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Andhra secretariat staff face uphill task of relocating again

Three years after they shifted from Hyderabad to Amaravati, the employees of the Andhra Pradesh secretariat may soon be packing their bags for Visakhapatnam as the Jagan Mohan Reddy-led government appears to be going ahead with its proposal to shift the administrative capital to the port city.
Andhra secretariat staff face uphill task of relocating again

Nearly 4,000 employees, working from the temporary secretariat in Amaravati since October 2016, are resisting the move to shift the capital even before they could settle down here after they were forced to relocate following the bifurcation of undivided Andhra Pradesh.

However, unlike the farmers who are on the streets for a month protesting against the three capitals proposal, the employees are not voicing their dissent publicly. They may come out in the open if the YSR Congress Party (YSRCP) government takes a decision to move the seat of governance to Visakhapatnam.

To prevent any such resistance from the employees and to persuade them to relocate to Visakhapatnam, the government is said to be working on a series of sops for them.

The government proposes to shift the secretariat and the Chief Minister's Office to Visakhapatnam, making it the state capital for all practical purposes. Under the proposal, the High Court will be shifted to Kurnool while Amaravati will house only the Raj Bhavan, the official residence of the governor and the State Assembly and that too only for the winter session.

The government's proposal is based on the premise of decentralisation of development. This idea was endorsed by an experts' panel and the Boston Consultancy Group (BCG). A high-powered committee comprising of ministers and senior officials is currently studying both the reports to arrive at a conclusion.

Chief Minister Y. S. Jagan Mohan Reddy is under attack from the entire opposition over the proposal as they believe he is dumping Amaravati just because it is the brainchild of his predecessor Chandrababu Naidu.

The ministers and ruling party leaders are also defending the proposal on the ground that the previous government of Chandrababu Naidu was involved in insider trading, a term being used to refer to the allegations that the leaders of then ruling TDP purchased land in and around Amaravati at throwaway prices before announcing the state capital.

Another argument is that the government has no financial resources to build a greenfield capital city, which requires more than Rs 1 lakh crore.

When the Andhra Pradesh capital moved to Amaravati in 2016, the government employees including IAS and IPS officials were in a dilemma about moving their families from Hyderabad as Amaravati and even nearby Vijayawada had no infrastructure including schools for their children.

Some of them, who could not afford to maintain a house in Hyderabad, relocated to Vijayawada with their families, but many families are still in Hyderabad while they continue to shuffle between the two cities.

They usually visit their children in Hyderabad on weekends as the distance between Hyderabad and Vijayawada (where the employees currently live) is about 300 km and the two cities are well-connected by road, rail and air.

If the secretariat is shifted to Visakhapatnam, the employees will not be able to visit their families on weekends as the distance and travel time will be more than doubled.

The employees feel that the latest proposal came as a bolt from the blue even before they could overcome the shock of shifting from Hyderabad and settle down in Amaravati-Vijayawada.

"How can we relocate our families once again. The whole debate about the capital is political but nobody is talking about the problems the employees will face," said an employee on the condition of anonymity.

Even in 2016, the employees were reluctant to shift from Hyderabad and wanted the state government not to act in haste as under the Andhra Pradesh Reorganisation Act 2014, Hyderabad can be the common capital for both Telangana and Andhra Pradesh for 10 years.

However, Chandrababu Naidu was in a hurry to shift so that the administration could focus on development of Amaravati. He persuaded the employees by offering them sops including a five-day week and increasing the retirement age from 58 to 60.

Now the Jagan Mohan Reddy government also appears to be using the same strategy. The high-powered committee is said to be working out a plan, offering attractive incentives to the employees for relocating to Visakhapatnam. The sops may include house plots, interest free house loans and shifting allowance.

The YSRCP government argues that it would be easier for the staff to relocate to Visakhapatnam as the coastal city offers enough housing and educational institutions for their children.

The government may also direct educational institutions in Visakhapatnam to create additional seats to admit children of government staff without taking any donations.

( With inputs from IANS )

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