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Rising metropolis

Print edition : Jul 31, 2009 T+T-
An aerial view of Visakhapatnam city.-K.R. DEEPAK

An aerial view of Visakhapatnam city.-K.R. DEEPAK

Visakhapatnam district, located at the north-eastern corner of Andhra Pradesh, is one of the important places in the State. Vishakapatnam city, once just a fishing village, is now second only to Hyderabad in all respects. Nearly 58 per cent of the districts 58.82 lakh people live in urban areas, most of them in Visakhapatnam city. As much as 42 per cent of the district is under forest area. The hilly forest area, called Visakha Agency, is home to more than five lakh tribal people.

Located between Chennai and Kolkata, Visakhapatnam grew once the port, now one of the best in the country, came into existence in 1933. Some people claim that a large part of the credit for Visakhapatnams growth should go to Lord Mountbatten because it was he who suggested the setting up of a naval facility taking advantage of the natural protection provided by the hills and hillocks.

Visakhapatnam was bombed by the Japanese during the Second World War but escaped without much damage. In 1947, the Eastern Naval Command was established here. The city has a special place in the 1971 India-Pakistan war. A Pakistani submarine, PNS Ghazi, was sunk a few kilometres away from the city on December 4, 1971, and every year the Indian Navy celebrates Vijay Diwas on this day to mark Indias victory over Pakistan. Nearly one lakh people witness the show.

Visakhapatnam is not exactly an El Dorado, but an overwhelming majority of investors are from outside. Most of them have prospered by setting up industries and businesses, both big and small.

The construction of a shipyard by the Scindia Steam Navigation Company in the 1940s, which later became Hindustan Shipyard Limited, kick-started the citys industrial growth. Many industries such as Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Ltd (HPCL) and Coromandel Fertilizers followed, and in the 1980s, another major industry came up after a long and sometimes violent agitation: Visakhapatnam Steel Plant (VSP).

The city is a hub of deep-sea fishing, which fetches a huge amount of foreign exchange. The VSP, HPCL and some other major industries are being expanded, the economic slowdown notwithstanding. The information technology (IT) sector, which was expected to flourish in this second tier city, has almost come to a halt. Recently, a new airport terminal was inaugurated, and international flights are likely to be operated from it very soon.

Visakhapatnam district is rich in Buddhist relics. The district also has many ancient temples, the notable ones being the Sri Varaha Lakshmi Narasimha Swamy temple atop Simhachalam, the Appikonda Sivalayam temple and the Balighattam temple near Narsipatnam.

The district attracts tourists from other parts of the State and from other States. The Visakha Agency is a major tourist attraction, and the popular spots include Araku Valley, Paderu, Anantagiri and Mastyagundam. Also in the Visakha Agency are the Borra Caves, formed a million years ago with limestone and calcite deposits. The hilly area is rich in mineral deposits, and the bauxite here is said to be of a high quality. Also present are rich flora and fauna, including some rare species.

The city and rural areas, too, have many tourist spots. The long beach in Visakhapatnam is a perennial attraction as are Kailasagiri, the VUDA (Visakhapatnam Urban Development Authority) Park, Rushikonda beach, Zoo Park, Kambalakonda, and so on. All have been developed as important tourist spots. The city also boasts a submarine museum, the only one of its kind in Asia. A submarine, INS Kursura, was converted into a museum after it was decommissioned.

The city is an educational hub and home to some old institutions such as Andhra University (established in 1926), the Andhra Medical College (1920), Mrs. A.V.N. College (1828), St. Aloysius Anglo-Indian High School (1847), and St. Josephs School for Girls (1893). Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan was one of the early Vice-Chancellors of Andhra University.

In the past two decades, a number of popular schools and colleges have been established. The Andhra Pradesh University of Law was established this year, and the first deemed university of Andhra Pradesh, GITAM (Gandhi Institute of Technology and Management) University, is also located here. The Indian Maritime University has a campus in the city.

Visakhapatnam is a major medical centre of the region. The King George Hospital, which is more than 150 years old, has served several districts in Andhra Pradesh and neighbouring Orissa for a long time. Now, corporate hospitals have a strong presence in the city. They also cater to patients from neighbouring States.

Visakhapatnam has a rich tradition of sports; many of its footballers, in particular, have gained international and all-India fame. The city also has some good stadiums, such as the ports indoor and outdoor facilities, the Greater Visakhapatnam Municipal Corporation Swarna Bharati indoor stadium and the modern Andhra Cricket Association-Visakhapatnam District Cricket Association (ACA-VDCA) stadium, which has already hosted a couple of one-day internationals and is awaiting Test status.

Visakhapatnam district is a mix of contrasting characteristics. Generally, a district is rich in agriculture or has many industries and, if both are not present, is a tourist attraction or is rich in minerals. Visakhapatnam has all the above characteristics, but the concentration of heavy industries in and around Visakhapatnam city contrasts with the rain-fed, and hence poor-yielding, farm lands in most of the rural area. The breathtaking beauty of the Visakha Agency area is in contrast with its palpable backwardness.

People are also worried about the widespread environmental pollution being caused by the industries and about the fact that the water sources, the rich flora and fauna and the tribal way of life would be destroyed once bauxite mining operations start. Things are also not looking too rosy on the industrial front because of the recession and the problems with power supply. The economic slowdown has also affected efforts to establish more industries.

But there are some areas in which the district is doing well. The districts performance has been impressive in the implementation of the Integrated Novel Development in Rural Areas and Model Municipal Areas (INDIRAMMA) scheme of the State government to make Andhra Pradesh a hut-free State. In the first phase during 2006-07, Visakhapatnam stood second in the State, completing nearly 81,000 out of the 1.05 lakh proposed houses. It stood sixth in the second phase and 10th in the third phase.

We are making all efforts to improve the INDIRAMMA housing scheme performance in the district, said Collector J. Syamala Rao. Assistant engineers were being engaged to supervise the work and help speed it up, he said, and added that the problem of bank bridge loans would also be taken care of.

An important programme, which will have a lasting effect on the tribal people, is the setting up of coffee plantations. Coffee is already being grown in the Agency area and has received recognition for its high quality. The plan is to bring 1.04 lakh acres (one acre is 0.4 hectare) under coffee by 2015-16. This year, 12,000 acres came under the crop, which will be ready for commercial use in a few years. It will provide the tribal people with a substantial income, said the Collector. The Indian Coffee Board is involved in the project, and the beneficiaries will be given training in growing coffee.

While many new irrigation projects are being implemented, strengthening of existing minor and major irrigation projects is also being carried out. Agriculture is being given a lot of importance, and some of the steps planned include helping farmers get loans, mechanisation, ensuring proper use of fertilizers, and promoting organic farming among Agency farmers.

The district is also in the process of distributing land documents to the tribal farmers in the Agency area under the Forest Rights Act. This is part of the State governments major programme to distribute land to the farmers who have been cultivating government land for many decades. Of the approximately 60,000 acres earmarked for distribution in the district, 10,000 acres has been distributed so far. Syamala Rao feels there is a lot of scope for employment in the district. Skills of the candidates must be improved, and we are planning a workshop with industries to understand their requirements for the future so that we can train people, he said.

Regarding health care in the Agency area, the district administration has approached the government to sanction more doctors for the mobile units and to improve water supply. Fevers, diarrhoea and malaria are common in the Visakha Agency every year, and cutaneous anthrax flares up at intervals of a few years, forcing the government and district administration to take emergency steps on a major scale. A permanent solution has to be worked out in this area.