Explainer: Why Union Minister’s mention of Vizag as A.P.’s capital created a flutter

It kicked up a storm over proposed ‘three capitals’, leading to PIB clarification

The mention of Visakhapatnam as the ‘capital of Andhra Pradesh’ in an annexure to the reply by Petroleum and Natural Gas Minister Hardeep Singh Puri to a question in the Lok Sabha the other day has been felt by many as the Central government’s acceptance of the concept of ‘three capitals’.

The State’s proposed three capital plan was challenged in the High Court by the farmers who contributed to the development of Amaravati by the erstwhile government, with the apprehension that if the capital is shifted to Visakhapatnam in the name of executive capital and, the High Court and allied institutions moved to the ‘judicial capital’ (Kurnool), they stand to lose heavily.

What stoked their fears was a gazette notification issued by the government, in which it specified Kurnool as the headquarters of the offices of Lokayukta and Upa-Lokayukta. Besides, the government said it is looking for a suitable place in Kurnool for establishing the State Human Rights Commission.

PIB’s clarification

Against this backdrop, the Press Information Bureau of India (PIB) issued a clarification on Sunday evening that it (the mention of Vizag as the capital) is to be taken as a ‘reference city’.

The PIB said Visakhapatnam was shown as the capital only in the sense of giving a reference city for the purpose of State levies and duties on the prices of petrol and diesel in a statement made by Mr. Puri in reply to a question posed by MPs Kumbakudi Sudhakaran and Pradyut Bordoloi on the amount of taxes, cess and excise duty collected by the Central government on the petroleum products from March 2020 till date, including the monthly details of collections State-wise, and variations thereof. The Lok Sabha Secretariat is being informed about the amendment to the Minister’s reply.

Conclusions were apparently drawn by a section of the media and those vehemently opposing the shifting of the capital from Amaravati to Visakhapatnam in the name of ‘executive capital’, that the mention of the port city as the capital is a decisive step towards shifting the capital out of Amaravati.

Farmers protesting for 20 months

But the matter is far from over as the issue is pending adjudication by the High Court, which posted over 90 petitions for a final hearing from November 15 even as the protests by thousands of farmers who gave their lands for the development of Amaravati as a greenfield capital completed 20 months.

The genesis

Looking back where it all started, Chief Minister Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy had mooted the idea of ‘three capitals’ soon after coming to power by bagging 151 Assembly seats out of 175 in the 2019 general elections and it evoked a strong criticism from the farmers and opposition parties.

In spite of that, the government passed the enabling pieces of legislation (AP Decentralisation and Inclusive Development of All Regions and AP Capital Region Development Authority Repeal Acts) in 2020 while the Centre disowned any role in the entire episode and even stated its position in an affidavit filed before the High Court.

An expert committee led by retired IAS officer G. Nageswara Rao had earlier vouched for the ‘three capitals’ proposal and it was subsequently endorsed by a high-power committee formed by the government.

Government stand

Mr. Jagan Mohan Reddy has time and again justified the idea of three capitals by saying that his government could not afford to complete the greenfield capital project launched with much hype by his predecessor N. Chandrababu Naidu, due to its shoestring budget, and the development of Visakhapatnam, with its superior infrastructure (mainly maritime and air connectivity) and cosmopolitan culture, as capital of global standards entailed far less financial burden.

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