Bengaluru: Praja Vedika, the sprawling auditorium-cum-conference hall built by former Andhra Pradesh chief minister N. Chandrababu Naidu in the under-construction state capital Amaravati, is being torn down by his successor Y.S. Jaganmohan Reddy.
As the name suggests, Praja Vedika was meant to serve as a ‘people’s grievance cell’, a venue where Naidu would hear complaints of the public and hold government and party meetings. But the riverside property also allegedly violated a lot of building laws, especially the one banning any construction within 500 metres of a river.
ThePrint dives into the row surrounding Praja Vedika and its role in the political equations of Andhra Pradesh, redefined by the 2019 Assembly election that brought Jagan, the son of the late Congress chief minister Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy, into power with a massive majority.
The demolition of Praja Vedika is one of a series of decisions Jagan has taken in an apparent bid to expose the “corrupt” administration of his predecessor, including scaling down his security cover.
Praja Vedika was said to have been built at a cost of nearly Rs 9 crore as an extension of Naidu’s rented Amaravati residence in 2017. Interestingly, when the demolition of the structure began, Naidu was present at his rented residence a few metres away.
The demolition was kickstarted amid rather movie-like circumstances: Jagan first organised a collectors’ conference in the building this week and announced that the premises would be torn down.
“I have decided to hold the collectors’ conference here to expose the misdeeds of the previous government and how it acted brazenly, with impunity, violating all norms,” Jagan said at the meeting Monday.
“If a common man constructs a building without permission, it will be demolished by officers. Our government respects law and follows all the rules,” he added.
Soon after the meeting, workers of the Andhra Pradesh Capital Region Development Authority (APCRDA) began moving out furniture and electrical equipment from the building.
By night, bulldozers were positioned to pull down the structure amid a heavy police presence.
Meanwhile, a PIL filed in the Andhra Pradesh High Court to stay the demolition was rejected.
The demolition came close on the heels of another petition in the high court, filed by YSR Congress legislator Mangalagiri Alla Ramakrishna Reddy, seeking the razing of all illegal constructions along the banks of the River Krishna.
Naidu’s Telugu Desam Party (TDP) had labelled the PIL “witch-hunting” by the YSR Congress.
The convention hall was built next to Naidu’s residence by the APCRDA, the Amaravati urban planning agency, on the Krishna riverbed.
When he ordered Praja Vedika’s demolition, he stated that it was built in “violation” of rules and “involved corruption”. Jagan also made it clear that this was just the beginning, and that his government would identify and demolish all structures built illegally during Naidu’s rule.
“Praja Vedika will be the first building to be demolished. We will not stop at this. This entire road will be cleansed,” he said a few hours before the demolition drive began Tuesday night.
According to Jagan, the building was built in violation of several central acts, including the River Conservation Act and the Environment Protection Act, besides National Green Tribunal orders and state laws pertaining to master plans and building clearances. Under the River Conservation Act, no construction activity can take place within 500 metres of a river.
The building was at risk of flooding, Jagan said, explaining the decision to his officers, and alleged irregularities in the tender process.
He said there were two bidders, but the Naidu government disqualified the second bidder in order to benefit the other, Lingamaneni Ramesh, a close associate of Naidu who owns the Vijayawada-based real estate conglomerate Lingamaneni Estates Pvt Ltd (LEPL).
According to Jagan, tenders were invited for an estimate of Rs 5 crore, but the final cost of construction came to Rs 8.9 crore.
On 6 June, soon after Jagan took over the reins of the government, Naidu wrote to him, requesting that Praja Vedika be allocated to him as he, as the opposition leader, needed some place to operate from.
He added that he wanted to continue staying in the present rented house, leased by LEPL, “as per the terms and conditions of the owner of the private property”.
“I wish to continue the same arrangement, that Praja Vedika be declared the residence annexe of the leader of opposition, to facilitate me to meet legislators, visitors, common public and discharge my duties,” he wrote in the letter.
“The request may be considered positively and appropriate necessary instructions may be given to the people concerned in this regard, so that I may continue to use Praja Vedika.”
Sources in the TDP say Jagan would now turn the bulldozers towards Naidu’s present residence, which is adjacent to the demolished structure.
Until 2015, the Lingamaneni guest house belonged to LEPL promoters, but Naidu made a request to use it as his residence when he decided to shift from Hyderabad to Amaravati following the cash-for-votes scandal.