NewsTAP EXCLUSIVE: Decoding ruckus around Rushikonda in Visakhapatnam

Opposition parties in Andhra Pradesh have been crying hoarse against the mega construction activity taken up by the YSRCP Government on the Rushikonda

NewsTAP EXCLUSIVE: Decoding ruckus around Rushikonda in Visakhapatnam

VISAKHAPATNAM: At a time when the YSR Congress Party (YSRCP) Government decided to develop Visakhapatnam as the executive capital of Andhra Pradesh, opposition parties in Andhra Pradesh, who have been crying hoarse against the mega construction activity on the Rushikonda, located overlooking the Bay of Bengal, shaving the greenery atop the hill.

The State Government is also facing the ire of different stakeholders, including the denizens of the City of Destiny. The opposition parties contend that the government, at the instance of Chief Minister YS Jagan Mohan Reddy, is constructing huge buildings on Rushikonda and destroying the nature’s beauty, flora and fauna only to grab a beach-front camp office for him.

Even as the YSRCP leaders assert that the construction activities are not new on the Rushikonda hillock as buildings belonging to the Andhra Pradesh Tourism Development Corporation (APTDC) were constructed long ago and now the new buildings are being constructed in the same location, the opposition parties smelt a rat and began raising their voice accusing the government of taking up illegal construction.

Amid the charges and counter-charges between the Opposition and the YSRCP, the construction on Rushikonda hillock has snowballed into a controversy.

In March 2021, the APTDC obtained permission from the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) and Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) in May 2021 and began construction works on Rushikonda. Similarly, the APTDC also got building plan approval from the Greater Visakhapatnam Municipal Corporation (GVMC) for 13,587.20 sq metres, forest clearance for removing 139 trees and consent for raising a built-up area of 13,792.80 sq metres from the Andhra Pradesh Pollution Board (APPCB).

In April 2021, the CRZ gave its clearance to APTDC to take up the project for the redevelopment of Haritha Resorts. The Rushikonda tourism project was proposed at an estimated cost of Rs 240 crore consisting of luxury villas, beach-facing suites, master suites, guest suites, dining spaces, cafeterias, gymnasiums, swimming pools, banquet halls, security spaces, front desk and back offices, service areas, and kitchens, according to APTDC officials.

The resorts are proposed to be constructed on a piece of land measuring 9.88 acres and seven blocks, with a total built-up area of 19,967.97 sq metres. In November 2022, the Andhra High Court asked the MoEFCC to conduct a survey and submit a report on the building activities being taken up by the APTDC at Rushikonda resort on the Visakhapatnam beach road.

This follows the filing of a public interest litigation (PIL) by GVMC corporator and Jana Sena leader PLN Murthy Yadav and petitions from Visakhapatnam East MLA and TDP leader Velagaludi Ramakrishna Babu and Narsapur MP Raghu Ramakrishna Raju.

In December 2022, a Division of Bench of the AP High Court led by Chief Justice Prashant Kumar Mishra directed the MoEFCC to set up a five-member committee to look into the alleged violations of environmental protection laws in the ongoing construction works being carried out at Rushikonda.

In its report, the committee said violations indeed occurred and were clearly evident in the excavations and constructions at Rushikonda in Visakhapatnam. It said instead of permitting 9.88 acres, constructions were taken up on 17.96 acres on Rushikonda.

On August 3, 2023 a division bench comprising Chief Justice Dhiraj Singh Thakur and Justice AV Sesha Sai studied the report submitted by the joint committee constituted by the High Court. During the hearing of the case, the Bench said that it would direct the MoEFCC to take necessary action based on the report. As it was the MoEFCC that had given the permission for the construction works on Rushikonda, the bench opined.

Meanwhile, Telugu Desam supremo N Chandrababu Naidu and Jana Sena Party (JSP) president Pawan Kalyan had made numerous attempts to stage a protest or visit the construction site on Rushikonda hillock for several months. However, their attempts went in vain as police prevented them from visiting the Rushikonda hillock. Naidu even accused the APTDC of obtaining permissions for the development of only 9.8 acres, while the construction activity was taken up on a significant portion of the Rushikonda hillock spread across an area of 69 acres.

Naidu also alleged that the entire hillock had been dug indiscriminately, razing the greenery. This apart, the construction material and debris was also being dumped on the beach and it’s piling up, in contravention of the MoEFCC norms.

Pawan Kalyan, as part of his Varahi Yatra, visited Rushikonda a few days ago. He came down heavily on YS Jagan for destroying the nature, natural resources and plundering public wealth for his own comfort. “Jana Sena Party's attempt is only to explain to people how the destruction is taking place in Rushikonda,” Pawan Kalyan said.

Speaking to NewsTAP, Former IAS Officer EAS Sarma said that the construction works taken by the YSRCP Government on Rushikonda Hills was against the mandate in the earlier Master Plan of Visakhapatnam Metropolitan Region Development Authority (VMRDA). The works being done by the APTDC should be confined to 9.88 acres on Rushikonda. However, they undertook extensive excavation and construction activities over a much larger area compared to what was stated to the MoEFCC, he said.

Sarma pointed out that in a recent letter to MoEFCC Secretary Leena Nandan had said that APTDC's construction activity covered an area of 9.88 acres, as against the stipulated 4.93 acres, indicating an infringement of the CRZ clearance condition by 4.95 acres. Out of this, 8.87 acres are within the CRZ. In addition, APTDC also cut the hillside extending over an “unauthorised” extent of 3.86 acres, out of which 3.7 acres are within CRZ.

The APTDC also violated the condition precedent to the CRZ clearance in respect of the way it dumped construction waste material. The area falling within the CRZ over which APTDC dumped waste illegally extended over 3.945 acres and another 0.280 acres in non-CRZ locations, he alleged. Sarma demanded that all construction activity be stopped and action should be taken against those responsible.

However, as the entire issue is mired in political quagmire, Andhra Pradesh Tourism Minister RK Roja said, “Rushikonda is spread over 69 acres of land and out of which the APTDC was given permission for construction of 9.88 acres. However, the ongoing construction work on hillocks has been taken up in less than 2.7 acres. Despite this, we have got permission to construct seven buildings with a total built-up area of 19,968 metres and since the work site fell in CRZ-II area, we have approached the MoEFCC and obtained the required clearances. Currently, the APTDC is constructing four G+1 buildings at Rushikonda.”

Taking a dig at the opposition parties, she said that Chandrababu Naidu and his “foster son” Pawan Kalyan were unnecessarily creating a ruckus over the construction on Rushikonda. “In what capacity Pawan Kalyan is making allegations against the Chief Minister? Why did he remain a mute spectator when Hindupur MLA Nandamuri Bala Krishna and his son-in-law encroached on the government lands near Rushikonda. The State Government will follow any directions from the High Court regarding Rushikonda. It is better for the opposition parties to refrain themselves from making baseless allegations against the YSRCP Government,” Roja said.

Amid Roja’s strong defence, it becomes interesting to watch where does the saga of the once-tranquil Rushikonda, surrounded by cool and serene breeze from the ocean, would culminate in.

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