, Principal Secretary to Prime Minister Narendra Modi,  Sarma alleged that the Andhra Pradesh government was violating an interim order issued on October 10 by the National Green Tribunal restraining it from going ahead with the new city project until it obtains statutory environmental clearances.

“The capital city project, as being thought of by Shri Chandrababu Naidu, will disrupt agriculture over large stretches of fertile land, adversely affect the lives of lakhs of farmers, agricultural workers, artisans and agri-based economy, like never before. The project is yet to be subject to a statutory environment impact appraisal.”

Sarma added: “The National Green Tribunal (NGT), in an interim order dated 10-10-2015, appears to have expressed concern at the fact that the State authorities are yet to survey the area and assess its agricultural resources and directed them not to proceed with any activity that is likely to disturb agriculture and the local environment. It is ironic that the Chief Minister is more eager to invite foreign dignataries to the inaugural function than trying to find out the value of the agricultural resources and human capital that will be foregone as a result of the project.

“Against this background, it will be highly imprudent on the part of the PM to agree to affix his stamp of approval for the project by laying the foundation stone, as such an act is likely to make a mockery of the law of the land and its statutory institutions, especially at a time when India is pronouncing to the world its resolve to join hands in poptecting the environment.”

Sarma told NewsGram that Under Section 6 of the AP Reorganisation Act, the Union Home Ministry appointed the Sivaramakrishnan Committee to suggest alternate locations that minimise disruption to agriculture and environment, cause least displacement of people, which is least expensive. The State summarily rejected the report and unilaterally decided to locate the capital in the Guntur region.

“Apparently, it is a statutory violation,” he said.

Moreover, according to Sarma, the Capital City Project occupies more than 30,000 acres of fertile agricultural land. There are 30 to 40 thousand farmers, agricultural workers, artisans dependent on this land. More than 120 different kinds of crops are raised over these lands. Diversion of this land for constructing buildings for a capital city will destroy agriculture and adversely impact food security.

The project involves several thousands of crores of rupees of expenditure. AP’s budget is already stressed and assistance from the Centre cannot be significant. The expenditure on the project has increased at every stage. It appears that a large portion of the capital land is subject to floods and its level needs to be raised. To provide water for the new city, a barrage may have to be constructed on River Krishna, he added.

Sarma accused the State of blatantly committing multiple statutory violations in hurrying through with the project. In addition to violating Section 6 of the AP Reorganisation Act, in the absence of a formal environment appraisal and clearance, it is a violation of the Environment (Protection) Act. As per a Supreme Court order of 2006, no land should be acquired prior to statutory environment clearance.

There are forests within the area which have been flattened, violating the Forest (Conservation) act. There are wetlands which attract the Wetland (Conservation & Management) Rules and they have been violated in the absence of any clearance from the Central Wetlands Regulatory Authority.

In the absence of a public hearing on the basis of a Social Impact Assessment, the 2013 land acquisition law stands violated, he alleged.

The tiller of the soil, Sarma said, has nothing in his/her hands as of now and he is forced to live in false hopes.

“There have been multiple land registrations which, if investigated, will reveal the facts. It is estimated that more than Rs 15,000 crores have already been money-laundered… The procedure prescribed in AP Agricultural Lands (Conversion to Non-Agricultural Purposes) Act, as upheld by the AP High Court has also been violated.”

Sarma further alleged, “The entire drama of the capital city project is being carefully orchestrated by a coterie within the State Cabinet and a few close party workers… Good governance cannot come by setting up air-conditioned concrete buildings. What is urgently called for is transparency in the functioning of the government, a competitive environment, public accountability and devolution of authority.”

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India Begins Its Election Season With Five States

The BJP has sent top leaders to campaign in Chhattisgarh.

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India began on Monday the first of five state elections to be held in coming weeks, important tests for Prime Minister Narendra Modi as he plots a course that he hopes will ensure him victory in a general election due by May.

Voters in the central state of Chhattisgarh went to the polls on Monday to elect representatives for 18 of the state assembly’s 90 seats in a staggered poll complicated by logistical problems and left-wing guerrillas.

The state of about 26 million people has been ruled by Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) since 2003, and he will be hoping to hold on to power.

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“Some unholy people have handed guns to children who should have pens in their hands,” Modi told a rally in the state on Friday, referring to the rag-tag guerrillas battling government forces from forest hideouts. “They’ve finished the lives of our tribal children.”

Hundreds of election workers had to be flown in to remote polling stations by helicopter because of the danger posed by the rebels.

Modi called for voters to back his BJP and its vision of “development for all.”

The final phase of voting in Chhattisgarh, which is known for its coal, iron ore and bauxite reserves, will be on Nov. 20.

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The BJP was the preference of about 43 percent of voters in Chhattisgarh, 7 percentage points ahead of the main opposition Congress party, according to a survey released last week by the Lokniti-Centre for the Study of Developing Societies.

Modi’s other big tests will be in the neighboring central state of Madhya Pradesh, where the BJP is slightly ahead of Congress, according to polls, and in the northwestern state of Rajasthan, where Congress is expected to emerge victorious.

A good performance by the BJP in the elections would help it deflect growing criticism over unemployment and a crisis in the countryside over falling farm prices and wages.

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Elections will also be held for assemblies in Telangana in the south and Mizoram in the northeast.

The BJP has sent top leaders to campaign in Chhattisgarh, including Yogi Adityanath, a firebrand Hindu priest and the BJP chief minister in Uttar Pradesh state.

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Adityanath has been appealing to the BJP’s Hindu-nationalist base and on Sunday accused the opposition of blocking construction of a temple for Hindu god Ram on a disputed site in Uttar Pradesh.

The destruction of a mosque on the site by a Hindu mob in 1992 sparked deadly riots across the country. (VOA)