Till the bifurcation of Andhra and Telangana, whether Hyderabad will be a common capital or not was an emotive issue. Once the dust has settled down, Andhra Government has rolled out an ambitious plan of creating a new capital ‘Amaravati’. As per master plan it can be a Singapore of Bharat. The silver lining is popular participation it could achieve through acquisition of 30 thousand acres of land. If the project continues with this spirit and meticulous implementation, Amaravati can turn out to be a venture capital of future urbanisation in Bharat.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi laid the foundation stone for Amaravati, the new and ‘futuristic’ capital of Andhra Pradesh at Uddandarayunipalem village in Guntur district, about 40 km far from Vijayawada. The commercial hub of the state – Amaravati was once the seat of power of Satavahana rulers. Chief Ministers of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana N Chandrababu Naidu and K Chandrasekhar Rao, respectively, were among those present on the occasion of shilanyas on 22nd of October 2015.
Amaravati, the People’s capital of Andhra Pradesh, is envisioned to be a city of world-class standards with a vision of increasing Andhra Pradesh’s prominence in the world. The Capital Region Development Authority (CRDA) a body enacted by state government is leaving no stone unturned to provide cutting-edge infrastructure, comfortable livelihood and immense prosperity for the people of Amaravati. The Land Pooling Scheme adopted by Amaravati is the largest and the most successful of its kind in Bharat, and is a manifestation of the people’s desire for a world-class capital.
The Global Experience
Globally it has been a common practice to create new capitals with world class infrastructure. Washington, DC was designed and built and became the United States capital in 1800. In the 19th century, Sydney and Melbourne were the two largest cities in Australia but it was decided to build a new planned capital city at Canberra in 1927. Brazil’s capital relocated from overcrowded Rio de Janeiro to the planned, built city of Brasilia in 1961.
Naya Raipur Experience
Amaravati is not the first experience in Bharat. Chhattisgarh started with creating a Naya Raipur is the new capital city of the State, designed with grid patterns equating itself with Kuala Lumpur. Naya Raipur covers an area of about 8,000 hectares. It includes 41 villages out of which 27 villages form the core of Naya Raipur. Poised to provide world class infrastructure and hub for industry and trade, civic amnesties for 21 planned sectors were supposed to be the hallmark of the city. The project was launched in 2002 but with the change of political guards at the centre it was almost shelved till 2008. After 7 years, the first 21st century city of Bharat is yet to take a shape. Though the power centre of Chhattisgarh has shifted to Naya Raipur, due to absence of other infrastructure that would attract the population, it has not become habitable for a common man. Perhaps, Amaravati can take a clue from this experience.
Andhra Pradesh is building a new capital city following the bifurcation of the state in February 2014. The new city is located between Vijayawada and Guntur and is envisaged to be a world class capital city for the people of Andhra Pradesh. The Centre for Liveable Cities (CLC) and Singapore Cooperation Enterprise (SCE) will also help Andhra Pradesh to develop its institutional capacity in urban governance and related areas through training programmes for Andhra Pradesh officials responsible for the development of the capital city. International Enterprise (IE) Singa-pore is the government agency coordinating efforts across Singapore’s public and private sectors for the master plan, and the construction of new capital involves outlay of more than USD two billion as per the master plan.
The development of Amaravati is based on the demographic analysis and economic drivers, providing ‘tailor-made solutions’ to fit the local environment and culture. Not only does this underline plenty of opportunities in the state but also addresses the growing infrastructure and development needs of the country. Besides being the seat of power, Amaravati will be a commercial hub for existing regional industries such as agri-businesses and logistics, and catalyse new ones such as Information Technology Enabled Services (ITES) and pharmaceuticals. The plan has designated a Central Business District, commercial zones in town centers, as well as industrial parks. In addition, it supports job creation in residential neighborhoods so that people can work near their homes.
Historical, spiritual and mythological significance of Amaravati
The history of Amaravati dates back to the 2nd century BCE and it was once the capital of the Satavahanas and also the Pallava kings. Amaravati is also an important place for Buddhism. The Buddhist stupa was built by Ashoka in 200 BCE. The planned riverfront capital is located on the southern banks of the River Krishna and new city will cover a site of approximately 217.23 sq. km., within the Andhra Pradesh Capital Region. The cities of Guntur and Vijayawada are the major suburbs of the proposed capital. Amaravathi can be translated as ‘the town lives forever’ in the local language. It is also referred as Amare-swaram, for its famous Amareswara temple dedicated to Lord Siva, one of the famous Pancharamas. The region between the Krishna and Godavari rivers (where Amaravati lies) was an important place for Buddhism from the 2nd century BCE onwards. A Buddhist stupa was built during the reign of Ashoka in 200 BCE, was carved with panels that tell the story of Buddha. The story of the sculpture, including their discovery, misuse and destruction and subsequent preservation & distribution to various museums (Chennai, Calcutta, London, Masulipatnam etc.) has been poignantly described by Shimada. During the period of the decline of Buddhism, this stupa was neglected and was buried under rubble. The Chinese traveller and Buddhist monk Hiuen Tsang (Xuanzang) visited Amaravati in 640 CE, stayed for some time and studied Abhidhammapitakam. Xuanzang wrote a glorious account of the place, Viharas and monasteries that existed.
Futuristic city and Challenges ahead
Meanwhile, the cash-strapped Andhra Pradesh Government, saddled with a deficit of Rs 16,000 crore post-bifurcation, expects the Centre to help in raising essential administrative buildings like Legislative Assembly and Secretariat said a senior Government official. Amaravati incorporates many new ideas that are critical for a large city, including transit-oriented development, modern waste collection and disposal mechanisms and maintaining the ecological balance with green spaces. By getting the Singaporeans to help design and build the city, Chief Minister Naidu has given Amaravati a veneer of class. All this while, it has been about conceptualising the city.
While the Centre has promised all financial assistance and its contribution to funding the city—Naidu has repeatedly reminded the Centre of its duties to the bifurcated state as promised in the state Re-organisation Act —a very large part of the funding has to come through the PPP route. While getting PPP is a challenge in even cities that are already developed—many highways have seen toll booths going haywire and many PPP projects have had to go to the government for bailouts—getting them for a new city is going to be even more difficult, especially since land values in the area have already shot up dramatically. How Naidu manages to structure these PPPs and attract private investment—and gets people to pay for the services so as to make the PPPs viable, after a certain government subsidy perhaps—will be the template for several other cities in the future.
The capital region is well connected to the surrounding economic hubs by airports, railways, roads, and ports. Andhra Pradesh has 13 sea ports, along its coast line, and has the second-highest cargo-handling port in Bharat at Vishakapatnam. The proposed capital region offers great tourism potential on all fronts – heritage, recreational, religious and natural features. The lack of solid infrastructure is indeed a major constraint for tourism in this region. The state of course has vast arable land and it accounts for a large agricultural production and significantly has abundant availability of mineral resources geographically spread over all the 13 districts of the state.
Various infrastructure and heritage conservation measures have been lined up Amaravati in Andhra Pradesh under the Heritage City Development and Augmentation Yojna (HRIDAY) of the Central Government. A total of Rs 20.33 crore has been approved for the seat of Buddhism at Amaravati under the scheme. Access to Dharanikota Fort, Amaravati Pondi, Mahachaitya Stupa, Amaralingeswara Swamy Temple, Kalachakra Museum and Dhyanabuddha Statue will be improved with these funds, and an interpretation centre and a walkway of 2.5 km will be developed. The HRIDAY Committee has urged the Ministry of Tourism to expedite approvals for projects worth Rs 32 crore under consideration for Amaravati.
As rightly said by our Prime Minister during the shilanyas, very few new capitals or towns have been built after the Independence, but that inhibition must end. We must look towards urbanisation with sustainability, without looking at it as problem, but as an opportunity.
Let us hope these cities become centres of economic growth and revenue generation. In the in the future Andhra Pradesh will lead an economic revolution with its commercial hub. Amaravati, once the seat of power of Satavahana rulers, should regain its lost glory, where in history it commanded respect for its culture. The pace at which the State Government took up this task of building the capital by bringing together the best minds and best practices in the world should definitely succeed.
-N Nagaraja Rao from Hyderabad