Amaravati and Naya Raipur: It takes more than construction to build new cities

Though Amaravati, the greenfield capital of Andhra Pradesh, has already made its mark, Naya Raipur, the new capital of Chhattisgarh, still remains a ghost town.
Amaravati assembly complex.(HT Photo)
Amaravati assembly complex.(HT Photo)
Updated on Aug 05, 2017 08:41 PM IST
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Hindustan Times, Naya Raipur/ Amaravati | By

It is 7pm on a muggy July evening in Naya Raipur, the new capital of Chhattisgarh that came up from scratch in 2012. The roads are deserted. A small tea shop with a flickering lamp dots the roadside near the ‘Capitol Complex’, the office of state chief minister Raman Singh and his cabinet colleagues. Some 32 state departments have shifted base here from Raipur, the old capital in 2012.

Naya Raipur was conceptualised as an international city, built from scratch or, in this case, green field to be the country’s first smart state capital. Ambition flowed in the plans, so much so that the Secretariat’s name was derived from ‘Capitol’ in United States. The idea was to keep it big on infrastructure, a vision shared 500 kilometres away by Amaravati, the new state capital of Andhra Pradesh. In recent years, the two cities have braved distinct set of challenges that can one day offer insights for India’s other cities.

‘Naya’ challenge

The Capitol Complex is well lit, but barring a few security guards, is empty. So are the other offices that have sprung up nearby: the New Raipur Development Authority (NRDA) and the police headquarters.

And so are the rows and rows of brightly painted, but empty apartment complexes, spread over three residential sectors. For most of 5,000 employees working here, home is still 25km away, in Old Raipur. This includes chief minister Raman Singh, who comes to the Secretariat office at least twice a week, his cabinet colleagues and the bureaucrats. Naya Raipur is still mostly a ghost town.

This isn’t how it was meant to be.

On the drawing board, NRDA that is building the city had predicted that one lakh people will move into the new capital by 2015. But so far, five years after the first offices shifted, only about 20,000 people have moved in. Massive funding has gone into the making of the city since its Master Plan was firmed up in 2008.

“More than Rs 10,000 crore — Rs 5,000 crore for building physical infrastructure, rest on land acquisition — has been invested so far. Major chunk is from state resources,” said Aman Kumar Singh, chairman, NRDA.

Residents say the problem is not in urban infrastructure of the city, where roads are wide, sidewalks landscaped, and the transportation is smart.

A view of Naya Raipur from Capitol Complex. (HT Photo)
A view of Naya Raipur from Capitol Complex. (HT Photo)

“You can see buildings of all hues here. The only missing link is the people. Unless people start living here the city will not grow. Why will people stay here?” says Anshuman Vohra, who works in a construction company and is a temporary resident.

The problem, he says, is in the lack of “retail outlets, affordable schools or health care facilities”.

Amaravati progress

With Naya Raipur’s experience still fresh, Amaravati, the upcoming greenfield capital of Andhra Pradesh, is treading cautiously. The city is still at a very nascent stage of its existence. It was declared the capital only in 2014, when Telangana was carved out of the state.

One of the first things Andhra chief minister Chandrababu Naidu did to ensure Amaravati succeeded was to pack his bags and shift base to the new capital from Hyderabad. His cabinet colleagues and bureaucrats gingerly followed. In record time, a temporary secretariat, assembly building, other offices and staff quarters were built as nearly 6,000 government officials moved in with their families.

The energy in the city is palpable, with construction work dominating the horizon. People are erecting new buildings to rent them out, and more than a dozen small hotels have come up in nearby villages such as Velagupudi and Malkapuram. Two technical education institutions opened last month.

“The local economy is thriving. Most of the new residents have, for the time being, settled down in either one of the villages near the Secretariat Building or in Vijaywada and Guntur,” said M Venkat Rao, 48, a resident of Malkapuram village.

Despite the initial momentum, officials here realise that building a city from the scratch is not easy.

“The major challenge is funding. We are a revenue-deficit state. We can’t use all our funds to develop Amaravati. The Centre has so far given Rs 2,500 crore but the requirement in the next three years is over Rs 32,000 crore. We are tying up with multilateral agencies for garnering more resources,” said Dr Sreedhar Cherukuri, commissioner, Andhra Pradesh Capital Region Development Authority. He added, “Earlier our work revolved around building the administrative capital. But we are now focusing on economic development.”

Learning from mistakes

Naya Raipur might have one of the best physical infrastructures, but the government failed to factor in a crucial aspect when it planned its new capital: social infrastructure.

“We thought once the physical infra is in place, people will shift. But there are no retail outlets, no economic activity. There have to be employment generation opportunities. We are addressing these issues. Our central business district will be ready by early next year. Once that is ready, and with the chief minister and governor’s house — where work will start soon — done, we are hopeful people will also move in,” said Mukesh Bansal, CEO, NRDA. Since Independence, three greenfield capitals have come up in India: Chandigarh, Bhubaneswar and Gandhinagar. Except for Chandigarh, the other two, especially Gandhinagar took a long time to come to life.

According to urban experts, cities such as Gandhinagar and Naya Raipur take decades to pick up because planners who design new cities do not study the Indian psyche.

“In India, people want to live in a city where there is social cohesion… people want to talk to each other, interact. The new cities such as Naya Raipur do not provide this. Social sustainability is not there. That is why these cities have failed to attract people. Borrowing concepts from other countries won’t work here because they are so alien to the needs and habits of people,” said Saswat Bandyopadhyay, professor of planning at Ahmedabad’s CEPT University.

Building new cities should be based on economic impulse, a sound business case, says Srikanth Viswanathan, CEO, Janaagraha. “A city is not created just by constructing roads and buildings. Trade, investment and economy have to be taken care of,” he said.

For Naya Raipur to have a life, urban experts say the first step will be to move the government lock, stock, and barrel to the city. Chhattisgarh CM Raman Singh can take inspiration from his Andhra counterpart, who realised very early that for moving people to a new city, he will have to make the first move. “I knew if I shifted to Amaravati, my ministers and bureaucrats will follow suit. Once the government comes, governance will follow. This helped build people’s trust,” N Chandrababu Naidu told HT.

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