Uttarandhra (North Andhra), consisting of Srikakulam, Vizianagaram and Visakhapatnam districts of the combined state (or Seemandhra now), is considered the most backward region in terms of socio-economic parameters. It is strange that everyone refers to the region extending from Visakhapatnam to Chennai as a future development corridor. Both most government officials and development experts consider Visakhapatnam city as part of North Andhra. But, two-and-a-half districts beyond it we have a region that abounds in natural resources with a 400-km coastline. It has a vast development potential with minerals and natural resources. Besides, it shares borders with the mineral-rich hinterland of Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Odissa. They would provide inputs for expansion of emerging manufacturing units along its coast. This is the region of ancient Madhya Kalinga with Buddhist monasteries, religious places, beautiful beaches and Eastern Ghat with 10 river systems. It is a surplus region if the riparian rights are legitimately considered.
The dominance of the advanced districts could be seen in terms of drawal of irrigation water from the rivers that depend upon the region’s Sabari, Sileru, Eleru etc. Polavaram project is planned on the basis of the surplus water of the above rivers, but the canals are planned to give drinking water only to Visakhapatnam.
The region consists of forests and the tribal areas have scarcity of cultivable land. Yet, most of the projects that need land are now being located here creating tensions in the region. It has the longest coast, almost half the total coastline in the state. But, no worthwhile project on the coast except the old port at Visakhapatnam is planned. The second major port for the state should have been located at Nakkapalli or some other place near Visakhapatnam, but it has been diverted elsewhere with the implicit consent of local politicians. However, the city of Visakhapatnam and Srikakulam are used as dumping grounds for pollutant industries like pharmaceuticals that are thrown out of Hyderabad. It seems the policy-makers have never thought of irrigation needs of the farmers and considered only the industrial requirements of new projects. Therefore, agriculture in the region has suffered a setback. Land holdings in the state indicate that 5 per cent of the people of six coastal districts (excluding North Andhra) own more than 52 per cent of the land in the region and if data are culled out in other districts of the state, the role of dominant contractors and politicians in the region stands exposed. The data show that the agricultural income of the districts in the region is the lowest with Rs 1,36,732 in Srikakulam district, Rs 1,70,609 in Vizianagaram district and Rs 2,49,976 in Visakhapatnam district.
The first industrial corridor was set up by the British keeping the natural harbour in Visakhapatnam and Garividi for its minerals. After Independence, the Government of India has located several public sector units, including the Visakhapatnam Steel Plant (VSP) in Visakhapatnam city. Nothing has happened during the last two decades of liberalization except for locating the pollutant thermal and pharmaceuticals units. The per capita consumption of power in the region can be taken as an indicator of industrial growth in the region that remains the lowest in Srikakulam and Vizianagaram. The contribution of industry to district income is found to be the lowest in the districts of Vizianagaram and Srikakulam at Rs 2,57,867 and Rs 2,88,594 respectively during 2010-11.
The service sector has grown much faster than the others in Andhra Pradesh. Agricultural development supported by subsidised irrigation water and other inputs has allowed the coastal region to concentrate on higher education. In fact, a majority of engineering, medical and professional colleges in the private sector in the country are owned by the people of Coastal Andhra. Interestingly, almost all the colleges in the North Andhra are also held by them. Andhra University located in Visakhapatnam, according to some, is responsible for the initial educational progress of Coastal Andhra but did not help North Andhra. It has attracted political immigrants to represent North Andhra and contributed to the development of others.
The contribution of the service sector to SDP was `6,65,373 in Srikakulam district, `6,33,764 in Vizianagaram, the lowest in the state, and `23,05,551 in Visakhapatnam. Interestingly, East Godavari, the neighboring district of Visakhapatnam district, contributed as much as other developed districts in the state like Guntur, Krishna and some districts in Rayalaseema in recent years. But, North Andhra has remained the lowest in this area also.
Uttarandhra is a typical socio-economic conglomeration not found elsewhere as the people here belong to the unusual Backward Classes, Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, accounting for 85 per cent of the total population. They need special protection from the rude competition from the developed regions. Further, representation of the locals in dominant political parties is marginal and outsiders (migrants) who are not very enlightened and broad- minded on the local issues have, in the recent past, started representing the region in the state and Union governments. As a result, the region beyond North of Bheemunipatnam is left without any development, except devastation.
The forest and unused land cover in the three districts is about 55 per cent, and the tribal population was 15 per cent of the combined state. If the socio-demographic parameters of North Andhra with the highest migration from the plains, including the fishermen of the coast are deliberated, majority are found devastated.
It is curious to note that development initiatives in the city of Visakhapatnam have further marginalised the locals and forced them to migrate to it. This is a unique situation where creation of additional privileges for the region is appropriated by others due to their advanced skills and manipulative talent, displacing the locals again. It is reported that 1.5 million people have migrated to Hyderabad occupying semi-skilled and casual jobs. They have become rootless, could be connected to their soil through inclusive policies of the proposed development package for the region. It is necessary to locate IIT, IIM, IISERC, Central University, Capital etc in Visakhapatnam as it has by now created adequate academic environments.
The entire region has small ports, jetties and other locations that once flourished in trade with East Asia. They can be re-designed both for shipping and tourist purposes. Keeping the hinterland and its natural resources in mind, agro-based industries, ICT and other MSME enterprises should be initiated with appropriate infrastructure to attract FDIs from the East.
The special package for backward region and the concessions for the new state should provide generous resources to create employment opportunities not only to engage the local youth, but also to offer prospects to the sons of the soil who have moved out. This would definitely create an atmosphere of inclusion not only with the developed regions but also outside the world, as a domain of destiny to regain its past splendour.
(The author is a former member of UPSC)