Environmentalists see red in Greenfield capital city plan

Jaya Prakash Adusumilli

Woven around the theme of blue of the Krishna River and green of the pastoral landscape, Amaravati, the capital city of Andhra Pradesh, is planned to spread over a 217.23 sq. km area in Guntur district while the metropolitan capital region spans 7,420 sq. km encompassing large parts of Guntur and Krishna districts.

Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu’s team scoured Singapore, Japan and China for inspiration and gave the core capital master plan work to a Singapore firm Surbana Jurong Private Limited, and the design to Japanese company Maki and Associates for the 16.9sq.km core capital straddling Uddandarayunipalem (where Prime Minister Narendra Modi laid the foundation stone for the capital on October 22, 2015), Lingayapalem and Thalayapalem.

Amaravati is being envisaged as “a smart, green, sustainable city”, with zones consisting of a central business district, residential areas, green zones and water bodies.

The blueprint for the core area has four distinct regions: Amaravati Government Core comprising Assembly, Secretariat, High Court and Raj Bhavan; the downtown area that has a central boulevard, convention centre and recreation facilities; the city gateway; and a 30km-long waterfront. It also has provision for a piazza with two iconic towers and a garden much bigger than the Brindavan in Karnataka.

“It is simple in its structure and sustainable,” says KT Ravindran, architect, urban planner and conservationist, who was part of the jury that selected Maki and Associates’ design.

However, there is skepticism about how much of these would actually transform into reality, given the completion deadline of 2018 and the projected cost of Rs 20,000 crore for the core capital area alone. The Bharatiya Janata Party-led government at the Centre has committed assistance of Rs.1,500 crore, which has led to some heartburn as Naidu expected more from the TDP’s ally. The YSR Congress party has also expressed reservations about resource mobilisation given that the state has inherited a revenue deficit of Rs 16,000 crore, doubts that heightened after the APCRDA postponed the allotment of developed plots at Nelapadu scheduled for June 20 due to “heavy rains”. But Naidu says he will tap multilateral agencies for funds.

The idea behind the ambitious deadline is obvious: the Chief Minister wants to showcase at least parts of the core capital to the people when he seeks their mandate in the next Assembly elections in 2019.

Environmentalists have called Amaravati a disaster in the making, since it is being built on a highly flood-prone and seismic zone. What’s more, the state government has been lobbying with the Centre for de-notification of 19,000 acres of forest area for inclusion in the capital region.

Former Union Energy Secretary EAS Sarma has shot off a letter to the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change while a petition by another environmentalist is pending before the National Green Tribunal.

APCRDA Commissioner N Srikant, however, says the latest building technology would take care of such issues. Ravindran too says natural disasters can be tackled with proper hydrological engineering plans: “The key is not to resist water but work with it.”

With the fine-tuning of the master plan and design for the city still on, the government has gone ahead with the building of the transitional Secretariat at Velagapudi, 3 km away from Uddandarayunipalem where the permanent building would come up. This has kicked up another row. Many wondered why Rs180 crore was being spent on a temporary office complex till the government explained that the buildings would be subsequently used to house offices of heads of departments or given on lease to shopping malls.

On June 2, 2014, when Telangana was carved out of Andhra Pradesh as India’s 29th State, the understanding was that Hyderabad would be the shared capital for 10 years. Sensing the opportunity to stamp his legacy, Mr. Naidu announced Amaravati to the world ten months after the State’s bifurcation. More than a year has elapsed since, and Rome was not built in a day. But try telling that to a man in a hurry.

Green hurdle

Meanwhile, the greenfield capital city plan has hit a green hurdle, with the Centre’s forest panel rejecting the proposal which lacks a suitable land-use plan and a compensatory afforestation scheme. Now, the state government has to fight a legal battle before it begins construction.

Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu had sought forest clearance for diversion of 13,267.12 hectares of forest land in favour of Andhra Pradesh Capital Region Development Authority (APCRD) for building the city, which is to come up at an initial cost of Rs 27,000 crore.

A revised proposal regarding the same, was submitted on April 25. The Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) — the highest body in the Union Environment Ministry that assesses proposals for diversion of forest lands — examined the Andhra Pradesh government’s revised proposal on July 12.

“In a recent meeting, the FAC examined the proposal. It heard the state government’s request to exempt the land-use plan, among others. After detailed deliberation, the FAC asked the state to submit the detailed land-use plan,” a senior Environment Ministry official said.

Reacting to this, Naidu said he was confident of clearing all hurdles, and the construction of the new capital would not be affected in any manner.

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