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Amravati: The Long Road Ahead for India’s Rs 45,000 Crore 'Singapore City'

Like Amsterdam, all major roads in Amaravati will have waterways. It is being planned as a green and blue city with more than 50% green cover and close to 10-15% as water cover.

Aishwarya Kumar |

Updated:April 17, 2018, 12:15 PM IST
Amravati: The Long Road Ahead for India’s Rs 45,000 Crore 'Singapore City'
File Photo | Image: PTI
Amaravati: Mauryas, Satavahanas, Pallavas, Vijayanagara empire and many more have previously laid their claims to the ancient city of Amaravati in Andhra Pradesh.

Today, Telugu Desam Party (TDP) president and Andhra Pradesh chief minister N Chandrababu Naidu is claiming to resurrect this ancient seat of power in modern-day India. In re-building Amaravati, or the ‘the place for immortals’, Naidu claims to be creating India’s Singapore, a city known worldwide for its planning and high tech infrastructure.

Naidu, who has been chief minister for 14 years (in undivided Andhra Pradesh and the rest after bifurcation), walked out on his ally, the ruling Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), last month over broken promises. By refusing to grant a Special Status to the state, the Centre, he alleged, had backed out on what was promised to it on the floor of the Parliament.

“I have built Cyberabad, what have they built?”; Naidu asked the BJP just after the messy divorce during the budget session of Parliament as he accused his erstwhile poll ally of not providing requisite resources for his dream project.

The Ambition

Naidu has pegged Amaravati as the Singapore of India. A Greenfield capital city of 217 square kilometres, Amaravati is being developed near Vijayawada along the Krishna River and expects to house close to 3.5 million people by 2050.

The Chief Minister is never tired of speaking on the Land Pooling System, a model relied on by his government for acquiring land from the farmers. Amaravati is part of a greenfield project for which farmers were asked to pool their land with the promise of a return of an average 30% of the developed land to the original owners. The government says that close to 35,000 acres of land were given voluntarily for development.

The cost of the project, according to a few official estimates, is around Rs 45,000 crores. There is another set of estimates by the APCRDA which peg the expenditure to be over Rs 1 lakh crore. So what all will this expenditure bring to Amaravati? Naidu promises the new capital city to be aesthetically appealing with state of the art architecture.

Dr Sreedhar Cherukuri, the commissioner at APCRDA, Amravati’s design is inspired by many famous cities world over. For instance, like Amsterdam, all major roads in Amaravati will have waterways. It is being planned as a green and blue city with more than 50% being green cover and close to 10-15% as water cover. It will have a dense green cover like New York’s Central Park.

Real-time governance, biometric details of all residents (with the use of blockchain technology) are also part of the project.

Cherukuri says “the city will have nine thematic regions; knowledge, tourism, sports, electronics, health, finance, media and government. State officials added that while individually some of the infrastructure could be seen in a few parts of India, it was for the first time that sectors were being integrated.”

On The Ground

The city is now in phase 1 of its development which includes government complexes and houses for officials. This phase 1, according to official estimates, comes at an expense of nearly Rs 43,000 crore, out of which about Rs 3,000 crore has been spent and 53% of phase 1 has been completed. The government has time and again lauded itself on the pace at which the city is being developed, ever since the project officially started 40 months ago.

A visit to the phase 1 area Amaravati will show housing complexes at various levels of construction. The number of apartments under construction for government employees stands at 3,840 and there are 186 bungalows top judiciary and administration, including ministers and bureaucrats.

Temporary buildings of the Secretariat and the Assembly stand tall with state of the art facilities and so do two varsities, SRM University and Vellore Institute of Technology. Additionally, substantial progress has been made in developing a Real Time Governance (RTG) Centre. With facial recognition in place (the government said that the feature has helped nab culprits in the state), censor enabled street lights across the district and a 24*7 call centre to address residents’ concerns, the system, according to Balaji Adivishnu, director at RTGC, has achieved global acclaim.

The Long Road Ahead

Questions have however arisen on whether farmers whose lands have been acquired for Amaravati have been adequately compensated under LPS model. There are many like Anumolu Gandhi, a prominent activist who has taken the government to court over the scheme. Gandhi owns about 82 acres of land in Lingayapalem.

His land in the village, he said, is worth Rs 4.25 crores but the government announced the value as Rs 10 lakh. “Farmers are confused. The government is only creating an environment of expectations,” Gandhi said.

His concerns were voiced by another farmer, Kudasarao, who did not give up his land as part of land pooling. He points to the land opposite his own, which is "now with the government and is dry and barren. People have left their agricultural practices and are doing odd jobs."

"I did not give my land which is about 1 acre because I get income from it all through the year,” Kudasarao explained. His farms flowers for sale throughout summer, winter and monsoon thus ensuring that he earns money 365 days a year.

Not just farmers, but former chief secretary IYR Krishna Rao has slammed the Naidu government’s project in his book, Whose Capital, Amaravathi?, Rao has called the LPS a sham. Resistance to LPS and the project, in general, continues till date and the opposition in the state has taken to it too. YSR Congress chief Jagan has called the scheme as ‘land fooling’. In the past, he has said that the government had taken away chunks of land from the farmers and given it to corporates at questionable prices.

There has been no dearth of controversy regarding the temporary Secretariat too, which is one of the few completed structures at present. Many are questioning why over Rs 1 crore was spent on a transitional government complex. Paucity of funds has been a topic of debate, especially now that Naidu is out of the National Democratic Alliance's (NDA) fold.

With or without the money, Amaravati is Naidu’s trump card. His announcement that basic infrastructure will be completed in the city by the end of 2018 could very well be the clarion call for 2019.

(The reporter was in Amaravati at the invitation of the Andhra Pradesh government.)

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