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Three capitals for Andhra Pradesh: A proposition with a tumultuous history

Andhra Pradesh chief minister Y S Jagan Mohan Reddy has added another chapter to the fraught history of setting up state capitals in India last week. His party has used the over two-thirds majority it enjoys in the legislative assembly to pass a resolution to abolish the legislative council or the Upper House (it houses indirectly elected representatives). His reason: Reddy has tabled a Bill that establishes not one, but a decentralises power into three capitals for the state, based on the recommendations of an experts’ committee led by retired IAS officer G N Rao. Under this scheme, Amaravati (carved out from the nearby auto and pharma hub of Vijaywada), the previously proposed solitary capital, will remain the legislative capital. Kurnool, the biggest town in the under-developed Rayalaseema sub-region, which has easy road connectivity to Hyderabad and Bengaluru, would be the judicial capital, while coastal Vishakhpatnam would house the chief minister’s office, as the executive capital. The bill was expected to be blocked by the Council where the Opposition Telugu Desam Party, led by former chief minister N Chandrababu Naidu, has a majority. So Reddy moved the resolution to scrap the house, in the process reducing the number of states with bicameral legislature in India—those with two houses—to five.  

But an obvious questions that strikes is that whether a state, in the limits of constitutionality and legality, is eligible to do so. Further, have any of the 27 remaining states experimented in the process of forming, changing, or expanding the state capital? 

Surprisingly, the capital of state does not have any legal or constitutional basis, in that, barring a few cases such as Delhi and Chandigarh, the capitals don’t find a mention in any of the laws enacted by the states or the Centre. The second Administrative Reforms Commission delved on state administration extensively, but the centrality of the state capital did not find any mention. Experts say that capital is just the seat of the government—or rather, government buildings—and the executive is not obliged to take all the decisions in that particular city. 

“It serves the purpose of being a growth engine for the state. Growth revolves around the capital, urbanisation brings in economic activity,” says Santosh Kakade, who practices law at the Bombay High Court, and has worked on federal laws. 

“For a citizen, say, a farmer, proximity to a state capital increases the chance of being heard by the administration, and helps improve outreach of the administration,” he adds.

In this regard, it is worthwhile to see the experiments carried out by states in the past that have succeeded or failed, starting with new Andhra Pradesh itself, which was born anew when the Centre submitted to Telangana’s violent struggle for a separate state. 

The Andhra Pradesh experience till now

Going nearly a century back, the Sribagh Pact between leaders of Rayalaseema and coastal Andhra Pradesh had discussed decentralisation of powers to these regions, as Hyderabad was housed in Telangana.

Cut to 2014, at the time when erstwhile Andhra Pradesh was divided into Telangana and Andhra Pradesh (remainder), the expert committee on finding alternatives to the new capital of the latter had recommended a “greenfield” capital city, but had hinted at decentralisation. 

“The Committee does not consider a single large capital city as a feasible option available to Andhra Pradesh as of now. The existing concentration in Hyderabad of the legislature, the courts and the executive comprising numerous ministries, departments, commissionerates and directorates has itself been a major bone of contention in the process of bifurcation,” the committee had said in its report. 

It then went on to identify “three” regions in the newly formed state where “capital functions” can be distributed. And the three regions were: Vishakhpatnam, Kurnool and adjoining areas, and the Kalahasti-Nadikudi spine. 

Following is the nature of public response the Committee received.

Public preference for capitals, 2014
City Votes City Votes
Vijaywada-Guntur Area 
Vishakhpatnam  507 Tirupati  113
Source: Report of Expert Committee appointed by Ministry of Home Affairs, Union of India to Study the Alternatives for a New Capital for the State of Andhra Pradesh Note: Excludes others and smaller city options

The success of Gandhinagar, Gujarat 

Built 25 km from sprawling Pharma and education capital Ahmedabad, Gandhinagar remains one of the most successful example of a new capital city built in post Independence India. It was conceived in 1960, founded in 1966, and state administration began relocating to it from 1970. 

M Ramachandran, former secretary, ministry of urban development notes that new cities need infrastructure investment but also need to be reasonably close enough from existing cities, to ensure proximity to economic activity. This is one of the reasons Gandhinagar, is 25 km from Ahmedabad, has grown up close to expectations. 

The population size of the city is not more than 200,000, but is slated to shoot up once the GIFT City, or the Gujarat International Finance Tec-City, India’s first international financial centre sets wheels in motion for expansion. 

The city has also branched out as an educational hub with a raft of institutions as Indian Institute of Technology, National Institute of Design, Dhirubhai Ambani Institute of Information and Communication Technology, National Institute of Fashion Technology, Gujarat National Law University, Bhaskaracharya Institute for Space Applications and Geo-Informatics, Pandit Deendayal Petroleum University, Unitedworld (a campus with a business school, design school and law school), Entrepreneurship Development Institute of India and other technical institutions spread in and around Gandhinagar.

History of experiments/successful formation of new state capitals in India
Year  State  Capital
Punjab and Haryana Chandigarh
1948 Odisha Bhubaneswar
1960 Gujarat Gandhinagar
Maharashtra Navi Mumbai (failed)
2000 Chhattisgarh Naya Raipur
Source: Report of the Expert Committee appointed by the Ministry of Home Affairs, Union of India to Study the Alternatives for a New Capital for the State of Andhra Pradesh

The novelty of Naya Raipur, Chhattisgarh

Under the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government were born three new states, Uttarakhand, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh. The last one wanted to establish a Greenfield capital city Naya Raipur, close to old Raipur town. 

However, it is much smaller in scope than Gandhinagar as of now, with not even a municipal office in the area. The old city of Raipur and Naya Raipur are divided by the Vivekananda airport with about 17 km distance between the two. 

While this geographical proximity makes transport easy, no significant trade or business centre has shifted to the new town, despite it having become the seat of administration. Of course it is pretty much an infant, having not even completed two decades. The census handbook of Chhattisgarh claims “Naya Raipur is India’s fourth planned capital city after Gandhinagar in Gujarat; Chandigarh serving both Punjab and Haryana; and Bhubaneshwar in Odisha”. 

It will take time to make it a city though it is already in the list of 100 “smart cities” of the ministry of urban development. It has already put in a Bus Rapid Transit System (BRTS) and bicycle sharing infrastructure. Unlike Andhra Pradesh, despite a regime change—political power in the state shifted from the Bharatiya Janata Party to Indian National Congress in December 2018—there are no plans to clip the development of Naya Raipur. 

Ramachandran says one of the chief constraints in developing these cities is the lack of resources. 

“Hardly any attention is paid to the cost of setting up say, a high court and even housing for their staff. The larger issues like waste disposal and water supply does not even enter the picture”. 

The inability of Gairsain, Uttarakhand

The other state born in 2000, the hilly Uttarakhand, has often tried to shift the capital from out of Dehradun, its biggest city. Gairsain, in Chamoli district, was identified as one of the prospective venues. Dehradun, 260 km away, was considered to be a “temporary capital”. 

A three-day-long assembly session of the state legislative assembly was also held in the winter of 2016 at Bhararisain, about 14 km away from the town, but to no avail. 

One of the unanticipated problems that came up then was the lack of water supply for the staff of the assembly, at the semi-urban location, as well as accommodation. 

The experiment has not been tried out again. The state has so far stuck to the recommendations of the Justice Birendra Dikshit Commission, which suggested that the interim capital Dehradun be made permanent. 

However, the state government hasn't given up and claims it is creating the necessary infrastructure, including roads, water supply, helipads and airstrips around Gairsain to make it the capital of the state in the future. 

The early pitch for Bhubaneshwar, Odisha

Though Cuttack was the biggest city in Odisha at the time of independence, Bhubaneswar, with a populace of not more than 20,000 back then, was chosen to be developed as the new capital. 

Nearly 20 km from Cuttack, the foundation stone of Bhubaneswar was laid down by Nehru, and the plan was prepared by German architect Otto Koenigsberger. 

Regional Research Laboratory of the CSIR, a few universities, the government press, railway factory, and industrial estates came up by 1975, making it a complete city. Today, Bhubaneswar houses nearly a million people. 

There is point in saying that Bhubaneswar is a success: the Andhra Pradesh expert committee said, “AP does not have the luxury of a city that possesses spare private capacity to provide for housing, sanitation, water, transport etc. as was the case with Bhubaneswar (Cuttack), Gandhinagar (Ahmedabad) or Dispur (Guwahati), to sequence these investments”. 

The engulfing of Dispur, Assam

With the idea of having a separate entity for housing the seat of the government, Assam proposed building Dispur, moving from Shillong, which became the capital of Meghalaya when India became Independent and the North Eastern states were reorganised. By the metric of population, Dispur is larger than both Gandhinagar and Naya Raipur. It has a population of 520,000 and is part of the larger Guwahati city, sharing the same municipal corporation. The state government toyed with the idea of setting up a separate capital, Pragjyotishpur, but gave up soon to make Dispur the site of  the administrative capital, with both the secretariat and the assembly located here. It is impossible to separate the two towns of Guwahati and Dispur.

The capital complex came up gradually to become a full-fledged one by the seventies. Guwahati has a population of over one million, and is the boiling urban pot for the entire northeast. 

But it relegated Dispur to just housing the chief minister’s office and the secretariat.

Off-beat experiment with Dharamshala, Himachal Pradesh 

The Himachal Pradesh government has declared this town as an alternative to Shimla as the winter capital. In 2017, the then chief minister Virbhadra Singh announced the decision to establish Dharamshala town in Kangra as the second state capital. 

The city, about 250 km from Shimla, has faced the same problem as there is no real master plan for the development of the town. 

“Even with a plan, Delhi faces a problem of how to accommodate immigrant workers, so you can imagine how a hill town could handle such an influx,” notes Ramachandran. Most of all, such divided development creates additional costs for people in, say, reaching a court and then the executive.
Ongole 265
Rajahmundry 139
Tirupati 113

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