AP capital city dreams

S Madhusudhana Rao

The contours of the proposed capital of Andhra Pradesh, Amaravati, have become clearer with the Singapore government submitting its master plan along with sub-plans to Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu. Since Singapore has prepared the plan, we can expect the brand new capital green and spick and span a la the city state.

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S Madhusudhana Rao

An artiste’s impression of the new capital shows it is futuristic with ultra modern transport and communication facilities and dwellings built in natural surroundings. Two factors that distinguish Amaravati from most of the other state capitals will be greenery –21 per cent of the total area has been earmarked – and water – 35km-long Krishna river front with a network of canals criss-crossing the Smart City. The lifeline, in every sense, of the AP capital will be Krishna waters that are envisaged to cover 3 per cent of the total area of the core city. Canal parks, island resorts and island-themed park are among other aqua features.

The seat of government is called seed capital that will be developed in a 17 sq km area in five phases on private-public partnership model. It will have government offices, secretariat, State Assembly, official residences of chief minister, governor and other officials as well as High Court. The first phase is expected to be completed by 2018 and the foundation stone will be laid on October 22. The seed capital has been planned for 3 lakh residents with a potential to create 7 lakh jobs.

Spanning over 200 sq km between Guntur and Vijayawada, Amaravati is expected to be shaped as the model capital city. CM Chandrababu Naidu wants to showcase it as a better city than Hyderabad. Not to lag behind the twin cities of Hyderabad and Secunderabad, he has even proposed to develop Amaravati and Vijayawada as the twin cities.

On paper, everything looks so rosy that an artist’s impression of Amaravati looks like a three-in-one mirror image of Singapore, Kuala Lumpur (with twin towers the city is famous for) and Dubai. All are modern cities developed from scratch. Singapore rose from the marshy land of Singhapura island while Dubai grew up from desert sands. The Malaysian capital, of course, is bestowed with nature’s bounty that is not sacrificed at the altar of the metropolis in developing it over the years. In contrast, the proposed AP capital will rise from farmlands of thousands of people. In other words, Amaravati, when it moves from blueprints to brick and mortar, in all possibility, it will look like an alien city transplanted amid vast stretches of agriculture areas. The question is whether a city designed and developed by another country will gel into Andhra culture, traditions and lifestyle?

Capital cities like Chandigarh, Bhubaneswar, Raipur, Gandhinagar, etc. built post-Independence had not been planned and developed by outsiders. Since the concepts were indigenous, the cities reflect local culture and flavor. But if a city is built on the ideas of alien cultures, it faces the risk of being totally different.

On the face of it, such a city looks glamorous but lacks ‘soul.’ Many cities in Middle East have lost their Arab charm after they started transforming themselves into concrete jungles with high-rises that look incongruous in the middle of desert landscape. In a show of wealth, post-oil boom, many Gulf cities are vying with each other in going up vertically although plenty of land is available. It is nothing but kitschy growth with high egoistic quotient.

This does not mean that Amaravati should not be developed on the lines of modern metropolises whose motto is green, clean, energy-efficient and highly functional. Once these criteria are met, it doesn’t matter whether the city has more tall buildings than the other or better nightlife. When a city with heavy investment is planned, the question of funding it will automatically arise.

In the case of Amaravati, funds crunch is the biggest roadblock. With little money forthcoming from the central government and no provision for allocation of regular funds in central budget to build a new capital for AP, its Chief Minister Chandrababu is banking upon Singapore and Japan to partner with the state in building the capital. Unless they are assured of returns in one form or the other, the two well developed countries will have little interest. While Singapore has expressed interest, Chandrababu’s proposal to Japan is yet to get a positive response.

By conservative estimates, the new capital needs lakhs of crores to materialize. How many years it will take for the dream city to become a reality is anybody’s guess. It’s not a million dollar question but an issue of  billions of dollars.

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