ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Speculation and the New City

Andhra Pradesh Capital Development Story

The formal foundation ceremony of Amaravati, the new capital city of Andhra Pradesh, has drawn the attention of villagers and landowners who want to give up land. Will it live up to the hype or will it fall prey to unsustainable speculation—this photo essay from the ground has some answers. The other parts of this photo essay on the Andhra Pradesh capital development is here, here and here

Hyping the Welcome?

Vijayawada, Guntur and the roads leading to the foundation ceremony site were splashed with welcome billboards and banners put up by the administration and enthusiastic supporters—mostly from the Telugu Desam Party (TDP).

In the photo frame below (clockwise), the first photo depicts the TDP founder N T Rama Rao seated on a black lion (a symbol that is difficult to understand but visible in different villages). The next picture placed at the entrance to Venkatapalem village hails Narendra Modi and N Chandrababu Naidu as India’s leading reformers. The third photo hails actor Pawan Kalyan, an ally of the TDP-BJP combine during 2014 elections, as the saviour of landowners who were not willing to give up their land under the Land Pooling Scheme (LPS). The photo is interesting because it also has images of Chiranjeevi (former Union Minister in United Progressive Alliance-II cabinet and Pawan Kalyan’s brother) as well as a leading yesteryear actor from Pawan’s caste who is not from the region or connected to politics in any way. 

Welcome Banners

Infrastructure Creation is a Continuous Activity

A number of capital villages were witnessing continuous building activity. The increased construction of houses is clearly discernible. Most of the villages continued to witness infrastructure and related activity especially roads and drains. Below is a photo of road construction that has restarted after the foundation ceremony. The contractor pointed out that they were trying to complete road extension that could not be carried out due to the foundation ceremony on 22 October 2015. 

Road extension activity in one of the villages

New road under construction outside the heritage site Undavalli Caves

The rapid pace of the construction work has not gone unnoticed in the capital villages. The changes since a year ago are clearly visible.

Cleaning Up is a Major Task

A day after the capital foundation ceremony, cleaning up is a major task. 

Rolling Out the Dream

A special attraction was the “Amaravati Pavilion” that showcased the history of the region and representational images of the future capital city. This was showcased during the foundation ceremony for the guests and was thrown open to the general public for about a fortnight after the ceremony. The images of the future were drawn from the master plans submitted by a Singapore based company. A large number of people flocked to the foundation ceremony site after the function. It became a mini tourist site for those in the vicinity of Vijayawada and Guntur. A major attraction that was showcased included a three dimensional plan of the proposed capital city with all the villages and present landmarks clearly identified. A number of people were busy trying to locate their villages and land surrendered under LPS along with the type of buildings that can expect in future. This dream has ominous portends for the government since the expectations are high. Visitors went away with the impression that their villages would be transformed in a way similar to the three dimensional map (picture below) in the Amaravati Pavilion.

The foundation ceremony site drew large numbers of people throughout the day for as long as it was open to the public.

Mixed Impact on Livelihoods

The impact of the new capital building efforts on livelihoods is difficult to estimate. While large number of landowners have benefitted immensely due to the sharp rise in land prices and the government’s lease offer, tenant farmers and segements of landless labour have lost. The more entrepreneurial members of the capital villages have gained substantially. One such group are those who rushed to buy tractors, all of which have near continous work.

The photo below is one of the few daily wage labourers who have benefitted. The male member worked as a helper in a cycle mechanic shop while the wife worked as a daily wage labourer in the field. In the past couple of months, the person has been selling ice-creams on a push cart riding through the villages. The week before and after the foundation ceremony has been particularly good—he earned a net profit of Rs 2000 per day thanks to the large number of people who have flocked to the foundation ceremony site and the hot weather. He hopes that the good times will continue for a little longer.

Agriculture is Back, Temporarily

In certain parts of the capital villages, farmers have restarted planting their fields, even in cases where they have offered their land under Land Pooling Scheme (LPS). Farmers mentioned that they were given permission reluctantly by the government under the condition that they would have to be prepared to make way for capital building activity at very short notice. Thus, farmers are taking a risk because there is a possibility that they may lose their crops if capital building starts in earnest. Not all farmers are taking the risk but such planting can be seen in many villages, especially those in the more fertile belt (“jeerebu” lands). The picture below is one such plot of land where farmers are sowing a crop afresh.

Onion sprouting is also visible in many fields.

Real Estate Speculation—A Subdued Roar?

Speculation over real estate seems to have moved back to the centre stage in the weeks preceding the foundation ceremony. While land prices increased sharply in the run up to the ceremony, they fell in the aftermath of the lack of any announcement of a financial package by the Prime Minister. In the picture below, a new real estate brokerage, “Lions Real Estates and Consultancy” welcomes the important guests to the foundation ceremony. A number of these “consultancies” have come up in hurriedly built structures on small plots of land—usually on own plots. Most of the owners make money by trying to fix small deals, often one or two acres per transactions. 

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