How Telangana and Seemandhra fought for Hyderabad (and how the battle was won)

Book excerpt: Jairam Ramesh, who was closely involved with the bifurcation, recounts the tussle for the capital.

The Tussle for Hyderabad

Hyderabad was the main bone of contention during the bifurcation process. It generated all the political heat. The Telangana camp wanted Hyderabad lock, stock and barrel. The Seemandhra camp – still pleading with the GoM not to go ahead with the bifurcation – wanted Hyderabad to be a union territory like Chandigarh, if not permanently then at least for a period of ten years.

The reason for the Hyderabad-fixation was no mystery.

The Hyderabad Metropolitan Development Authority (HMDA) area generated close to half of the undivided state’s own revenues. An overwhelming bulk of the investment that had taken place in Andhra Pradesh since the mid-1950s had been in and around Hyderabad, largely because of the easy availability of land – even though the perception was that the people of Telangana had not gained much from these investments.

The Government of India’s own investment in both civilian and defence research and development was in Hyderabad. Many public sector companies had been established in this area. Entrepreneurs from coastal Andhra had made huge investments in education, health and real estate. Hyderabad was the centre of the Telugu film industry, which was again largely the creation of people from coastal Andhra. Between 1996 and 2003, Chandrababu Naidu had put Hyderabad on the IT map of India and the world, something that was skilfully carried forward and given further impetus by YSR.

The CWC resolution of 30 July 2013 had actually ruled out the possibility of union territory status for Hyderabad.

But I felt that our ministerial colleagues from Seemandhra needed to be given the satisfaction that they were been heard and, as such, saw no harm in revisiting the issue. There were a number of factors militating against Hyderabad being made a union territory. The Srikrishna Committee itself had studied this option and had not been terribly enthusiastic about it. The most important argument was that Hyderabad lay at the geographical core of Telangana. Besides, historically and culturally, Hyderabad was inextricably linked to Telangana. It had been at the centre of the Telangana movement since the 1960s.

Telangana without Hyderabad would really not amount to much. Indeed the entire fight between Telangana and Seemandhra boiled down to a fight over Hyderabad. Hyderabad with union territory status would never have been acceptable to the agitationists from Telangana.

In fact, Congress and TDP MPs from Telangana, as well as political parties like the TRS, BJP and AIMIM, were firmly opposed to a Chandigarh-like status to Hyderabad on the grounds that there was no geographical contiguity between Hyderabad and Seemandhra. The geographical position of Chandigarh vis-à-vis Punjab and Haryana was completely unlike that of Hyderabad in relation to Seemandhra and Telangana as a glance at the respective maps would immediately reveal.

But which Hyderabad should be the common capital?

Union ministers from Seemandhra, having seen the writing on the wall as far as the union territory issue was concerned, then argued that the HMDA area should be designated as the common capital.This covered something like 7,100 square kilometres and spanned five Telangana districts.

There was no chance of this proposal being accepted but the GoM did consider it. The TRS argued for the Hyderabad Revenue District, if at all, as the common capital area. This covered some 217 square kilometres. This too was debated briefly. Ultimately, the GoM felt that fairness demanded that the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC) area be designated as the common capital zone. This spread across about 625 square kilometres that had been increased to about 923 square kilometres in September 2013.

At one stage, I proposed to the GoM that we set up an independent committee to suggest the distribution of revenues from Hyderabad between the two new states for a period of ten years at least. If not a committee, then perhaps we could mandate the Fourteenth Finance Commission to perform this task. But this proposal did not survive for too long as the Finance Minister said that it would not be constitutionally sustainable. That was that.

Another idea which was discussed for some time in the GoM but was also shot down, was that of a common capital governance council. My main aim was to have a structure that would evoke the widest-possible confidence given the prolonged period of strife in the city. The council was meant to be a temporary body subject to review after five years.

The governor was envisaged as the chairperson of the council that would also have as members the two chief ministers and key civil and police officials from both states and the central government. The council would be responsible for general oversight, review and coordination in matters relating to internal security, public order and the safety of all residents in the common capital area.

The Home Minister lauded the sentiments that prompted the proposal but did not think it to be practical at all. The idea didn’t get Home Secretary Anil Goswami’s support on the grounds that this would simply not be acceptable to the Telangana government once that state came into being. He was right.

Besides, both the Home Minister (as a former Chief Minister) and the Home Secretary felt that the move would not stand the test of legality. They had a strong case. The Law Ministry also gave its opinion that such a coordination council would violate List II of the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution dealing with the powers of the states. I didn’t, therefore, push my idea too much. But I thought it was worth a try.

A new capital for a new Andhra Pradesh

When the GoM met with Union ministers from Seemandhra, it received varied suggestions for the location of the new capital. One suggestion favoured Kurnool which had been the capital of Andhra between 1953 and 1956. Another suggestion supported Visakhapatnam, which was Seemandhra’s largest city as well as a major investment destination. Voices were raised for Tirupati and Vijayawada too.

The Home Minister and I felt that if the GoM was to make a specific recommendation on the capital, new complications would arise and fresh protests would erupt. So we decided on the safest and time-tested course of having an expert committee study the alternatives and make recommendations.

I was keen that we get the best experts on this committee.

When Rajiv Sharma, an Additional Secretary in the Ministry of Home Affairs and one of the two officers who formed the core of the GoM’s secretariat, suggested the name of KC Sivaramakrishnan as Chairman of this committee, I jumped at the idea and called him up then and there.

He had been a distinguished administrator who had many years of experience in urban planning and development in West Bengal, the central government and the World Bank. As Secretary in the Ministry of Urban Development at the centre, he was responsible for drafting what became the 74th Amendment to the Constitution dealing with urban local bodies. I had known him well personally for years.

In fact, he had contacted me of his own accord when the GoM was announced and sent a detailed note suggesting a structure to enable Hyderabad to function as a shared capital. That note had been circulated at the first meeting of the GoM but its suggestions were found to be politically impractical since its starting point – that the HMDA area would be the common capital zone – had been rejected by the GoM right at the outset.

Sivaramakrishnan readily accepted my request to chair the new capital selection committee. He also felt that the other people I had identified as members were first-rate. With that concurrence, I then got in touch with each of them and the committee was formed. The terms of reference were drawn up and the committee was notified on 28 March 2013; it was given time till 31 August 2013 to submit its report.

The only substantive point I made to Sivaramakrishnan in my one and only meeting with him on this subject was that his committee should look at dispersing the location of functions and institutions so that the Hyderabad experience did not repeat itself in the new state.

In this context, I reminded him that when the new state of Andhra was created in October 1953, the capital was in Kurnool and the High Court was in Guntur in the coastal area. Even today, Bhopal is the capital of Madhya Pradesh while the Madhya Pradesh High Court is located in Jabalpur. My suggestion to him was also that the committee could think of different ‘clusters’ for industry, education and administration across the new state of Andhra Pradesh.

One particular demand made by Seemandhra ministers and MPs caused me considerable anguish. They asked for the denotification of 50,000 hectares of forest land for the purpose of building the new capital. As Minister of Environment and Forests during 2009–11, I had adopted a tough policy on the diversion of forest lands, and what was being suggested went against all that I stood for. It took some time to reconcile myself to this demand but I was able to ensure that the denotification would only be for “degraded” forest land, that is, where the quality of existing forest cover was very poor. I was also able to ensure that while we agreed to denotify, we did not specify how much forest land would be so denotified.

Demands were made by our Seemandhra colleagues that the central government should fund the cost of creating the new capital. I was entirely in agreement with this sentiment as was the Home Minister, and we made sure that this commitment was reflected in the legislation. Thus, Section 94(3) of the final law that was passed said, “The Central Government shall provide special financial support for the creation of essential facilities in the new capital of the successor state of Andhra Pradesh including the Raj Bhawan, High Court, Government Secretariat, Legislative Assembly, Legislative Council, and such other essential infrastructure.”

Excerpted with permission from Old History New Geography: Bifurcating Andhra Pradesh, Jairam Ramesh, Rupa.

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