- The interim government complex, with a capacity to hold 4,500 employees, is spread over 45 acres. It has six buildings, four of which are being built by L&T and two by Shapoorji Pallonji. This secretariat is being built on black soil of the fertile Krishna delta. The cost is Rs 500 crore.
- Andhra Pradesh has so far received Rs 1,050 crore from the Centre for building the Capital. It needs between Rs 45,000 crore-I00,000 crore overall. HUDCO has given Rs 7,500 crore; World Bank is to provide $1 billion spread over several years.
- McKinsey and Company has prepared a socio-economic masterplan which predicts that the capital region of Amaravati will generate $35 billion by 2050 in terms of ITeS, electronics and other industries.
- The land rates in Vijayawada are at an all-time high. One square yard of land on the Bandar Road is Rs 2 lakh, says addl commissioner, CRDA, N Srikanth.
- The capital region will have 28 towns with a projected population of 1.5 lakh each. Each will be divided into four equal parts with 50 m wide roads. Najarjuna Construction has bagged the tender for laying one major arterial road.
- Out of 55,000 acres meant for the capital, farmers in 1,600 acres are still resisting. Their land will be taken over by law.
A balmy breeze from the nearby Krishna blows across empty fields in Venkatapalem, a village a few miles from Vijayawada. Part of the fertile Thullur mandal of Guntur district and earlier flush with fruit and vegetable crop, it’s now a village in waiting—for it falls in the area notified for Andhra Pradesh’s dream capital Amaravati. Resistance to chief minister Chandrababu Naidu’s land pooling scheme is now a mere whimper, and despite the sowing season, farmers just sit and wait for plots to be allotted to them so that they can live the urban dream.
In Mandadam, a little ahead, dry banana plantations wither away on a rich soil. Youths gather below a huge poster of Mahesh Babu’s Brahmotsavam, idly pointing out the way to officials, workers and visitors going to the transitional secretariat coming up in Velagapudi village. Quite evidently, they too haven’t been farming for some time now.
Any bustling activity to be seen here is at the ‘Interim Government Complex’ (as A. Mallikarjuna, additional commissioner of the AP Capital Region Development Authority, calls it), spread over 45 acres. About a thousand workers mill about, among tractors, tippers, bulldozers and construction material. Workers had been brought in from Bihar, West Bengal and Orissa, but some said they couldn’t take the heat and left. Mallikarjuna says workers are now being sourced locally from Guntur, Tadepalli and Bapatla. Local villagers have made a mini industry out of providing cheap food and accommodation to the workers and tea, tiffin and transport to the secretariat workers who have started visiting the complex.
The spruced-up bus station with large digital displays in Vijayawada
Municipal and urban development minister P. Narayana, who visits the construction site almost every day, walks deftly across the soft black soil, known for its fertility, and inspects work on the five buildings, meant to have a ground and first floor each. Later, an assembly building is to come up. Construction began on February 20, and is being carried out by Larsen & Toubro and Shapoorji Pallonji. Narayana believes that by June 27, at least 2,000 secretariat employees will be working here. Building No. 1 is to house the CMO and general administrative department. Doubts about keeping the deadline and monsoon hindering work are brushed off. “Our CM wants government employees and ministers to work from the capital region. This would be a symbolic and significant beginning,” says Narayana.
Ever since Amaravati city was planned around Vijayawada, real estate prices have skyrocketed, leaving even seasoned businessmen stumped.
The minister claims 90 per cent of the secretariat employees will come to Velagapudi willingly. But Ashok Babu, president of the A.P. Non-Gazetted Officers Association, says most would prefer to be in Vijayawada town. No wonder, real estate prices have skyrocketed there: a three-bedroom flat in some areas can cost Rs 1 crore or rent out for Rs 25,000 monthly. “Despite a 30 per cent DA hike, they are beyond us,” says Ashok Babu. He says June 27 is an impractical deadline, because a bund will have to be built to prevent flooding by the Kondaveeti vagu (a stream) during heavy rainfall and central air-conditioning installed for the buildings owing to the extreme heat in summer.
As far as the capital itself is concerned, 55,000 acres from 29 villages have been earmarked. After allotment by lottery to land-owners for residential and commercial plots, the government will have 8,000 acres in its kitty. Narayana, who also runs the Narayana Group of educational institutions, glows with pride as he speaks of top institutions like the Vellore Institute of Technology, SRM University, Amity University and Amrita University queuing up to start units there, as also other hotel and tourism colleges.
The real estate boom in Vijayawada is beyond the comprehension of even seasoned businessmen like Sudhakar Chigurupati, Vijayawada president of Confederation of Real Estate Developers Associations of India (CREDAI), who calls it farcical. “An acre that used to cost Rs 10 lakh now costs around Rs 3 crore. Groups from Bangalore and Hyderabad are building high-rises on the outskirts of Vijayawada, but I seriously don’t know when the returns will come in,” he says. While he’s delighted about Naidu’s ‘global’ Amaravati, he says it’s meant for the next generation. “It is not for us. We have to wait at least 10 years to see it happen. Naidu is creating history, but as we all know, Rome wasn’t built in a day.”
Much of the execution of the new capital is from CRDA commissioner Nagulapalli Srikanth’s office, reminiscent of scenes at the transitional secretariat: bricks and dust and chaos. On the second floor, he moves from meeting to meeting. He points to a map of the core capital area—primarily in Uddandarayunipalem—where the Telugu Desam government hopes to finish work on the main government complex by 2018. On the core 900 acres will come up a high court, assembly, secretariat, Raj Bhavan and offices of various ministries. Blueprints had been drawn up by Japanese firm Maki & Associates, but there had been a storm in social media over some buildings resembling Japan’s nuclear reactors. An upset Naidu roped in architects Hafiz Contractor, Kukreja Constructions and others to Indianise the plans.
Water resources minister Devineni Uma Maheshwara Rao is the only minister other than the CM who already has an office in Vijayawada. It buzzes with Telugu Desam leaders, who gather for coffee and buttermilk. Leaders from Rayalaseema, like Payyavula Keshav, still smart over the “great Hyderabad robbery”. But he is firm, like chief whip Kaluva Srinivasulu, that only a leader like Naidu can make Amaravati happen. “We need Rs 15,000-20,000 crore in seed capital. HUDCO has granted Rs 7,500 crore. We are seeking funds from the Centre and private investors,” he says, adding that by the next elections, enough construction will be completed for people to understand what Amaravati will be like.
High-tech Naidu is already giving glimpses of what the city will look like: administrative work is digitised largely, there are sensors around the region to monitor surface water levels. There’s an ‘Immensive Telepresence Boardroom’ which connects ministers by teleconference to district level and other officials.
People in villages like Venkatapalem have given up on agriculture
Asked about the immense damage to agriculture caused by land-pooling, Telugu Desam leaders just shrug. “It is for a great cause,” says Narayana. Chief whip Srinivasulu seems overcome by emotion when asked the same question. “This is a people’s capital. No one can understand the emotional attachment a farmer has for his soil. Farmers have placed supreme faith in Naidu by handing over their lands.”
“We are seen as Sugandhi soda and babai idli types, but the country is looking at us now as we build our capital brick by brick,” says a Vijayawadaite.
Meanwhile, Vijayawada town is getting used to a kind of influx of people and traffic it hasn’t seen before. Tummala Vijayalakshmi, principal of the Siddhartha Women’s College, says “Vijayawada is neither a city nor a village. We are a small town and we are reaching for the stars. Vizag always had a cosmopolitan culture because of the port, steel plant and industries, but Vijayawada’s culture was always conservative. The capital construction will lead to a boom in employment opportunities. We will have not just private educational institutes but IITs and IIMs as well. It will be a historic 15 years from now on.” She is one of the thousands who participated in the movement for a united Andhra, but now says it’s best not to rue the loss of Hyderabad. “It’s our time now.”
Some cosmetic changes are visible at Vijayawada’s bus stand. A multiplex, giant TV screens, payphones and clean washrooms liven up things. Then there is the flyover coming up at rapid pace near the Kanakadurga temple. Samana K., a designer, says these changes might be small but they are typically Naidu. “Vijayawada’s citizens are seen as Sugandhi soda and babai idli types, but the country is looking at us now as we build our capital brick by brick.”
Naidu is also turning Swaraj Maidan, where book festivals, exhibitions and political meetings were held, into a city square, somewhat like Delhi’s Connaught Place. It’s being developed by a Chinese company. Some opposition leaders are not too happy about this. Former minister Vadde Sobhanadeeswara Rao says Naidu is simply trying to kill a forum for expressing democratic views through a commercial venture. And from a broader perspective, the YSR Congress slams Naidu’s capital plans as an “unhealthy addiction” and describes his “Singaporean dream” as a sham and “pure land-grabbing”.
Nevertheless, work continues apace for the new capital, and for the interim secretariat at Velagapudi, as Naidu pays another visit. The 64-year-old CM displays no sign of fatigue, but an anxiety perhaps to complete the transitional secretariat as soon as possible. “We know the nation’s watching us and we won’t disappoint anyone,” says Devineni Uma.
Along the stretch from Vijayawada to Velagapudi are several posters of Naidu and son Lokesh juxtaposed against drawings of the capital Amaravati. Should anyone question the CM’s intentions, there is a poster showing Naidu deep in meditation with the tagline, “Naa dhyaname Swarnandhrapradesh (I meditate on a golden Andhra Pradesh)”. His residence, on the banks of the Krishna, with trees shielding it from view, looks like an idyllic getaway where he really might be contemplating that vision.
By Madhavi Tata in Vijayawada