Andhra's Amaravathi- Making of a New Capital (Part- 1)

Opinions Dated:  Sept. 3, 2015
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The Capital Region Growth Corridor Linkages

Reconfiguration of political boundaries and division of territories into smaller administrative units, in post-colonial India had frequently altered the urban geography of the constituent regions and sparked new developmental opportunities. There are several examples where new cities like Bhubaneswar, Chandigarh, Gandhinagar and Naya Raipur were purpose-built as capitals of the newly formed states. There are equally large numbers of examples, where existing cities like Bangalore, Dehradun, Ranchi and Guwahati were thrust with additional administrative functions associated with governing a state, following state reorganization.

Bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh in 2014 to form the state of Telengana with Hyderabad as its capital sparked a highly contentious debate about the location and nature of the capital of the residual state comprising of two distinct regions - coastal Seemandhra and inland Rayalaseema.

The Expert Committee under the chairmanship of K.C Shivaramakrishnan appointed by the Central Government in 2013 suggested a networked model for the new capital. It proposed that capital functions could be distributed to all 13 districts of residual Andhra – which could be connected through advanced telecommunication network, while the nodal functions could be coordinated from a small administrative capital(Shivaramakrishnan et al. 2013). The Expert Committee argued, that decentralized development pattern could bring governance closer to people, encourage balanced development, and avoids civic problems typically associated with the big cities.

However, the Chandrababu Naidu led TDP government, which came to power in the newly bifurcated Andhra Pradesh, rejected the radical suggestions of the Shivaramakrishnan Commission’s suggestion and decided, to build a new world-class capital – which could not only become the administrative nerve centre, but economic engine and cultural reference point for the new state. The necessity of developing the new capital as a mega-urban region was especially stressed to kick-start economic growth in the residual state and face competition from advanced urban centres, such as Hyderabad, Chennai and Bangalore, located in neighbouring states.

It is pertinent here to take note of the formidable body of knowledge that emerged over the past two decades on urban competitiveness in market economy. Research by Manuel Castells (2005)and Saskia Sassen (2001, 2012) showed how contemporary economic globalization had resulted in convergence of growth opportunities in a select few urban nodes, leaving out other areas way behind. And this in-turn, compelled several welfarist European governments to postpone their balanced regional growth objectives and reorient their development focus to improve the infrastructure of their strategic urban nodes as immediate priority (Brenner 2004).

Under the circumstances, seductive appeal of the dispersed and networked urban settlements notwithstanding the practical rationality that underpins Chandrababu Naidu’s vision about the nature, scope and scale of the new capital is understandable – especially when one looks back at his track record in transforming Hyderabad into a globally competitive IT-hub.

In accordance with the Chief Minister’s vision, Andhra Pradesh government identified a vast tract of land along the banks of River Krishna in Amaravathi Mandal in the VGTM (Vijayawada – Guntur – Tenali – Mangalgiri) urban region, as the location of the capital. The VGTM region is centrally located in the state and is well connected by rail, road and air (See Figure – 1).

Location of the Capital Region
Figure 1: Location of the Capital Region
Source: AP Capital Region Development Authority

Legacy of Amaravathi dates back to 2nd Century BCE, as the region was the capital of the Sathvahana dynasty and an important centre for Buddhist scholarship for several years subsequently. By locating the new capital in this region Naidu has not only sought to rekindle public imagination about the past glory of Andhra but also its ancient civilizational ties with Southeast Asian countries.

However, local environmental activists apprehend that building the capital along the Krishna riverbanks will be unsustainable and hazard prone. Area demarcated for the new city – is not only low lying and flood prone, but also the rice bowl of the state. Large-scale construction activities will permanently destroy the rich agrarian landscape of the region and the new urban settlement will remain vulnerable.

Nevertheless, the state government has gone ahead with its ambitious agenda. In its endeavour to create a truly ‘world-class’ metropolis it approached Centre for Livable Cities (CLC) – an agency under Singapore government, widely acknowledged for its visionary planning to develop the Master Plan for the capital. And in order to spearhead the development process in a systematic manner, it has constituted Andhra Pradesh Capital Region Development Authority (APCRDA) as the nodal agency, including land acquisition, rehabilitation and resettlement of existing rural people.

The Capital Region covers 7420 sq.km in Krishna and Guntur districts and straddles both side of the River Krishna. To its credit, within a short time APCRDA has managed to convince the farmers to part with their agricultural land holdings in exchange for built space in the future city under a generous ‘land pooling’ scheme and acquire about 33000 acres (or 133 sq.km) of land - and has crossed one of the most formidable challenges in getting the capital project going (Appaji 2015). 

The second milestone was reached on 20 July 2015 when a Singapore Government delegation handed over to Chief Minister Naidu, the Master Plan of the new city – prepared by the Centre for Livable Cities along with Jurong and Surbana – two Singapore based consulting firms. The Master Plan comprises of three parts: A Perspective Plan for the entire Capital Region of 7420 sq.km; A Detailed Master Plan for the Capital City of 212 sq.km; and an Area Plan for the capital’s core part of 8 sq.km(APCRDA 2015).

The Perspective Plan envisages the Capital Region will emerge as the hub of seven growth corridors including those from Hyderabad to Machlipatnam Port and from Chennai to Visakhapatnam (See Figure-2). By 2035, the Capital Region will have a population of 11 million and will generate 3.6 million jobs, which will increase to 13.5 million and 5.6 million respectively 2050 the horizon year.

The Capital Region Growth Corridor Linkages
Figure 2: The Capital Region Growth Corridor Linkages
Source: Source: AP Capital Region Development Authority

A particularly noteworthy feature of the Capital City Master Plan is the blue and green network. The Plan relies heavily on the Krishna River to develop a water network of over 80km, covering 3% of the total area. Canal parks, an amphitheatre, island resorts, an island-themed park, and a waterfront promenade spanning 35km along River Krishna have also been proposed. Moreover, the Plan has earmarked 21% of the total area for a green network(APCRDA 2015).

The spatial development pattern of the new city is going to be public transit oriented. To begin with, it proposes a bus rapid transit system, with four lines spanning 135km – which in future could be upgraded to mass rapid transit network. A transport hub will be located in the capital’s north-east. Walkways, local waterways and cycle tracks run along the riverfront. Expressways and semi-expressways spanning 127km will run across the capital city out of the total road network of 938km (APCRDA 2015).

The investment needed to build this ambitious project is estimated to be around Rs. 4 lakh crore (Appaji 2015). Questions have propped up about the financial viability of the ambitious project, as the residual state of Andhra has become a revenue deficit region following bifurcation and loss of its erstwhile growth engine Hyderabad. The state government envisages that most projects are going to be taken-up the public-private-partnership mode.

The Infrastructure Corporation of Andhra Pradesh has signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with International Enterprise Singapore to develop the master plan for Andhra Pradesh’s capital in three stages. Several other agencies, such as Japan External Trade Organisation, the Japan Bank for International Co­operation, the Energy and Industrial Technology Development, the Japan International Cooperation Agency, Singapore’s Tamasec Holdings, and a few Chinese companies are also expected to invest in building the new city.

If Amaravathi, shapes up, the way it is envisaged, it can help Andhra overcome a serious adversity into an opportunity for the generations to come. At the same time there are apprehensions, that it can push the state deeper into a debt trap. The hallmark of Singapore’s formidable planning expertise is its ability to adopt to change. Could its newest offspring on the banks of River Krishna live up to that reputation and reach the glory of the great ancient city after which it has be named? Let us wait and watch.

Note: The views expressed in this article are of the author and not of the institution that he represents.

References:-
  • Andhra Pradesh Capital Region Development Authority 2015, The New Capital Region of Andhra Pradesh - The Capital Region Plan and Report, by APCRDA.
  • Appaji, R 2015, 'Big Plans for New Capital', The Hindu, June 2.
  • Brenner, N 2004, New state spaces: urban governance and the rescaling of statehood, Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  • Castells, M 2005, 'Space of Flows, Space of Places: Materials for a Theory of Urbanism in the Information Age', in B Sanyal (ed.), Comparative Planning Cultures, Routledge, New York.
  • Sassen, S 2001, The Global City - New York, London, Tokyo, Princeton University Press, Princeton.
  • Sassen, S 2012, Cities in a Global Economy, Pine Forge Press, Thousand Oaks, Calif.
  • Shivaramakrishnan, KC, Ravindran, KT, Revi, A, Roy, R & Shah, J 2013, Report of the Expert Committee appointed to Study the Alternatives for a New Capital for the State of Andhra Pradesh Ministry of Home Affairs Government of India, New Delhi.
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