Capital cities: The more the merrier

Kala S Sridhar / Vishal R | Updated on March 17, 2020

Building under construction, workers and construction technical vector illustration. Building mixer truck, crane vector. Under construction concept. Workers in helmet, construction machine isolated   -  istock/adekvat

Creation of multiple capital cities, like in Andhra Pradesh, would mean better infrastructure and economic opportunities for each of them

US President Donald Trump’s visit to Ahmedabad, Gujarat’s former capital, where nearly ₹130 crore was spent on beautification of the city — including ‘walling’ a slum — is interesting. Incidentally, two of the three cities Trump visited are/were capital cities.

Intriguingly enough, the Government of Andhra Pradesh’s decision to create three capital cities — the existing one in Amaravati (as the legislative capital), Kurnool as the judicial capital, and Vishakapatnam as the executive capital — for the newly-carved State also does not have a precedence.

This proposal was met with resistance, as the current capital Amaravati’s story is not complete. About 34,000 acres of land had been pooled for its establishment, but the project failed to take off, presumably because it was proposed by the previous government.

It is important to note the role capital cities play in urban economic development. As shown by existing studies, the requirements of governments frequently necessitate the allocation of local public goods and services to capital cities where policymakers live.

Hence, it is expected that capital cities attract firms and residents, and create economic opportunities with infrastructure such as highways of international standards, mass transit, amenities such as the presence of international community and culture, and world-class institutions of higher education. Therefore, the creation of three capital cities instead of one in the new Andhra Pradesh may attract a larger number of firms to each city.

Equitable distribution

The undivided Andhra Pradesh was characterised by urban primacy, with the population of Hyderabad (at nearly seven million) being about four times more than that of its then second-biggest city, Vishakapatnam (or Vizag), with a population of 1.7 million. While Hyderabad is now the capital of Telangana, in the divided Andhra Pradesh, the population of the new second-biggest city, Vijayawada (population of 1.1 million) would be about two-thirds the size of the first city (Vizag), and so forth — still larger than what the theory that the size of Vijayawada would be only half of Vizag predicted.

So, policies are needed to equitably spread population, employment and infrastructure/public services over space. The creation of three capital cities in Andhra Pradesh will mean each of these cities — Amaravati and Kurnool (with an estimated population of about six lakh each in 2019), and Vishakapatnam with a million-plus population — must get world-class infrastructure along with other amenities expected in capital cities, especially because Amaravati and Kurnool are significantly smaller than Vijayawada, which is a non-capital city.

The creation of three capital cities will also imply that there will be a large number of bureaucrats to attend to the immediate needs of these cities. Hence, a lot more administrative decentralisation takes place, in principle, away from a single political capital designated for the purpose. Further, with bureaucrats living in the two additional cities, it will lead to economic spin-offs for these places.

Stronger cities

Once better public services capitalise into property, and property taxes become resilient enough to reflect the same, city economies become a lot stronger. However, it should be remembered that policy-making could devolve away from Vizag towards the other two capital cities identified, with Vizag presumably more as a fulcrum for attracting private investment with its superior infrastructure.

In fact, every city should be a capital unto itself, such that it is equipped with all resources for better quality of living. Should other States take their cue from this? The newly-created Telangana has a severe primacy problem, as it has Hyderabad with a 2011 population of nearly seven million and only one second-tier city, Warangal, whose population is slightly over six lakh (2011). This primacy is worse than in Karnataka, where Bengaluru is more than eight times the size of Mysuru, which has a barely million-plus population.

Telangana can possibly learn from Andhra Pradesh in creating middle-tier cities. Karnataka, on the other hand, is characterised by too steep an urban primacy; hence, there are discussions about diverting the economic magnet away from Bengaluru. There was even a recent proposal to rename Ramanagaram as Navi Bengaluru.

While the opposition against the three capitals in Andhra itself may be related to the fact that Amaravati’s development did not happen at the pace that was expected — and there is a real-estate story to that — the creation of multiple capital cities in principle should imply better provision of public services, infrastructure and amenities in each of the cities, with the hope that resources would not be spread thinly.

The writers are respectively, Professor, Institute for Social and Economic Change, and an IAS officer, Government of Karnataka. Views are personal.

Published on March 17, 2020

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