Affairs of state Andhra Pradesh

Blending green and granite?

A replica of lotus flower in full bloom at the Amravati foundation stone laying ceremony venue. Photo: T. Appala Naidu  

On Tuesday, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) will, once again, hear a petition against the Andhra Pradesh Government’s Amaravati project.

The petitioner, 70-year-old Pandalaneni Srimannarayana is a physics graduate whose objections to the project range from the seismic to the environmental. He contends that the proposed capital city on the banks of the river Krishna would be flood-prone, vulnerable to earthquakes and disruptive of ecology and agriculture.

Ram Karan
The place where Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu has planned to fulfil his grand ambition of building a capital city consists of rich riverine farmland. As it exists today, it’s a beautiful pastoral ecosystem in which agriculture has snuggled itself cosily into the folds of the environment, a landscape of vegetable orchards, neem woods, thickly vegetated hills, narrow paths protected by a canopy of peepals and farmsteads with sparrows nesting in the awnings. You’ve seen this before, perhaps in the films of K. Vishwanath or the poetry of Devulapalli Krishna Sastri.

Why would you want to turn this place into Singapore?

Mr. Naidu loves the place too. He lives there. His residence in Undavalli village lies amidst banana plantations and mango groves, with the Krishna flowing by right next door. All of the CM's time these days is taken up in planning for his dream project, the capital city Amaravati. He presides over day-long meetings with urban planners, financial consultants, tourism impresarios and heritage conservationists. He takes interest in the minutiae: the streets must be like Singapore, the canals must rival Venice, the logo must project the ancient heritage of Amaravati, the song must capture the sweetness of Telugu.

While not cast entirely in the mould of Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Chandrababu Naidu tends to surprise you with lyrical turns of phrase when it comes to Amaravati. “This will be a city of the centuries,” he declared to an audience of startled reporters in Delhi back in August. “It will be a city of blue and green. Blue for the river Krishna, green for the trees.”

The naysayers butt in: “but the place is already blue and green. If the purpose is only to build a capital, a place where lawmakers sit and administrators minister, why disturb an ecosystem over a 7500 sq km area? Why can’t Amaravati be just an administrative capital? Why have riverfront plazas for pleasure seekers? Why replace natural woods with landscaped gardens? Why drive away the sparrows and bring in pigeons?”

The truth is that Mr. Naidu is not building a capital. He is building a city. He does not want Amaravati to be like the other administrative capitals such as Canberra, Ottawa, Gandhinagar and Raipur, all commuter acropolises, tree-lined but, as he said in that interview, “empty after 5 pm”.

In his vision, Amaravati is the answer to the need of the people of Andhra Pradesh who, having been dispossessed of Hyderabad, are in search of a grand expression for their identity. He wants a city that is an economic powerhouse where both the international capital and the localites’ talent for enterprise and hard work combine to produce well-being for millions.

To leaders gripped by such a vision, environmentalists’ concerns tend to sound like mere quibbling. So it is with Mr Naidu. He brushes aside arguments that the capital region is best kept as it is. “They don’t want anything to go forward. They want to keep people in poverty,” he said in the interview.

Mr. Naidu’s staff members take their cues from him. Their response to the challenges posed by environmentalists has been indifferent, audacious and even cheeky. In the run-up to the Amaravati foundation ceremony on October 22, when the NGT ordered a stay on all work involving the capital project, officials hardly broke their stride, stating airily that all green clearances have been, or will be gotten in due course. Union Minister for Environment, Forests and Climate Change, Prakash Javadekar, helped out with a statement that the “process of securing environmental clearances has been completed”. The Capital Region Development Authority followed up with a vague advertisement in two local newspapers that said the “clearance” has been “received”.

Environmentalist and former Union Secretary E.A.S. Sarma dashed off a letter to the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change, stating, “Neither the State government nor the AP Capital Region Development Authority has surveyed the capital city region for its bio-resources, water bodies, the socio-economic aspects of the region and so on.”

Behind that air of nonchalance, the planners of Amaravati are nervous about the project getting entangled in an environmental debate. Now that the foundation stone has been laid, the project is poised to move on to serious matters such as arranging the finances for the construction and attracting investment to make the city viable. Environmental concerns are likely to scare away international investors even if the Union Government is supportive. Mr. Naidu’s purpose in the Amaravati project is not merely romantic. In fact it is consistent with the kind of leader he has always been. Although he is a farmer’s son, he has always believed that agriculture is not sufficient to accommodate the aspirations of the people, for which the state needs to provide for at least three lakh jobs a year. Therefore, urbanisation is the answer. Further, he knows that land is the only resource at his disposal that can attract investors, who will come not for charity but for profit.

“We want to be like other states in south India. We want to have a city like Chennai in Tamil Nadu, or Bengaluru in Karnataka or Hyderabad in Telangana,” he said in the interview. “If we don’t develop, who will come?”

Note the absence of Kerala in Mr. Naidu’s list.

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Printable version | Dec 5, 2021 1:55:27 PM |

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