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12 bedrooms, chandeliers, spa: TDP slams Jagan Mohan Reddy over Rs 452 crore opulent sea-facing palace on Rushikonda Hill

The Rushikonda palace, spread over a 9.88-acre sea-facing site and possesses twelve bedrooms with a total built-up area of 1,41,433 square meters, has been at the centre of a political furore in Andhra Pradesh, with TDP accusing YSRCP of misusing public funds to develop what it has alleged to be an extravagant symbol of grandeur.

Yuvajana Sramika Rythu (YSR) Congress Party chief and former Chief Minister Yeduguri Sandinti Jagan Mohan Reddy is under fire after images of his luxurious sea-facing abode in Visakhapatnam (Vizag) surfaced on social media recently. However, his party defended the construction, emphasising that these buildings are government assets rather than private properties of Jagan Mohan Reddy. However, the controversy has been further escalating as the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) has levelled charges of corruption against him, especially in light of the state’s financial condition. The lavish estate, according to the TDP, was meant to serve as Jagan Reddy’s camp office as he proclaimed Vizag as the capital of Andhra Pradesh.

The Rushikonda palace which is spread over a 9.88-acre sea-facing site and possesses twelve bedrooms with a total built-up area of 1,41,433 square meters has turned out to be an extravagant symbol of grandeur. The Jagan government reportedly spent Rs 407 crore of the anticipated Rs 452 crore on the project, which involved cutting the idyllic Rushikonda hills to create the three mansions. Some washrooms are even 480 square feet large and meeting halls measure 7,266 square meters.

Expensive imported marble and chandeliers costing Rs 2 lakh grace the vast corridors leading to the first-floor conference area in Kalinga block. A home theatre with a wall-to-wall screen is another highlight of the block. The facilities in the Gajapathi and Vengi blocks are the same. The government invested Rs 50 crore in landscaping and Rs 33 crore on interior décor. There is central air conditioning throughout the entire complex, including the restrooms. A dining hall with a view of the sea, each bedroom with twelve beds, and baths with spa services are among the special features.

TDP attacks YSR Congress

The TDP pounced on the Jagan government and highlighted that the new buildings are a testament to its “misgovernance.” After TDP stormed into power, Bheemili MLA Ganta Srinivasa Rao and members of the ruling party visited the location to acquire information regarding the project before Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu’s scheduled visit to Visakhapatnam. They also posted images on social media and slammed the YSR Congress government for tearing down Praja Vedika, which was constructed under the previous TDP administration.

Ganta Srinivasa Rao declared, “Jagan was voted out of power before enjoying the opulence of the palace he constructed. It was constructed in an impractical manner, and a decision regarding its use will be made after Naidu’s visit.” The new Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu and even his deputy Pawan Kalyan were unaware of what was happening behind the barricades. He added, “Divine intervention prevented Jagan from using the palace,” referring to the former chief minister’s oust from office. When the proposal was contested, a High Court expert committee discovered multiple infractions, but construction went forward, he asserted.

According to Ganta Srinivasa Rao, the opulence of the palace was reminiscent of the palaces constructed by Saddam Hussein, the dictator of Iraq and Karnataka mining baron Gali Janardhan Reddy. He contended that it had a large conference space intended for reviews and gatherings, which isn’t a feature of tourist homes. The TDP maintained that the building costs were kept “highly confidential” and that contracts were given toYSR Congress Party’s supporters.

The TDP leader pointed out, that Rushikonda’s green tourist resorts, which brought in up to Rs 8 crore a year, were razed to make way for the palace. He emphasised that the state government had deceived the judges. He mentioned that the state government referred to it as a “star hotel” at first, then as a “Chief Minister camp office” and finally as a tourism project. With a timeframe of 15 months and a budget of Rs 91 crore, the project was initiated as a five-star hotel, however, according to the TDP, Rs 21 crore was spent on landscaping and Rs 95 crore was used to level the land. Twenty-foot barricades were installed to keep the building activity concealed.

TDP’s official social media handle also denounced the former chief minister in a series of tweets and accused him of building the palace discreetly and shielded by extensive barricades. It wrote, “Rushikonda Palace incident alone is enough to know how much good people have done to the state by defeating Jagan. Look at how much effort he had to occupy a hill in Visakha and build a palace with Rs.500 crores of public money.”

The party further accused, “For his (Jagan Mohan Reddy) wife’s wish, a palace worth Rs. 500 crores, with a view of the beach and the sea in the north-east. The bathtub alone is Rs.26 lakhs. Again he made a mockery of the poor and beggars and deprived the impoverished of their homes.”

“The Italian marble and tiles used in Rushikonda Palace are mind-blowing. For the cost per foot of this Italian marble, a middle-class person can afford a small-sized apartment. This is the beach view palace built by Jagan Reddy in Rushikonda with the materials used for royal prasadas built by heads of state,” the party stated in another tweet.

“The luxuries and comforts provided to Jagan Mohan Reddy at the Rushikonda Palace have left people in shock,” highlighted TDP Spokesperson Pattabhi Ram Kommareddy Pattabhi. He drew attention to the lavish spending on a range of amenities, asserting that these indulgences had cost close to Rs 500 crore. A tub that was estimated to be worth Rs 40 lakh and a wheelchair that was estimated to be worth Rs 10 to Rs 12 lakh were two of the most prominent expenses. The palace also includes an abundance of exquisite furnishings, including a spa area with an expensive massage table. He added, “I was surprised to see a massage table inside the Chief Minister’s bedroom.”

The TDP leader also brought on the timing and nature of these expenditures, expressing that considering the state’s acute financial situation (Andhra Pradesh is in debt for Rs. 12 lakh crore) such spending was improper. Furthermore, he flagged a conflict of interest by affirming that Devi Reddy Srinath Reddy, a relative of Jagan Mohan Reddy, was awarded the contract for these constructions.

Environmentalists and bureaucrats raise concerns

Environmentalists and campaigners have criticized the construction, noting that it goes beyond the rules governing the Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ). Numerous court cases, including one before the National Green Tribunal (NGT), have been brought against the building. EAS Sarma, a retired bureaucrat, wrote to the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MEFCC) stating that the buildings are meant to house the chief minister’s office rather than be utilized for tourism, as part of the administrative capital relocation to Visakhapatnam. He asked the MEFCC to bring charges against APTDC personnel for breaking the law and to withdraw the CRZ clearance.

Following social media posts about the reckless excavation of hills for the construction of the multi-story tourism resort, L V Subrahmanyam in 2021 approached Raj Bhavan. He was the chief secretary of the government led by Y S Jagan Mohan Reddy from June to November 2019. He pointed out, “How can this (destruction) be allowed to go on? Are we having any concern for conservation? Wish the Governor questions this action. We cannot be silent spectators. An innocent tribal is not allowed this liberty in his habitat where options are few. But here with all options for alternative this marauding of ecology is simply unpardonable. We must halt this at once (sic),” in a letter.

According to former Union energy secretary and retired IAS officer E A Sarma, the state government received environmental clearance from the centre for the construction on Rushikonda hill by claiming that the project only involved remodelling the existing resort and would not cause any harm to the hill or surrounding vegetation. However, he charged, the exact opposite is happening there. “The construction activity has extensively damaged the otherwise scenic Rushikonda hill terrain, leaving ugly scars and causing extensive denudation of the vegetation there.”

YSR Congress Party defends itself

The party has claimed that the goal of the renovation project was to increase Visakhapatnam tourism. “They are not private property. They do not belong to anyone. These buildings were constructed keeping in mind the priority given to Visakhapatnam by the previous government. It is up to the government how to use them. People are noticing the motives behind going into such government buildings and taking pictures and trying to smear them with distortions. Even since 1995, Chandrababu has been boasting that Visakhapatnam is the financial capital. He has become the chief minister four times so far. Realize that even if a Prime Minister comes to Visakhapatnam, a President comes, a Chief Minister goes, or people like the Governor go, there is no proper building to host them. Going inside the buildings of Rushikonda Resorts and taking pictures and displaying bile may give you emotional satisfaction, but the people of Visakhapatnam are not doing so,” it alleged on X (formerly Twitter).

According to the party, the structures were built to accommodate dignitaries including the president and prime minister when they come to the city. TDP MLAs and certain ministers, per former minister Gudivada Amarnath, are attempting to deceive the people by portraying the buildings as private properties for Jagan Mohan Reddy’s disposal. He recounted that the Andhra Pradesh Tourism Development Corporation (APTDC) resort was constructed while NT Rama Rao was the chief minister and it still controls the land. He disputed the TDP’s allegations of exploitation of funds by stressing that the current administration could decide how to use the buildings for public purposes.

The Andhra Pradesh Tourism Development Corporation was in charge of the Haritha resort on Rushikonda Hill, and the YSR Congress Party government had been revealing plans to turn it into a popular tourist attraction since late 2021. A 9.88-acre portion of the resort has been off-limits ever since, and the government claimed that it was undergoing development work. The land was divided into blocks, according to official records and structures were built at an estimated cost of Rs 356.4 crore. RK Roja, former minister of tourism, launched the redevelopment initiative in February.

Now, following the shift in state administration following the assembly elections, the future of the new building atop Rushikonda Hill is now uncertain. There is considerable ambiguity and limited access to its neighbouring areas.

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