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Politics and Nation

Why Amaravati, Naidu's dream capital, is fast becoming a ghost town

​Amaravati turning into a ghost town?
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​Amaravati turning into a ghost town?

Jammula Malleswara Rao, a farmer from Tulluru, remembers the day he bought an earthmover and leased it to a corporate house. In his mind he had prepared himself for busy days ahead. His machine has been idle for over two months now. “It is rusting in the sun and rain,” he said, his face creased with worry. “I don’t know what to do. I have no money to pay my staff.”

Rambabu, always the optimist, is in deeper gloom. He had purchased three earthmovers with a loan of Rs 60 lakh that he got from private finance companies. He pays close to Rs 70,000 as EMI and then there are salaries of employees to think about. “I’ve put the machines on sale. I am on the verge of defaulting on instalments,” he complained.

In pic: A view of the final designs of Assembly and Secretariat buildings of Amaravati.

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​Shaky ground
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​Shaky ground

Amravati, the new capital proposed for Andhra Pradesh, is on shaky ground. Former CM Chandrababu Naidu had planned this as a model city, which was to be built at a cost of Rs 2 lakh crore. So far, Rs 10,000 crore has been sunk into the project, but CM Jaganmohan Reddy has slammed the brakes.

Construction activities screeched to a halt after elections to the Lok Sabha and state assembly in July. Hotels and restaurants are empty, new houses look haunted, auto showrooms have no buyers.

World Bank and AIIB, which together were to pump in $300 million, pulled out of the Amaravati capital region project soon after the polls. After clinching victory, Jaganmohan quickly announced an inquiry into allegations of corruption. And he stayed quiet on whether Amaravati would be the capital at all.

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​Upbeat
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​Upbeat

When Naidu had made public the location of the new state capital in 2014 — backed then by PM Narendra Modi — land prices skyrocketed in the rural Tulluru and Mangalagiri mandals, the core capital areas. Prosperity and investment swept the region. Farmers sold swathes of land in the unprecedented boom in real estate and moved to what promised to be a lucrative business, putting money into construction-related machinery such as earthmovers, tippers and tractors.

Some got into housing for the floating population working in multiple projects and others started appliances shops, supermarkets, hotels, creating a grand urban ecosystem. Corporate houses such as L&T, Shapoorji Pallonji and NCC, which bagged various contracts, hired vehicles leased by local residents. Everyone was upbeat, starry-eyed.

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​Why is there hopelessness now?
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​Why is there hopelessness now?

Today there’s hopelessness all around. Farmers want to return to agriculture but largescale construction in the last four years has turned fertile lands barren. Moreover, they have been levelled and infrastructure such as bore wells, drip irrigation systems, power connections are wiped out. Worse, the map is redrawn.

The Capital Region Development Authority (CRDA)’s works have ensured physical boundaries have been erased. The revenue department may have old records on paper, but those are of little use now.

Over the last five years, hotels came up, supermarkets and shops mushroomed and farmers made houses they rented to staffers of companies who were on site to build Amaravati. About 1,500 engineers lived as tenants in Tulluru, Mandadam and Velagapudi. Rents skyrocketed. Farmers who had become landlords are today saddled with a stock of empty houses. About 70% of the living quarters in the capital’s ‘villages’ are vacant.

In pic: Newly constructed buildings after the announcement of Amaravati capital, but now many of them vacated after stalled capital construction at Thullur in capital region. Can see the the capital buildings in the backdrop.

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​Influx
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​Influx

The population in the capital city area had more than doubled. There was an influx of workers and employees of the secretariat, high court and other government bodies, and students and teachers of various educational institutions that had sprung up around Amaravati. Twenty thousand workers have left, according to Muppalla Anil, who had opened a supermarket at Tulluru.

The high-pitched publicity blitzkrieg — there were supposed to be shiny skyscrapers, landscaped gardens, picturesque lakes, metro rail — had attracted IT professionals, doctors, businessmen et al of Andhra and Telangana who viewed Amaravati as the place to invest in, make a career. They took bank loans to start up and buy property. Land went for Rs 80 lakh to Rs 2 crore per acre.

In pic: Contract workers from kolkata going to their native, as they are leaving the work place with the works of Amaravathi capital stalled.

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​Sympathy
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​Sympathy

The prices have fallen steeply, almost to half. The state’s housing project, Happy Nest — multi-storied, posh — has gone from class investment for the non-resident Telugu diaspora to a loss-making venture. It was a matter of record, and pride, when all 1,200 expensive flats were booked within minutes of opening. The first 300 were snapped up in under a minute.

Satish Dhawan from Hyderabad was one of those who had booked a flat in Happy Nest. “Everyone called me up and congratulated me,” he told TOI. “They said I had bagged a golden opportunity. Now they are all full of sympathy for me.”

In pic: The works stalled of capital Amaravati

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Copyright © 2019 Bennett, Coleman & Co. Ltd. All rights reserved. For reprint rights: Times Syndication Service