Thousands of workers to move into Amaravati, the new capital of Andhra Pradesh

An artist's impression of Amaravati.
An artist's impression of Amaravati.PHOTO: SURBANA JURONG PRIVATE LIMITED

Plans moving along in Andhra Pradesh's Amaravati, which involves S'pore planners

Amaravati, the new capital city of Andhra Pradesh state that Singapore has helped plan, is showing signs of progress as temporary government offices are prepared for an estimated 3,000 employees to move there next month.

By August, another 2,000 to 3,000 people are expected to relocate as Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu tries to power ahead with creating from scratch a city 10 times the size of Singapore.

"So far, the Chief Minister has shifted along with his office. We are doing it in a phased manner and will complete all the shifting between June and August," said Mr Ajay Jain, secretary to the government of Andhra Pradesh.

"This is a unique and very complex project," he said, adding that plans were moving along.

Japanese architectural firm Maki and Associates was recently chosen to design the permanent government buildings, expected to be completed in two years, according to one state government official who did not wish to be named.

The southern state needs a new capital because it lost Hyderabad to Telangana, India's newest state that was carved out of Andhra Pradesh in 2014. Hyderabad will be shared between the two states for 10 years, after which it will go to Telangana as it falls within its state boundary.

The Amaravati capital region, in the meantime, is emerging across 7,420 sq km of agricultural land on the banks of the Krishna river between the cities of Vijayawada and Guntur.

Moving government operations, though, is the easiest part of what is one of the biggest infrastructure projects in the country. Land hurdles continue, with around 10 per cent of farmers unwilling to budge under a land pooling system.

The National Green Tribunal is also hearing a case brought by 70- year-old social activist Pandalaneni Srimannarayana on whether the new capital is located on river flood plains and whether the city would impact the ecology of the area.

Financing of construction - with costs estimated by the state government at more than one trillion rupees (S$20 billion) - also remains a major challenge. Officials say they hope to raise funds through loans, bonds and private investments.

The state government has received 75 billion rupees from the Housing and Urban Development Corporation Limited, a central government body, and has sought a loan of 60 billion rupees from the World Bank. It has separately raised five million rupees through a crowdfunding initiative called "My Brick, My Amaravati", where people can buy virtual bricks for 10 rupees.

Japan has proposed a 40 billion rupee loan for the city's metro project, according to Indian media reports. Like Singapore, Japan is interested in the project, and Mr Naidu has been wooing both.

Critics say the city project is far too ambitious, with few guarantees that displaced farmers would not lose the only livelihood they know.

A survey by the Centre for Media Studies research house said many people supported Amaravati, but were unclear about whether the capital city would improve governance or better lives.

The government has so far acquired around 13,000ha through a land pooling scheme in which farmers voluntarily surrender their land in exchange for plots in the new cityand monetary compensation.

Many farmers, however, are jittery about the kind of plot they will get in the capital city and whether future governments will support Mr Naidu's vision.

"They have made farmers partners in the development but what kind of partner are we?" said Mr M. Seshagiri Rao, president of the capital region's farmers' federation.

"In land acquisition, the land would become government land. But under land pooling, everything is disputable. Somebody or the other could keep going to court," he said, adding there are already a dozen cases brought by farmers. "We are getting no clarity on the project."

Singapore's involvement was formalised after the Republic and Andhra Pradesh signed a memorandum of understanding in December 2014 for Surbana Jurong to prepare masterplans covering 16.9 sq km. It is estimated that 300,000 people will be living in the city centre.

A master developer to implement the plan has not been chosen yet, but government officials said much has been happening behind the scenes. Responding to critics who say the project has lost momentum, Mr Jain said the project was moving even if not everything is visible. "When something visible takes place on the ground, people feel things are happening. But things are happening and people will get to know," he said.

He added that the process of choosing the master developer is ongoing and the government's priority is to create a green city where water bodies are preserved.

For now, Singapore, is playing an advisory role and is waiting for the state government to make a decision on the master developer.

Delays, said state officials, could not be avoided in such a major project. "We are trying to stick to timelines, although there may be some delays. We are trying to work on that and convince the rest of the farmers (to participate in the project)," said a government official who did not want to be named.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 04, 2016, with the headline 'Thousands of workers to move into Indian state's new capital'. Print Edition | Subscribe