Bulldozers and road rollers have replaced ploughs and tractors, as fertile lands are upturned to mould Amaravati, the dream capital of Andhra Pradesh
In Guntur district, on the banks of the Krishna river, dozens of maize and banana fields wear a deserted look. Ploughs and tractors idle in silence. Trucks that once transported farm produce — fruits, vegetables and flowers — are conspicuous by their absence. Since April, when all farming activity ceased, thousands of tenant farmers have moved out of agriculture, scouting for construction and other jobs. Bulldozers and road rollers have replaced agricultural machinery, to pave the way for Amaravati. It appears that from Vijayawada and Guntur, all roads and fields now lead to the new capital of Andhra Pradesh.
The bifurcation of AP last year led to the creation of Telangana having 10 districts, including Hyderabad, leaving the residual state with 13 districts. While Hyderabad will remain a shared capital for 10 years, Andhra Pradesh, under Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu, has proposed to build a new greenfield capital.
On October 22, auspicious as it is Vijaya Dasami, the state government will hold a foundation ceremony to begin the development of Amaravati. Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be in attendance, along with government officials from Japan and Singapore, the city-state on which the capital is modelled.
In Uddandarayunipalem, work is on at a frantic pace. This “vaastu-friendly” location for the seed (core) capital will host the mega event. Farmers who have voluntarily given up land for the capital’s development will be felicitated. Putta matti (anthill soil) collected from 16,000 villages will arrive in copper pots and make the foundation. The government has also proposed crowd-funding, giving away digital bricks engraved with the names of contributors. Banners proclaiming ‘Mana rajdhani Amaravati, mana-neeru, mana-matti’ (My capital, My water, My land) will dot the place.
The profile of the capital region, comprising around 29 villages, is set to undergo a massive transformation. As agricultural lands make way for transport networks and farming is replaced by construction, nearly 3,000 acres of the 33,000 acquired under land pooling will metamorphose into the core capital. Vehicles laden with sand, cement, and concrete are already speeding from Undavalli to Amaravati.
Change is coming
We drive out from Vijayawada, towards Prakasam barrage, past banana and vegetable farms on the narrow, serpentine roads leading to Amaravati, a former Buddhist seat of learning. At Undavalli and Penumaka, a few farmers continue to till land. In Krishnayapalem village, Mangalagiri mandal, we ask a group of people seated at a road junction about the new capital. R Venkateshwara Rao says he was happy to learn that the city will come up close to their village. His pressing concern, however, is finding a job. “We have had no work, since cultivation stopped from April. We used to be busy round the year, working on farms,” he says. He is now looking for daily-wage work. “We made ₹350-500 per day, depending on the season. Now, I have to go to Vijayawada to look for work.”
The making of Amaravati has its share of controversy. While the Centre-appointed expert committee headed by KC Sivaramakrishnan has stated its objections to the location of the capital, Naidu is pressing ahead, neatly dividing the capital region into commercial, administrative and residential zones. According to Naidu, the region was chosen after careful consideration of water and land availability, connectivity and the potential for development.
Since the state legislative assembly passed a resolution on the new capital last year, the project has progressed quickly.
The assembly passed the Capital Region Development Authority (CRDA) Act in December last year. By January, the government had announced the Land Pooling scheme and by February 28, received irrevocable consents from 20,510 farmers for 32,469 acres.
So far, the government has taken possession of 30,000 acres, says Srikant Nagulapalli, the CRDA commissioner. According to reports, 40 per cent of the land acquired is jareebu (wet) land, with high water tables at 15-20 feet, where more than 100 varieties of crop are currently cultivated.
By May, S Iswaran, the second minister of Singapore government (with which the Andhra Pradesh government had inked a memorandum) had submitted the Capital City Master Plan. The master plan spans a 217-sqkm area and guides the development of Amaravati till 2050. The city will be designed to accommodate around four million people.
While the Centre released ₹1,500 crore last year, the state government has further issues of funding. In a recent exclusive interaction with Business Line, Naidu said, “It will be hard to find a place like Amaravati where the city has potential for a riverfront of 32 km. It is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to construct a new capital.”
Recognising the inherent difficulties in land acquisition, the state government chose the land pooling system, which seeks to convince people to part with their land for development and annuity payments.
Under land pooling, which is a voluntary exercise, farmers with lands on the riverbank will receive 1,000 sq yards of commercial space and 400 sq yards for residential use. In addition, they will get an annuity payment of ₹30,000-50,000 per acre over 10 years.
In the case of farm labour and tenant farmers, the family will receive a monthly pension of ₹2,500. They will also be allotted work under MGNREGA. “No person will be displaced from their homes. What is a city without people? The villages will retain their habitations and the infrastructure will be gradually upgraded,” says Nagulapalli.
Peddi Venkateswara Rao, a farmer with 2.3 acres, is among the thousands who have surrendered agricultural land. Until April, he cultivated maize, onion, banana and gherkins. Now, he will receive 1,400 sq yards from the government. A few kilometres away, 55-year-old worker Venkatamma is among the 200-odd people who have gathered at Mandadam village. As she awaits the monthly pension from the government, many in the group express concerns. “We have few options for work now. There is also fear that the developers will not hire us, and instead bring their own workers. How will our families survive on ₹2,500,” asks Sambaiah, a tenant farmer.
Already, a number of cases have been filed by aggrieved farmers, some by political parties and others by farmer organisations. However, in most of the cases, the courts have so far ruled in favour of the government while directing the state against any coercive action. Despite this, the National Green Tribunal has passed an order extending a stay on the construction of the new capital and ordered the state to not destroy agricultural fields.
City of the future
The name Amaravati was chosen as it represents continuity in history. Dynasties such as the Satavahanas, Pallavas, and Chalukyas have ruled the ancient town. It has also seen the confluence of religions like Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism. By naming the capital city after the historical town, it appears that Naidu is keen to put it on the global map. Not only will Amaravati be a city of the future, it will also be a hub on the Buddhist tourist circuit, attracting Japanese investment.
What will this new-old city be like? If the plans are anything to go by, the city will be centred on infrastructure and not her people. The capital is likely to come up on the riverfront, along a 17km stretch. Twin towers will rise in the administrative area, and skyscrapers will come up in other zones. The city will have a central boulevard, commercial hubs, a waterfront and a gateway. The region will be seamlessly connected by a 300-km road network, elevated metro tracks, and waterways. Villages will co-exist with the steel-and-chrome of the new capital. Everything will be smart and shiny, blue and green (for water and trees). Welcome to Amaravati, the city of the future.