Wednesday, 10 August, 2022
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Amaravati is Naidu’s Neverland. It is yet to come out of glitzy PowerPoint presentations

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Chandrababu Naidu asked people to donate e-bricks, each costing Rs 10, for construction of Amaravati. The challenge now is to turn virtual reality into reality.

Last year, 45 Indian cities competed to find a place in the final list of 30 that would be developed as smart cities. Much to everyone’s surprise, Amaravati, the proposed capital city of Andhra Pradesh made it to the list, at fourth position. What’s more, Amaravati beat cities like Puducherry, Bengaluru and Gandhinagar in the race.

A mirage called Amaravati had trumped real cities, just because it had a smarter plan on paper. Even Telugu Desam leaders couldn’t stop sniggering, pointing out that Amaravati did not even have two new buildings in the 16.9 sq km core capital zone.

This, in a nutshell, is the story of Amaravati. An ultra-modern city spread over 54,000 acres that aspires to be one of the best five in the world, exists at the moment only in glitzy PowerPoint presentations that Andhra chief minister Chandrababu Naidu loves to make.

Nearly four years after Naidu came to power and more than two years after Prime Minister Narendra Modi laid the foundation stone for the project, no significant brick and mortar work has begun. Naidu, government officials and consultants were globe-trotting till late last year to finalise the designs. The tenders for the main two iconic buildings — the Andhra assembly and the high court, will be floated only in May 2018. The delay was because initial designs by a Japanese firm in 2016, made the state assembly building look like an atomic reactor and was widely lampooned by citizens. Initial work has started only on constructing 4,000 houses for government employees.

The rejected initial design for the assembly building, which looked like an atomic reactor. Photo from Andhra Pradesh government.

In his first innings as chief minister, Naidu enjoyed the tag of ‘CEO of AP Inc.’ — something that fawning industrialists bestowed on him. Naidu 2.0 wants to better that and go down in history as the visionary creator, not merely as an efficient manager, of Amaravati. But with little money coming from New Delhi to fund Naidu’s Neverland, it risks becoming a fictional faraway dream.

For Naidu, Amaravati is a heady mix of history and culture with 21st century modernity. Amaravati was the ancient seat of power of the Satavahana rulers and the mythical city of Lord Indra, the king of Gods. The name was adopted for the capital by the religiously inclined, grandeur-obsessed Naidu.

This is perhaps why Baahubali movie director S.S. Rajamouli, known for creating the fictional kingdom of Mahishmati in his magnum opus, was roped in by Naidu to brainstorm about the capital with British architectural firm, Norman Foster & Partners. Everything about Amaravati will be grand and larger-than-life. Even the budget to build the city is a mammoth Rs 50,000 crore.

But not just empty grandeur, Naidu wants Amaravati to be smart too — with no overhead power wires, piped gas to every house, smart metres for power, world-class roads, waterfronts, electric cars and adequate green lung space. The focus is on quality of life for residents and an experiential treat for tourists. He calls it the People’s Capital.

The new design for the Assembly Building | Photo from Andhra Pradesh government.

But the Sivaramakrishnan committee, appointed by the central government in 2014 to suggest where the new capital of Andhra could come up, had recommended a decentralised capital, instead of one omnibus centre. But Naidu chose to ignore its suggestions. He is committing the same blunder he made in Hyderabad when he was chief minister between 1995 and 2004 — ie., to develop only Hyderabad, ignoring other urban clusters in Andhra.

When bifurcation took place in 2014, the realisation dawned on the Visakhapatnams and the Vijayawadas that they were not a patch on Hyderabad while Telangana walked away with the advantage of a developed capital city. But a decade later, Naidu is once again putting all his eggs in the Amaravati basket.

The dream project can turn into a nightmare if Naidu does not return to power in 2019. The investors are already worried, and many national and international hotel chains, entertainment majors, IT companies have postponed their decision to set up shop in Amaravati to mid-2019. By that time, elections to the Andhra assembly would be over and there will be clarity for the next five years.

But this wait and watch attitude is affecting Brand Amaravati. Its link to the political fortunes of one man makes its future tense. Unless economic activity takes off in Amaravati, land value will not increase. This will mean Andhra will find it tough to repay the Rs 7,500 crore loan it has taken from HUDCO and Rs 4,000 crore from the World Bank. It will mean farmers who agreed to land pooling in the hope that they can sell their developed land at a higher price, will not get big money. It will also mean the 4,000 acres of prime land that Naidu plans to leave untouched to sell later to raise funds, will not fetch the price he dreams of.

The main opposition party, the YSR Congress, has never been in favour of converting the fertile plains along the Krishna into a concrete jungle. If Jaganmohan Reddy comes to power, he may not want to continue with a project where the credit eventually will go to his bete noire Naidu.

There are environmental concerns too. The go-ahead from the National Green Tribunal in November 2017 came with a rider, asking the government not to clear land in the project area without environmental clearance. Environmentalists have protested that an impartial and comprehensive environmental assessment has not been done to study the effect of this large-scale urbanisation on wetlands and fertile agricultural land. Those who oppose Amaravati claim that while Naidu may wow the ignorant with fancy designs, future generations may end up bearing the consequences of this man-made disaster built on fertile land that grew three crops in a year.

True to his hi-tech image, Naidu asked people to donate e-bricks to the construction of Amaravati, each brick costing Rs 10. The challenge now is to convert the virtual reality into reality, brick by brick.

T.S. Sudhir is a freelance journalist and commentator who writes on the southern states.

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18 COMMENTS

  1. Well, firstly please consider me as an ardent fan of CBN. I want to see him getting re-elected as the CM of AP with a massive majority. Though I reside in Hyderabad, I follow news pertaining to AP development. I am basically from AP and the love for the state remains.

    Having said that, I’m very skeptical of Amaravati as the capital of AP.

    Firstly, to build a city from scratch to the level of grandeur as envisioned is a long time affair, say 10 to 15 years.

    To showcase Amaravati before 2019.
    elections is too ambitious a target
    As the gestation period is usually very long as the case with any Infra project, payback from the capital should not be expected anytime soon

    But the state, which is already battling fiscal imbalances because of various populist schemes initiated by the Govt, (very much unlike the Naidu, CM of unified Andhra) and huge debt, will show its toll on the state exchequer very soon, as the state will have to start repayment and debt servicing as per schedule. Also the Amaravati bonds have been issued at a very high interest rate.

    The total amount being invested should start fetching returns asap as otherwise, CBN will have have to fend off large scale criticism and ridicule, as otherwise, it could spell a doom for his political career.

    Naidu is of course aware of all the above scenarios, which is why he is solely prioritising development of Amaravati ahead of ready made alternatives.

    The Bhogapuram international airport is progressing at a snail’s pace.
    Amaravati metro rail project is moving swiftly, where as there is not even a discussion on Vizag metro.
    Vizag is a ready made option for most of development related requirements with its superior air road and rail connectivity to all important cities of India.
    Furthermore, it’s already on the development radar occupying 9th position in terms of GDP contribution among Indian cities.
    Vizag, also scores heavily on quality of education, human resource pool from the state, and also attracting several educated youth from neighbouring states.
    Cynosure of eyes, Vizag offers a pleasant experience to the residents and tourists alike. This also can draw the talent pool from across the country, which is a key requirement for any big business.
    While the idea of a decentralised development is a lesson learnt from the Hyderabad mistake from his earlier stint as CM of unified AP, Naidu appears to be making the same mistake again with excessive focus on Amaravati, which is as of now non existent. At least there was a thriving metropolis in Hyderabad the 5th largest Indian city then, which was transformed into a Hitec city by CBN.
    But Amaravati example doesn’t stand in comparison.

    My only fear – Amaravati shouldn’t end up in the same manner as Modi’s foolish Demonetisation excercise which set India a few years backwards on the development agenda. CBN should weigh his options and embark on a mid path harmonising present development needs alongside pursuing the grandeur of Amaravati which is a future reality.

  2. Only because of hyderabad, now telangana state is getting 60% of state revenue from it and if you construct a world class city at hill station like hyderabad, water and power distribution will be a big headache to government and people (for your information hyderabad is facing the same). We have trust on NBN and we hope soon andhra will make a mark on world best cities.

  3. CBN is a visionary high-tech man.I wish him well at the outset.Did he not bring people from Singapore and ask them to replicate in all aspects?That is one way of doing it fast.India is not new to creating new capitals–Chandigarh,Gandhinagar,Navi Mumbai,etc.It takes time.Worth doing.

  4. Unfortunately,every one wants results by overnight. No one talks about the availability of funds. Andhras
    were thrown out of Hyderabad by Congress regime overnight without any future plan. Naidu hailing from Rayalaseema area preferred Amaravati area as new capital for the convenience of north Andhra people as well as Royalaseema area people for better administration. He is developing Visakhapatnam as well as Tirupati too. But Central Govt. is not providing funds and facilities as promised in bifurcation document approved by Parliament.There is no alternative to get land for building capital city in the central location. You can build towers, castles,palaces anywhere even in the middle of sea,if you have funds. What is there in Dubai to build fantastic towers…they have money,money,money. I am not a Naidu Bhakt or devotee but can understand the efforts being taken by Naidu although living in Mumbai for the past 47 years. Please name any other CM who is struggling so much to develop his state from scratch without any support from opposition and with only promises from Union Government. No politics please..Do your best to develop the new born State and no use of creating hurdles when some one is struggling day and night.

  5. Foolish to hear if someone says that it takes years complete our own house as if it was Ambani’s new superrich building in Mumbai. The government doesn’t even laid a brick in Amaravati. Before even announcing the capital TDP MLA’S grabbed land from the farmers which implies land scam. If the government has to build it needs to gather government land not fertile land from the farmers. Why don’t atleast one TDP MLA and MP donate at least 1 acre of land for capital construction instead of grabbing from farmers. This is something called reality that is happening in capital city. Graphical world is always a different from reality. Never ever believe in the fastasy which happens only to be in graphic designers life.

  6. Dear Editor,

    Please do not jump to conclude that I am not Naidu supporter with my comments.

    One need to really focus and understand why it could not be achieved? Is it because of inefficiency of cm or due to arm twisting politics?

    As a matter of facts many CMs can’t operate their own lap tops.

    You must appreciate visionary actions by a CM and your article is not sounding a sensible one.
    Regards,

  7. The land pooling arrangement, which has been devised to overcome the high compensation payable under the new LA Act, is an untested model in India. A large element of speculation is built into it. With the prolonged slump in real estate and general slowdown in the economy, its calculations may not hold up. AP should have upgraded an existing city as its capital.

  8. We take years to get a house completed. And expect a capital city to be completed in few years. Hypocrites aren’t we

  9. Why did he have to build the city on fertile land? Surely he could have chosen barren land in Andhra Pradesh and then made water pipelines which would have supplied the city with water. Or how about building sattelite township in Vijaywada and making that sattelite township as the state’s capital?

    • I am surprised that people expect a new city to come with the snap of fingers. Even a single room studio tenament requires a plan and vision of how one would like to get it into the dreamt shape.

      When you talk of a new city that too a capital city which one aspires to be one of five best in tbe world it takes time to finaluse ghe designs and put it into reality.

      If dreaming is wtong than all of us are doing this mistake. Onlu one who can dream of tbe future and work towards achieving it succeed.

      This had hsppened once in shri CBN s life and he aspires to reach his goal during his life time. There is nothing wrong in aspiring to give AP the best ad per his vision.

      For one who is happy with whatever he has and only procastinates anything would do for them.

      Let us pray CBN will retain his good health to give us his dream project in real terms. If it is not him no one esle can do it.

      He gave us cyber city thrmost happenning place today in Telangana so it may not be just dream when Amaravathi becomes a reality. Let funds start coming in. The project will start taking shape.

      But for the narrow mindedness and selfish attitude of the center and the jealous opposition leader things might have started already. It our misfortu e tk have such unscrupulous groups in tbe state and country.

    • Sir in cade you are building a house for yourself. Would you build it where badic amenities are available or in a jungle? You cant build a capital city and than statt looking for badic amenities.

      Also when the land donors are happy why should anyine bother. They know CBN will not let them down.

      • i appreciate Mr. Rajashekhar for giving such a nice explainantion as reply
        i too support for the better urbanisation
        we all will be proud one day about amaravati ….. which is going to be within top 4 cities in asia

  10. Perfect analysis from a person who wants the grand capital to fail big. Spitting venom only decreases your value

  11. Naidu lives in his own world. And that is not the present world. Vijayavada is good in every respect to be the Andhra Capital.

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