Who killed Amaravati, the AP capital?

Who killed Amaravati, the AP capital?

In January 2016, the then Andhra Pradesh government led by Nara Chandrababu Naidu, organised a three-day CII Partnership Summit in the coastal city of Visakhapatnam. Aimed at attracting investments, it was AP’s first investors’ conclave after the State bifurcation.

In January 2016, the then Andhra Pradesh government led by Nara Chandrababu Naidu, organised a three-day CII Partnership Summit in the coastal city of Visakhapatnam. Aimed at attracting investments, it was AP's first investors' conclave after the State bifurcation.

In the united Andhra Pradesh era, Hyderabad had been the natural choice for such events. With Hyderabad, the capital of the combined AP, going to Telangana, the Naidu government opted for Visakhapatnam as host city for the summit as it wanted to develop the coastal city as commercial capital of residual Andhra Pradesh.

Nearly two-and-a-half months before the summit, Prime Minister Narendra Modi laid foundation in October 2015 for Amaravati, the AP's Greenfield capital city near Vijayawada, that was planned on 34,381 acres of prime agriculture land contributed by over 25,000 farmers in a land pooling scheme. As targeted, the Partnership Summit 2016 attracted investment proposals, totaling Rs 4.5 lakh crore.

However, it is not known how many of those investment proposals were grounded later. But that's a different story as strike rate or success ratio of such proposals or summits would invariably be less than 20 per cent.

However, it's worth recalling here that the AP government had signed two memoranda of understanding (MoUs) at the 2016 Partnership Summit to raise loans for Amaravati capital. Hudco (Housing and Urban Development Corporation) came forward to lend Rs 7,500 crore for the Greenfield capital while Andhra Bank signed an MoU to offer a loan of Rs 5,000 crore. Land in Amaravati was to be mortgaged for these loans, totaling Rs 10,500 crore.

"Barring land, Amaravati has no other assets. So, we have to mortgage the land. We will use these loans to create infrastructure like roads, sewerage, electricity network in Amaravati, especially in 11,000 acres of land to be given back to farmers who contributed to land pooling," Ponguru Narayana, AP's then minister for municipal administration & urban development, told a select group of senior business journalists from Hyderabad, who were in Vizag to cover the investors' conclave.

In that interaction which lasted for nearly 15 minutes, Narayana, owner of Narayana Group of Institutions and key member of Naidu's core group then, laid bare the plans of the TDP government for the Greenfield capital.

"We have to face elections in 2019. So, our objective is to make reasonable progress in the construction of Amaravati capital before elections. We plan to complete core capital including Secretariat and Raj Bhavan by 2018-end," he explained.

He, however, did not disclose how much the core capital would cost despite repeated requests, but went on to say that a capital city on the lines of Hyderabad would need at least Rs 4 lakh crore. Narayana further said that the AP government had an issue with Singapore consortium on timeline and was sorting it out.

"Amaravati master plan was designed to be completed in 30 years. Singapore Consortium wants to stick to that time schedule, but we want to complete core capital before elections. However, this issue will be sorted out soon," he observed.

As per plans enunciated by him, some serious business activity was expected to commence in Amaravati by end of 2018. "Once we allocate land for farmers and create basic infrastructure there, farmers will start constructing commercial as well as residential buildings. Thus, some business activity will kick off in Amaravati," Narayana said.

Going by the confidence in his voice and the authority with which he spoke, it was felt by many that the TDP government was hell bent on completing core capital city in Amaravati by 2018 and using the capital as trump card in 2019 elections. Of course, there was no reason to doubt those plans as the TDP government had good two- and-a-half years of time at its disposal for the execution.

But none of those grandiose plans materialised and the TDP government could not complete even single permanent government building in Amaravati before the State went to polls in April 2019. Something might have terribly gone wrong for the Naidu government. Perhaps, delay in finalising plans for iconic buildings might have thrown the capital construction plans out of gear.

That was when the first nail was put in the coffin of Amaravati capital city. However, the TDP government tried to reduce the adverse impact of the delay in the construction of core capital by bringing people from all corners of Andhra Pradesh in buses and taking them on a guided tour across the proposed capital city and to the under-construction buildings there.

But this had not worked and Naidu-led TDP lost the 2019 Assembly elections by a mile. The defeat of TDP in elections clearly showed that the Greenfield capital has no people's support. That was the time when the second nail was put in the coffin of Amaravati the capital.

However, Amaravati is a great project and will take profile of Andhra Pradesh to next orbit in the country and around the world if it is executed as per the master plan. But it is an expensive process and needs tonnes of funds.

Infrastructure bill itself is estimated to go beyond Rs 1 lakh crore. But as Narayana said, the total public and private investment would not be less than Rs 4 lakh crore if AP has to pit Amaravati against the likes of Hyderabad and Bengaluru. Further, even if the money is poured into the Greenfield capital for creating infrastructure, it is a politically risky project as it will not bring votes for the ruling dispensation as happened in the last elections.

Moreover, YS Jagan will not go to elections in 2024 as son of Dr YS Rajasekhara Reddy, who implemented poor-friendly programmes like Aarogyasri and fee re-imbursement. YS Jagan will seek people's mandate after having worked as Chief Minister for five years.

Therefore, the young leader will be judged on his performance between 2019 and 2024, not on his father's performance during 2004-2009. That may be the reason behind YS Jagan's move to drop expensive Amaravati. When it comes to realising its decades-long dream of having its own capital on its own soil, Andhra Pradesh now has two options - building Greenfield Amaravati capital proposed by the previous government or brown field capital in Visakhapatnam.

YS Jagan chose the second option, saying it would require a tenth of funds that Amaravati would gobble up. That way, he could earmark more funds for welfare schemes so that he could reap electoral dividends five years later.

But in case of Visakhapatnam also, people will see a repeat of Amaravati experience if the YS Jagan government fails to build permanent Secretariat and other key capital infrastructure in the coastal city before the next Assembly elections. Political parties need to be prepared for the worst as anything is possible in elections and it's very difficult to find loyal voters these days.

However, the story of Amaravati would have had a happier ending had the Naidu government put the project on right track and constructed at least two permanent buildings - Secretariat and Assembly- and provided good access roads to them.

That would not have cost more than Rs 10,000 crore. If that happened, YS Jagan government could not have come up with three capitals plan and proposed the shifting of Secretariat to Visakhapatnam, the newly-mooted Executive Capital.

Perhaps, Naidu might have thought that people would vote for him, fearing that Amaravati would remain incomplete without his presence in power. If that's true, the TDP supremo was overconfident. Moreover, he did not learn lessons well.

Though he played a key role in the development of IT sector and related development in Hyderabad, his party TDP lost elections across united Andhra Pradesh and in the City of Pearls in 2004. However, people and rulers are enjoying fruits of those efforts now.

But the moot question now is who killed the Amaravati the capital. There is a saying in Telugu 'Alasyam Amrutham Visham.' For those who don't know Telugu, it means even nector will become poison if there is a delay. But the final nail will be put into the coffin of Amaravati the capital when the AP government shifts its administration to Visakhapatnam. And that will not take long time.

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