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Capital crying out to be built

- Bustling Guntur-Vijayawada stretch fits the bill
Large swathes of agricultural land in the Guntur-Vijayawada stretch (like the one in picture) need to be acquired to build Seemandhra’s new capital

Vijayawada/ Guntur, Feb. 18: Seemandhra’s “capital” city is beckoning, if only anyone cares to see.

By now the 40km stretch between Guntur and Vijayawada in Andhra Pradesh should have been sporting giant billboards on either side of the six-lane Chennai-Calcutta expressway, the words “You are driving through Seemandhra’s future capital city” staring down at passing vehicles.

Forget billboards, there hasn’t been even a buzz over building a brand new capital city.

All the talk has revolved around Hyderabad, which, even if shared for now, would eventually go to Telangana.

But some, like Ramana Yashaswi, are looking beyond . “This (Guntur-Vijayawada) stretch,” said the leading orthopaedic surgeon, “has everything going for it. It is sandwiched between two bustling towns, along an expressway, with excellent rail connectivity and the river Krishna for water needs. There is abundant land available to build the infrastructure that makes a capital city. More important, it is almost equidistant from all the districts of Seemandhra.”

Others who agreed with Yashaswi’s assessment said political and business leaders in Seemandhra, especially from Prakasam, Guntur and Krishna districts, should pitch for this stretch and tap the Centre for funds.

The most important positive, they pointed out, is the absence of any reserve forest in this area, which means quicker environment clearance. “Also, the state-owned Acharya Nagarjuna University has a 300-acre campus, which, if necessary, can be converted into a secretariat,” suggested a professor of the varsity.

There are over a dozen engineering and six medical colleges within a 60km radius, he added. In other words, the region is already an educational hub and could be developed as a knowledge capital.

The other likely contestants for capital — Visakhapatnam and Tirupati — are located on either corner of the state, so access could be a major gripe. The two cities are also surrounded by reserve forests and Tirupati, one of India’s busiest pilgrim centres, already reels from heavy tourist traffic apart from frequent water shortage.

Sridhar Rao, a Vijayawada architect, came up with a suggestion: merge Vijayawada and Guntur with what would be the new capital to create a mega city. “This would attract business investments, create housing projects and make top schools and colleges open branches,” he said. “This is how Hyderabad grew in the last two decades.”

One major roadblock is acquiring fields growing cotton, paddy, turmeric and maize on this stretch. “They should find some way to speed up land acquisition as delay will only push up the costs of building the city. Also, there should be commitment from all major political players about developing the city. Tomorrow, a rival political party on coming to power should not propose relocating the capital,” said a senior IAS officer.

In quiet anticipation of a capital city, land prices in this belt have already shot up, with an acre costing between Rs 50 lakh and a crore, depending on how close it is to the expressway, said a real estate agent. “One advantage is that more than 500 acres of contiguous land is available,” he added.

Since the Supreme Court has ruled that land acquisition can only be at market price, the new government’s first job would be to find the money for buying land for the new capital.

Officials were unwilling to hazard a guess about the cost. “Only after we know the location can we start calculating since land price is a major component,” said P. Thimma Reddy, director, town and country planning. “Let us have a proposal first.”