Interview: CRDA Commissioner

‘The government’s priority is to protect agricultural lands’

Print edition : September 04, 2015

All the landless families are provided skill training, says Srikant Nagulapalli. Photo: Ch.Vijaya Bhaskar

Interview with Srikant Nagulapalli, Commissioner, Andhra Pradesh Capital Region Development Authority.

THE Andhra Pradesh Capital Region Development Authority has been entrusted with the development of an area required for the State’s proposed capital, Amaravati. Loss of agricultural income and livelihoods, environmental degradation and pollution are some of the issues that pose a challenge to the project, but CRDA Commissioner Srikant Nagulapalli lists a number of advantages as well. He foresees a boom in employment-generating industries for the local population that stands to lose land and occupation. He also says latest technologies will be used to mitigate the environmental impact. Nagulapalli says high-rises, which will be a significant feature of the new city, will contain the urban sprawl. Excerpts from the conversation he had with Frontline.

What is the status of land acquisition? That seems to be a contentious issue as the government has threatened the use of the land acquisition ordinance.

The government’s priority right now is to protect agricultural lands in the Capital Region of Andhra Pradesh. Agricultural lands lying downstream of Prakasham Barrage are multi-cropped. Upstream of Prakasham are dry lands except for areas covered under the Nagarjunasagar project. The entire land block [meant for the capital] lies upstream of Prakasham Barrage and has been classified as dry land for 100 years in revenue records, where 50 per cent of the cultivation is cotton, and the remaining is crops like maize, chillies, flowers, lime, and vegetables along the riverside. The capital region, declared to cover 7,068 square kilometres, has a population of 55 lakh and includes the cities of Vijayawada and Guntur. Seventy-five per cent of the area is under cultivation, mainly in the Prakasham Barrage delta area.

How do you intend to protect these agricultural lands?

The current thinking is [that] we have 829 villages within the 7,068 sq km; two big cities are prone to urban sprawl. A problem we have been facing because of the real estate boom is that agricultural lands are purchased and converted into layouts. If a layout comes in between two villages, say a 30-or 10-acre layout [one acre is 0.4 hectare], those areas will never get developed and no one will build houses there. The result is that we would be permanently eating into lands meant for future generations. Agricultural production will be lost and land will be wasted. So what we are currently doing is to disallow development beyond the boundary demarcated for the village, leaving aside an area required to be taken care of for the next 50 years of development or the requirement for that habitation. This has been fixed at 500 metres from the existing boundary of the village. This is based on our assessment that each of the 829 revenue villages over the next 50 years will require land for neighbourhood growth.

Also, if we allow urban sprawl, the cost of infrastructure will be prohibitively high. There’s no way our State can afford infrastructure in such a vast area. So we are not allowing any layouts to be planned anywhere in the capital region.

How will you be handling drainage and the effluents from Amaravati? The two cities that you have mentioned, Guntur and Vijayawada, are not good examples for waste management.

Because it will be by and large a greenfield city, all the checks and protection measures are being put in place: flood protection, sewer treatment and recycling of waste water; methods to handle solid waste and rainwater; taking care to see that commuting time is not more than eight minutes to your nearest metro station or nearest transit point.

There will not be any problem of untreated waste or sewer disposal into the river or the wagu [rivulet]. The challenge we are facing is the sewer outlet from upstream of the city. There are many villages that will be letting out sewage into a canal, or a rainwater outlet. So how to handle these open sewers is what we are looking at currently. Because even if the city treats all its waste, if some waste comes from upstream of the river and merges into it, then all the waterbodies passing through the city will get polluted.

What about the couple of villages that do not want to part with their land?

The villages of Undavalli and Navulur are part of the economy of Vijayawada, except the barrage, which is the only divide. Because of this land values in these areas were quite high compared with other areas proposed for the city. This is one of the reasons for an enhanced package being given to those areas; people will give land for pooling when they see some value addition happening to their land.

Are you proposing an increase in the compensation?

No. Suppose some villages out of, let’s say, 1,500 acres except for some bits of 5 or 11 acres here and there… the rest of the people have given their land for pooling because they have seen an appreciation from Rs.10 lakh an acre to more than Rs.1 crore. It is only Undavalli, where most of the area is already developed. Reasons could range from disputes in the family, or maybe it could even be ideological. And some have kept their lands with the intention of riding freely on the infrastructure created on the pooled lands. Because once the land is pooled, a lot of infrastructure will come. If you are giving land you are getting, let’s say, 1,200 square yards, and if you are adjacent to that, and you don’t give, you get the whole land for yourself. So such stretches in between will have to be acquired.

So are you going to use a land ordinance to acquire them?

The State government has issued a Government Order already in that direction. Once the pooling process is over, we will assess which pockets are left, to make it a contiguous block.

What is the uncertainty over assigned lands?

There is a 1977 Act that prohibits the sale of any lands assigned to anybody. They can enjoy it or pass it on to their offspring or legal heirs.

So are you first proposing to take these lands and hand them over to the original assignee?

That was prior to the notification of this area as a city. Had it been agricultural land, the government would have in the normal course given it back to the original assignee because the intention is the person should cultivate that land and live on it.

So what is the plan now?

Currently, all these “assigned lands” [cases] are being heard by the District Collector. So they have to pass quasi-judicial orders on each and every piece of land. On the basis of the orders, whoever is the owner decided by the RDO [Revenue Divisional Officer], who is the revenue court which decides on these matters, we’ll have to proceed.

Agricultural workers are resentful right now, particularly because they do not have work. They do not seem to have been given the Rs.2,500 a month compensation that you proposed to give them.

The District Collector has already completed the [socio-economic] survey. [Some] 24,000 self-declared landless families have been identified. They will be paid as per government orders from April 1. Families have been divided into the landed and the landless. The family unit is not decided by government agencies. It is self-declared. It does not depend on the number of ration cards either. So if an 18-year-old comes and says he is a family on his own, then we consider him to be a unit.

Why has the money not been given then?

The survey took about a month because these families had to be identified on the basis of the cut-off date of December 8, 2014, when the government announced this package. So only those residing in these villages, as of December 8, 2014, will be eligible for these benefits. The identification process was carried out through a census/enumeration. Objections were invited. They are being addressed by the District Collector, but the payments will be made from April 1, 2015, retrospectively.

Why is there no 10 per cent increase in monthly compensation, the way you have provided for landed families? A worker can make more money, particularly in these regions. Would it not be reasonable to increase the compensation amount to something that is more liveable taking into account inflation? Or at least provide the same kind of year-on-year raise that you have provided for landowners?

All the landless families are being provided training in any field they opt for, be it construction or manufacturing. The idea is, once they are trained and placed in an industry, whether they are within the capital city or outside, they will be adequately employed and can support themselves. The focus is more on proper training/skilling and employment of these people.

So you propose to retrain everyone well before the capital comes up?

Able-bodied people, let’s say 20,000, will be looking for employment. Currently, 20,000-22,000 people live in Navulur and Undavalli who are dependent on Vijayawada for their livelihood. Few industrial areas are there. If a couple of industries come up in the next couple of years, the majority of these people will be absorbed there. Or they can be employed by the skill development corporation elsewhere. The State Government Skill Development Corporation is taking care of the skill development of these people.

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