Amaravati: Chandrababu Naidu's great gamble

There is a lot at stake for the residual state of Andhra Pradesh, which is pinning all its hopes on the new Singapore-like state capital to be built on a 33,000 acre river-front between Vijayawada and Guntur cities of the prosperous coastal delta.

Never before in the history of the country has construction of a new state capital attracted such attention and criticism because of its complex nature and sheer size. While the Singapore government and its quasi-governmental agencies have planned the capital city and the Capital Area Region free of cost, the AP government is now on the lookout for a suitable agency or agencies to actually build the city named after Lord Indra’s capital, Amaravati, the abode of angels.

The government has decided to lay foundation stone of the new capital in the presence of three Prime Ministers, Narendra Modi, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in an effort to benefit from the hype and all the media attention.

AP Chief Minister Naidu – who played a pivotal role in bringing in former US President Bill Clinton and Microsoft founder Bill Gates to visit Hyderabad when he was chief minister of the previously combined state, kick starting a new IT-based economy – is leaving no stone unturned to make the biggest dream of his political career click.

Naidu’s gamble is that he is investing  33,000 acres of prime multi crop riverside land pooled from farmers into one of the biggest real estate ventures. The seed capital where the Assembly, Raj Bhavan, Secretariat and other departmental buildings will be built, will be limited to 300 to 400 acres and the remaining will have to be developed in such a way that the capital funds for itself. The Centre made it clear that it can not finance the fantasies of Naidu and that a state capital means only the important structures, including a high court.

Reports say that the AP government will be granting 275 acres of land to Singapore’s Ascendas Singbridge to build a signature tower. Ascendas would be allowed to sell the office space of its World Trade Centre-like structure and recover the expenditure the company spends on developing basic infrastructure. In fact, Ascendas offered to develop 3,000 acres, but the state government, owing to political pressure, agreed to part with only 275 acres.

A meeting with Ascendas and the CRDA (Capital Region Development Authority) in Vijayawada recently confirmed that Ascendas will contest through the Swiss Challenge for the signature tower project and it will be given that project.

The Master Plan envisages a 219 sq km capital on the banks of the Krishna river between the existing cities of Vijayawada and Guntur. The plan has designated a Central Business District, commercial zones in town centres as well as industrial parks. In addition, it supports job creation in residential neighbourhoods so that people can work near their homes. The AP government hopes that the new capital will create 3.3 million new jobs by 2035 and will be home to 1.2 crore population.

Protocol tangle
Even as the AP government announced that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has accepted its invitation to lay foundation for Amaravati on October 22 , there is no word from the Singapore and Japanese governments whether their prime ministers will be gracing the occasion. It is said that there are certain protocol issues dogging the state government’s hopes as a state cannot invite heads of other countries by sidelining the External Affairs Ministry.

However, Naidu is planning to spend Rs 100 crore on the foundation day ceremony and has entrusted its organisation to an event management company. Despite the uncertainty over the master developer and the funding of the actual project, Naidu wants to show the world and also convince people of Andhra Pradesh that his gamble will pay off.

With the NDA government not keen on granting special status to the residual state as assured by then prime minister Manmohan Singh in Rajya Sabha at the time of bifurcation, AP has to depend on external agencies to fund the project.

Time and again, the Union Home Ministry has announced that no new states in the country will be considered for special category status, as the main criterion is backwardness, infestation of terrorism, hilly terrain etc.

While Naidu is happy with the piecemeal grants given by the Union government, the opposition parties in the state are against any such ad hoc arrangement for it would not attract investment as the state is pitted against Hyderabad, Chennai and Bengaluru.

Just when Naidu is gearing up for the foundation mega show in Guntur, Yuvajana Shramika Rythu (YSR) Congress Party chief Y S Jaganmohan Reddy has sat on fast unto death there, demanding the Centre to grant special category status to the state and calling Naidu’s silence as connivance with the Union Ministry to save his skin from the ongoing investigation of the cash-for-vote case.

The Left and the Congress also argue that Naidu has sold the interests of the state to realtors in Singapore in exchange for his own commercial interests in that island nation. “Naidu has hotels in Singapore and wants to bring that illegal money into the country by taking up construction in the CRDA area through benami companies,” AICC Chief Raghuveera Reddy alleged.

While Naidu’s assets in that country have to be verified, the question asked by the farmers in the CRDA region is what would the government do with 33,000 acres of land when the seed capital could be built in less than a 1,000 acres.

Naidu’s other grandiose plans, including 15,000 acre Greenfield airport in Bhogapuram near Visakhapatnam and 15,000 acre Machilipatnam Port, also ran into land acquisition trouble with the opposition crying wolf.

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