Chandrababu Naidu
Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Nara Chandrababu Naidu takes part in a prayer ceremony before taking charge at his office at Tadepalli, Amaravati, on June 13, 2024. The capital construction file did not come up before Naidu for his first signature that day. Image: PTI

Andhra | Naidu is back, but pet project Amaravati may take new shape

Signals indicate construction of new capital is not a priority for TDP govt, which is keener to get rolling with its election guarantees

On June 4, around noon, when it became evident that the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) was returning to power, the slogan ‘Save Amaravati’ gave way to ‘Jai Amaravati’ in the capital city region of Andhra Pradesh.

The people of the 29 villages who gave away 33,000 acres of land for the capital’s construction flooded the streets dancing. It was for the first time in five years that these villages saw a celebration of sorts.

The previous government led by YS Jagan Mohan Reddy had imposed various restrictions on the rebellious villages.

Overjoyed villagers

The villagers' Amaravati Joint Action Committee (A-JAC) has called off the 1,600-day-old “Save Amaravati” agitation. Crackers were burst, cakes cut and annadaan (food distribution) organised in all villages. Festivities reached a crescendo when TDP supremo N Chandrababu Naidu took oath as the Chief Minister on June 12.

The joy of 42-year-old Akula Jaya Satya knew no bounds. As a member of the A-JAC, she had been at the forefront of the Save Amaravati movement.

Her family gave away 13 acres of land in Errabalem village for the construction of the capital. The then TDP government promised 250 square yards of commercial land and 1,000 square yards in a residential plot in developed Amaravati, for every acre given away.

Dreaming a new Amaravati

With Jagan Mohan Reddy, who came to power in 2019, deciding to shift the capital area from Amaravati to Visakhapatnam, Jaya Satya's dream of owning high-worth plots in a world-class city crashed.

Jagan abandoned the initial capital project and Amaravati deformed into a ghost city with incomplete buildings. Bushes grew all over.

“I am not even able to recognise my own plots in the jungle. Amaravati will soon spring back to life. The electricity department repaired the street lights overnight. The chief secretary has personally overseen the clearing of the bushes,” Jaya Satya said.

A local-body elected member, she is hopeful that a world class city which Naidu had promised will become reality. She is not aware of what it takes for any empty land to transform into a gleaming city.

Main talking point

“Amaravati’s farmers have voted Chandrababu Naidu to power with a vengeance. He will show his magical power to build the capital amid our villages,” she said, exuding confidence.

Like Jaya, everybody in the 29 villages is seeing the same dream of a world-class city.

But uncertainty looms large in the corridors of power.

The politics of Andhra Pradesh revolved around the new capital for 10 long years as it became a state without capital in 2014 after the bifurcaiton of Telangana. From 2014 to 2019, the shape of the new capital Amaravati was the talking point.

Not a priority now

From 2019, then Chief Minister Jagans' attempt to shift the capital out of Amaravati was the major political issue that triggered many a legal battle and agitation. Amaravati became a prime slogan in the campaign during the 2024 Assembly elections as well.

However, the first reaction from the new government was not commensurate with the celebrations in the villages. Apart from stating that Amaravati will be back as the state capital, Naidu did not made any emotional proclamation on the size of the capital.

Signals from the corridors of power indicate that the construction of Amaravati as a world class city is not a priority for the new government. It looks like Naidu has given primacy to implementing the welfare schemes he promised during electioneering.

Reflecting this mood, the capital construction file did not come up before the Chief Minister for his first signature on Thursday.

Naidu affixed his first signature on the files related to the filling up of vacancies in the government, the repeal of the Land Titling Act, the hiking of the old-age pension to Rs 4,000, the reviving Anna Canteens, and the enumeration of skills.

New plans needed

The Master Plan of the 217 sq km Amaravati that described the future city as a “happy, liveable and sustainable” city reads like a sci-fi novel. It is a city with nine theme cities that include a government city, justice city, finance city, knowledge city and tourism city embedded into it.

It was divided into seven growth corridors, eight nodes, green spaces as well as open areas.

Many of the officials in the government are clueless about the future shape of Amaravati as all those associated with Naidu’s dream city project were either shifted out by Jagan or they have retired.

“The Master Plan of Amaravati, which is 10 years old, needs updating, keeping in view new technologies and innovations that are available now for capital construction. The new government may settle down for an implementable model,” said a former official associated with Amaravati’s development.

Focus on state

There is also a feeling among a section of people that having seen so much criticism of the designs, and controversies surrounding the Master Plan, Naidu may not stick to the previous model and instead tread a more cautious path.

A TDP leader who does not want to be quoted felt that there was no immediacy now as the party has returned to power with an unprecedented mandate.

However, noted economist Prof KS Chalam felt that Naidu has no option but to act as per the circumstances and economic demands of the state rather than spending time and energy on Amaravati.

Capital and governance

“The Capital can take care of itself now with his presence. I hope Naidu will concentrate on building the state rather than concentrate on his previous tenure’s passionate Amaravati experiments. In fact, he must be aware of the adverse effect of over-emphasis of publicity on the fanciful concept of a world-class city,” said Chalam, a former vice chancellor of Dravidian University, Kuppam.

In the view of Dr EAS Sarma, a former secretary in the Union government, a huge capital doesn’t necessarily lead to good governance.

Stating that good governance is the need of the hour, he said: “Decentralisation and devolution of authority, strengthening of local bodies and ensuring public accountability are what the state requires more than huge buildings at public cost.”

Not another Hyderabad

Environmental expert Prof Balijepalli Venkata Subbarao said Naidu’s old capital designs were outdated and needed a revisit in light of advancements made in urban planning.

“Like his Hitech City of Hyderabad, Amaravati was also designed ignoring the need to create the urban infrastructure before taking up massive constructions. As a result of poor urban planning, Hyderabad's Hitech City is facing the threat of floods in monsoons and water scarcity in summer,” he said, adding that city planning should not lead to disasters and destruction.

On the other side, the people of all regions in the state are anxiously waiting for Naidu’s statement on the future shape of Amaravati.
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