Smartcity Illusions

AP Under Naidu: Smart City Delusions

In 2004, The Telugu Desam Party (TDP), which was in power for nine years was utterly routed by the people. It managed to win just 47 out of 294 seats. The rout reflected the utter disenchantment of the electorate with Naidu’s policies and his neoliberal model of development. During Naidu’s misrule, rural Andhra Pradesh sunk into deeper depths and saw some of the highest rates of farm suicides in the country. Cutbacks in the public sector triggered massive loss of jobs in the state while Naidu played fiddle with his “IT revolution” in Hyderabad. After 10 years, riding on the back of discontentment of Andhra people with the partition of the state, an utterly discredited Congress, and the promise of a massive farm loan waiver (that won’t be kept), Naidu is back as the Chief Minister in the new divided Andhra Pradesh.

AP farmers suicide

The signals that Naidu is giving don’t seem to be any different from his policies of early 2000s and he seems to be making exactly the same sounds that he was making back then. In Jun 2004, an article in Frontline, had this to say “Chandrababu Naidu’s models of development were Singapore and Malaysia and later China. But, these models were heavily tilted towards urban development, with the farmer not factored high into the scheme of things.” Now, Singapore has been given the project to build a massive new smart city in the Vijayawada-Guntur region.

The smart city, purported to be ten times as large as Singapore city itself, will require an area of 30,000 acres that would need to be acquired by the state government in the region. The location chosen by the state government has some of the best agricultural lands in the state and the government’s motives behind developing a smart city by bulldozing these farmlands is being questioned.

The Government has come up with a “land pooling” scheme as part of an unconstitutional Andhra Pradesh Capital Region Development Authority Act, where those holding dry land will be awarded 800 yards of residential plots and 100 yards of commercial plots per acre while those holding wet lands will be awarded 1000 yards of residential plots and 200 yards of commercial plots per acre. The government will pay an yearly rent of Rs. 30, 000 for dry lands and Rs. 50,000 for wet lands for 10 years. The compensation being offered for those giving up their land works out to just Rs. 80 per day, which is completely unjustifiable in the face of complete loss of livelihood.

Understandably, the land pooling scheme is being met with resistance in the region (particularly by those dependent on agriculture) in the face of coercive methods being employed by the state government to complete the acquisition. As of January 7th, reports indicate that the government has managed to pool more than 1500 acres out of the 30,000 target. In addition to the issue of land-holding farmers, even more important questions need to be asked on what will happen when the farming ecosystem in the region will be disrupted due this unnecessarily massive project. What will happen to the thousands of people dependent on farming for their livelihood but do not own any land. Will they migrate to these smart cities and live without shelters in the slums? The state government doesn’t seem to have any answers to these questions. To the current capitalist sytem, all those people are invisible.

Activists from multiple organizations, including Medha Patkar’s National Alliance of People’s Movements, are organizing protests against a determined TDP government that is hell bent on making a handful of people rich at the cost of the working people. It did not take long for Naidu’s anti-farmer and pro-big business intentions to be exposed to the people (again). The region is already seeing massive land speculation and the scale of the project is extremely prone to corruption and misuse of state apparatus for currying favors. The idea of efficient smart cities looks like an excellent idea on paper, but hard questions need to be asked on the environmental and human costs associated with such projects. If Naidu’s ‘Hi-Tech’ ambitions continue, just as it was in the undivided Andhra Pradesh state, the urban-rural and rich-poor divide will further sharpen in the new Andhra Pradesh state. These are trying times and an organized socialist movement against these neoliberal onslaughts is needed more than ever.

Vinay Chandra