Friday, June 24, 2016

AP Govt Is Leaving Hyderabad Capital: Why June 27 Has Become Such A Flashpoint For 13,324 Govr Employees?


What prompted Chandrababu Naidu to order his state government to move lock, stock and barrel from the capital city that it has rights over for eight more years?

June 27 is D-Day, as far as the Andhra Pradesh government is concerned. Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu has asked 13,324 employees of the state government Secretariat and various heads of department to shift from Hyderabad to the transitional headquarters at Guntur by this date. They are expected to move to and begin functioning from near Amaravati, the ambitious new capital being built near Guntur and Vijayawada.

Frenetic work is in progress to get four towers sprawling over an area of 10 lakh square feet ready in time to meet the deadline. A new township to accommodate the administrative departments is also getting finishing touches. Following the June 13 order, not just employees, but 750 truckloads of material, over one lakh files, over 1.3 lakh weapons of the state police constabulary and 12,000 vehicles will hit the 272-kilometre long highway between Hyderabad and Guntur-Vijayawada.

But Chief Minister Naidu has a problem on his hands.

Officers of the Indian Administrative Service, Indian Police Service and non-gazetted officers of the Andhra government are unanimously up in arms, unwilling to shift to the new capital region. “We know we have to go to Amaravati one day or the other,” said Ashok Babu, president of the Andhra Pradesh Non-Gazetted Officers’ Association. “But we wanted government to take us only when infrastructure is ready. After all, administration is crucial to any government,” he said.

What’s the hurry?
“What is the hurry in moving to Guntur or Vijayawada when we have Hyderabad for eight more years?” asked one angry senior official on the condition of anonymity. As per the terms of the Andhra Pradesh Reorganisation Act of 2014, Hyderabad would be the shared capital of the two states of Andhra and Telangana for a period of 10 years, starting 2014. “Our children are in schools and colleges in Hyderabad. Many of our parents are ailing and need good healthcare facilities. None of this is available in Guntur or Vijayawada. There are no proper houses for us there. There are not even any recreational activities like multiplexes or malls,” he lamented.

Municipal Administration Minister P Narayana said the government empathises with the employees. “But we want to ensure good administration to the people of Andhra Pradesh from the new capital at any cost,” he said.

Following an inspection of the work at the new capital on June 15, Naidu told journalists that employees had no alternative "but to come to Amaravati and continue the service to people”. He added: “Government is gearing up to provide online administration with cyber grid and employees should extend all support.”
In an earlier interview, Naidu had asked agitating employees to give up their “mad thinking”, while ruling out any more negotiations. “Let them stop telling stories," he said. "No one can dictate terms to my government.”

Treading carefully:
Despite the tough talk, Naidu had actually set up a cabinet panel and doled out various sops and schemes to lure Andhra government staffers to Amaravati. “Don’t quarrel with govt employees,” he is known to tell his colleagues. “Try to win them over.”

Flexible hours of work, even “work from home”, five-day week, 30% hike in house rent allowance and leave to visit families in Hyderabad over weekends are some of the incentives on offer.

A number of special cells too have been set up in various departments. A special cell in the education department is supposed to help employees get admission for their children in schools, colleges and universities in Vijayawada and Guntur. District Collectors of Krishna and Guntur districts have been asked to find suitable accommodation for employees. Special units have also been set up to accommodate single women employees in women’s hostels.

There were around 22,000 employees working in the Andhra Pradesh Secretariat under 55 heads of departments in Hyderabad at the time of bifurcation – almost half of these have chosen to retire, despite of a hike in retirement age from 58 to 60 years. Crucial staff of the chief minister’s office, finance and home departments are already operating from make-shift workstations at Vijayawada and Amaravati.

“With HODs located 300 kilometres away at Hyderabad, it is very difficult to operate and also monitor any welfare programme,” explained an official at the state finance department on the condition of anonymity. “The government is also spending a lot of money on airfare and travel expenses of officers making frequent trips between Hyderabad and Vijayawada. It has become a very costly affair and also cumbersome,” he said.

“It is an inevitable happening,” Municipal Administration Minister Narayana said. “We will move into permanent structures as and when they are ready but will till then keep working and attending day to day affairs from temporary offices at Amaravati.”

Creeping urbanisation:
Vijayawada’s residents too are feeling the pinch of the impending descent of the multitudes of government employees. The bustling little town is home to a population of just about 10 lakh, with urban settlements concentrated within a 20 kilometre radius.

Migrations to the city have increased in the past two years, although there is no official figure of how many have moved in. What is telling is its impact on land prices and urban infrastructure such as roads, housing, schools and traffic. “I used to take a stroll on the Bandar Road after work and enjoy the breeze along the Krishna river, but now it is a concrete jungle and one cannot walk on the crowded roads or go to the river front,” complained G Narayan Rao, a long-time resident of Vijayawada.

Prices have shot up too. “Vijayawada was once popular for its jasmine and sevanthi flowers grown on the banks of the Krishna river,” said Nirmala Pamarthy,a teacher at a government school in Vijayawada. "This has now been taken over for building the capital at Amaravati. Now we have to source our flowers, fruits and vegetables from 100 kilometres away and pay heavy prices."
The initial impact of bifurcation and the subsequent announcement of the capital city of Amaravati, just 33 kilometres from Vijayawada, was on land prices. Prices went through the roof as land sharks descended on the town, buying out large tracts of fertile agricultural land in the hope of selling it to developers at hefty rates a few years later.

“Land prices have been shooting up after declaration of Amaravati as the capital and each acre of land is quoted at Rs 8 crore to 10 crore,” said KV Krishna Rao, a real estate dealer in Vijayawada. "Rentals have increased 20% annually in the past three years." In some parts of Vijaywada, the rental of a small two-bedroom house is now more expensive than in the heart of Hyderabad.

Vast agricultural land around Vijayawada and Guntur have been transformed into residential and commercial zones, depriving farmers, land owners and agricultural labour of a sustainable vocation, said Y Shivaji, former Rajya Sabha MP and an expert on farmers issues. “They will all be on the streets after their last penny [from the sale of their land] vanishes,” he said.

Hoteliers are having a field day as demand far outweighs supply. “We have 60 hotels in Vijayawada which is totally inadequate and we need a minimum of 200 hotels once the government offices move here,” said Ilapuram Raja, president of Vijayawada Hoteliers Association.

Locals are wary of the change. “It will take a minimum of 10 to 20 years for the new capital to come up,” said social activist VS Krishna of the Human Rights Foundation. “Until then, with a huge construction workforce, the influx will crush local values, sentiments and the peaceful semi-rural ambience of Vijayawada and Guntur. There will be an explosion of gambling, liquor, prostitution and mafia activities.”

Politics of relocation:
On June 15, Telangana government employees staged demonstrations at the joint Secretariat of both states in Hyderabad. Slogans of “AP employees, go away to AP” reverberated in the hallowed corridors of the state Secretariat complex. Since bifurcation, the Telangana state is run from four blocks of the sprawling complex, while the state of Andhra occupies five blocks. One library, an election office, a post office and the Pochamma temple are the only shared premises of the two states engaged in a bitter war of words.

Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao has been steadily upping the anti-Andhra sentiment, often in public, asking his Andhra counterpart and staff to leave Hyderabad.

Officials in the Andhra Finance Department say that the reason for Naidu’s haste to move to the new capital is that he does not want to depend for too long on Hyderabad, the capital of bickering sibling Telangana. In fact, in the past year, Naidu has been holding cabinet meetings, review meetings and also legislature party meetings in different cities and towns of Andhra rather than in Hyderabad. Naidu’s haste was evident, especially following the cash-for-votes allegations hurled at him by KCR in June 2015 and the subsequent furore over the tapping of his phones.

TDP insiders say that the party leadership and Naidu’s core team find it tough to operate under the hostile glare and monitoring of the Telangana bureaucracy and police.

As the churn over the setting up of a new capital city continues, Andhra is struggling to find its balance. Caught between administrative hiccups, financial crunch and political tangles, its state government machinery is working hard to unravel the knots. Come June 27, the mayhem will begin. 

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