India's environmental laws will play a major role in Andhra's capital city projectPress Trust of India
Former Union Finance Secretary E A S Sarma has alleged that Andhra Pradesh’s capital city project is yet to be subjected to a statutory environment impact appraisal, and said it would be imprudent on the part of the Prime Minister to attend the October 22 foundation stone laying ceremony. In pursuance of Section 6 of the AP Reorganisation Act, 2014, the Union Home Ministry had constituted a committee under Sivaramakrishnan to study the alternatives for locating the AP capital city, Sarma noted in his letter to Nripendra Misra, Principal Secretary to PM, PMO.
The Ministry specifically asked the Committee to keep in view the need to cause “the least possible dislocation to existing agriculture systems as well as ensure minimum resettlement of people and their habitations”, to ensure “preservation of local ecology and natural features including water bodies”, make a “vulnerability assessment for natural disasters like floods, cyclones and earthquakes” and “assess the scope for minimising the cost of construction and acquisition of land”.
“The Sivaramakrishnan Committee had submitted a comprehensive report accordingly but the State government ignored that report in defiance of the Act and unilaterally decided on locating the capital in Vijayawada-Guntur region, without any consultation with the people”, Sarma, who also served as Union Power Secretary and Principal Adviser, Planning Commission, said. The retired bureaucrat alleged that the capital city project, as being thought of by Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu, would disrupt agriculture over large stretches of fertile land, adversely affect the lives of lakhs of farmers, agricultural workers, artisans and agri based economy, like never before. The project is yet to be subjected to a statutory environment impact appraisal, he added.
According to him, the National Green Tribunal (NGT), in an interim order dated October 10, appears to have expressed concern at the fact that the State authorities are yet to survey the area and assess its agricultural resources and directed them not to proceed with any activity that is likely to disturb agriculture and the local environment. “It is ironic that the Chief Minister is more eager to invite foreign dignitaries to the inaugural function than trying to find out the value of the agricultural resources and human capital that will be foregone as a result of the project”, Sarma said.
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“Against this background, it will be highly imprudent on the part of the PM to agree to affix his stamp of approval for the project by laying the foundation stone, as such an act is likely to make a mockery of the law of the land and its statutory institutions, especially at a time when India is pronouncing to the world its resolve to join hands in protecting the environment”, he said.
Sarma claimed that there is a simmering discontent among the people of north Andhra Pradesh and Rayalaseema at the “huge, extravagant” public expenditure being incurred by the State on its “grandiose” capital city project. Large stretches of land in that area, subject to inundation, may have to be raised in level and a new barrage may have to be constructed across River Krishna to provide water for the capital, involving a huge expense that will syphon off scarce budgetary resources from north AP and Rayalseema districts to benefit the region of the capital city.
“Such a large expenditure on a single project to benefit a single region would also starve important development sectors in the State such as public health, education, social welfare and so on. Should the PM endorse this ?” Sarma said. The State is already groaning under a huge overdraft and is finding it difficult to pay the salaries of its employees and meet the development commitments. The mind boggling financial commitments being made on the capital city will not only affect the present government but also the future governments to come, he alleged.
Stating that he was associated at the Centre with the formation of Chattisgarh, Jharkhand and Uttaranchal States and the commitments made for their new capital cities, he said in these days of advanced digital and satellite communication systems, to concentrate construction activity for a large capital city in one place is uneconomical. “The only beneficiaries of the project would be the real estate developers!” he alleged.
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