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Monday, July 23, 2018

Capital Haul: As Andhra Pradesh prepares to move into its new capital, we take a look at the costs

Exactly two years after it split, Andhra Pradesh has begun the process to move into its new capital.

Written by Sreenivas Janyala | Updated: June 5, 2016 11:19:00 am
Andhra Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh capital, N Chandrababu Naidu, Velagapudi, Amaravati, AP capital, Andhra Pradesh CM, Andhra Pradesh chief minister, andhra pradesh news, india news Work on at the transitional secretariat in Velagapudi. Harsha Vadlamani

13,300 people, 500 trucks, 1 lakh files, 1 lakh weapons, 342 km. Exactly two years after it split, Andhra Pradesh has begun the process to move into its new capital. SREENIVAS JANYALA adds up the costs

Located near Vijayawada, the sleepy and dusty Velagapudi village of 3,000 is buzzing these days. On one side, work is on to ready five one-storey blocks, spread over 1 lakh sq ft each, to house a transitional Andhra Pradesh secretariat. On the other, landlords are modifying, renovating or adding new floors to their houses, to give them out on rent. Velagapudi has been chosen for the transitional secretariat as it is within a five-kilometre radius of the region where the new capital city of Amaravati is to come up.

The secretariat will be spread over 45 acres — 27 acres for the buildings and the rest for public amenities — and is being built at a cost of Rs 180 crore. More than the money, it is other changes that have left Thota Balaji Reddy bewildered. “It is a culture shock. I have never seen so many Hindi-speaking people here,” Reddy, who sells SIM cards, says.

As the Sachivalayam canteen churns out food for nearly 2,000 workers, K Balakrishna, one of the site in-charges, says, “Work goes on 24/7. The structures will be ready in another two weeks.” Over at Hyderabad, B Sirisha Reddy, a senior stenographer in the Human Resource Management Department at the Andhra Secretariat, fiddles with a note pad as she ponders over how life will change. Andhra Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu has set a deadline of June 27 for all officials to start functioning from government offices at Velagapudi, Vijayawada and Guntur.

While Velagapudi will house the transitional secretariat, a number of employees will move into nearby Vijayawada and Mangalagiri in Guntur. Sirisha says it took some time for reality to sink in. “Hyderabad is good. My husband and I are settled here, our children are going to school. But we have to shift. It is inevitable and the sooner we do it, the better.”

Andhra Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh capital, N Chandrababu Naidu, Velagapudi, Amaravati, AP capital, Andhra Pradesh CM, Andhra Pradesh chief minister, andhra pradesh news, india news The secretariat is expected to be ready in two weeks . Harsha Vadlamani

The CM is already working from his temporary office at Vijayawada, along with most of his Cabinet colleagues, who come to Hyderabad only occasionally. In offices in the six buildings housing the Andhra Pradesh Secretariat at Hyderabad, staff members have been packing files, office equipment and furniture. “We are waiting for the written communiqué to start shifting,” says Murali Krishna of the Andhra Non-Gazetted Officers’ Association.

Starting from the second week of June, 122 Andhra departments functioning from Hyderabad are to start moving to Vijayawada, says the man in-charge of the shifting, Lingaraj Panigrahi, Special Secretary, Guidelines and Procedures Manual, Administrative Reforms, Accommodation and Human Resource Management. “All the department heads have been told to hire trucks. Each department is responsible for moving its assets, each employee responsible for the files and papers that are on his desk on the day of shifting.”

Panigrahi is also sure that come June 27, “all employees will have to do is report to work at their specified office locations”. The teething problems, in the hot and humid Vijayawada and Guntur, will be more basic, he believes —“lack of air-conditioners or fans”.

*****

For nearly two years, officials have been at work digitising files for this transfer. Over one lakh files at the Secretariat, running into over 70 lakh pages, have already been scanned and will be transferred electronically. “But there are still thousands of paper files to be carried manually,” says Parakala Prabhakar, advisor to the Chief Minister. These files will be transported in secure containers, escorted by at least one person from the department concerned and would be delivered to the new premises the same day.

Among the departments whose files are not being digitised are Revenue, running into 1,500 to 2,000 pages each, and the equally bulky files of the Vigilance and Home Departments.

Over at the Andhra Police Headquarters at Lakdikapul in Hyderabad, the transfer to a new office near the transitional secretariat at Velagapudi isn’t as simple. Nearly one lakh weapons, including grenades, as well as ammunition are to be shifted over a period of one week from Hyderabad to strong rooms that are being built at existing police buildings, including the Andhra Special Police 6th Battalion Headquarters at Mangalagiri.

Director General of Police J V Ramudu says only buildings with certain specifications can be used for police purposes, especially for establishing various equipment, strong rooms etc, and these are not yet ready anywhere in the capital region. “There are some new buildings which according to the Capital Region Development Authority (CRDA) can be used by police. But these buildings have to meet specifications,” says the DGP.

Besides, some 500 police officers from various departments, including specialised ones such as Greyhounds and Octopus, will move to Vijayawada by June end. After the weapons are shifted, the Andhra Police must ensure that its communication network and forensic labs are up and running at the earliest. “Moving the forensic lab is itself a difficult task,” the DGP says.

*****

In anticipation of the demand for housing both offices and staff, the rent and land rates have been going up in Vijayawada. The rate per square feet in many areas went up from Rs 7 to Rs 15 between 2008 and 2014. Once bifurcation happened and CM Naidu called for shifting the capital by June end, the rate doubled.

Panigrahi says the shifting may not cost the state government much — he is reluctant to give an estimate — but that housing the departments in complexes and highrises on rent in Vijayawada or Guntur will cost a fortune. “In Hyderabad, most of the departments are on government-owned premises. But that is not going to be the case there. From July, 95 per cent of each department’s expenses will be rent,” Panigrahi says.

“In 2008, when we were looking for space to start one of our coaching academies in Vijayawada, we negotiated a rate of Rs 7 per sq ft. Now, when we are scouting for office spaces, owners are quoting Rs 28 per sq ft,” says P Narayana, Minister, Municipal Administration & Urban Development, Urban Water Supply and Urban Planning. He is also the founder of the premier Narayana Group of Educational Institutions.

An official says landlords tried to “hoodwink” them, but that the problem had been sorted. “They created a scenario of dearth of office space as the demand for commercial space is very high in Vijayawada. That was until the district collector conducted a survey and found that an additional 8 lakh sq ft space was available.”

The Velagapudi transitional headquarters will house the Chief Minister’s Office, offices of the Council of Ministers, the Legislative Assembly, and Departments of Information and Public Relations, Pay and Accounts. “The model of the five buildings is such that, after the departments shift to the new capital at Amaravati, they can be given to IT companies or corporates or multiplexes and malls,” says CRDA Commissioner N Srikanth.

Separate surveys were conducted for available rental accommodation for officials. “We found that more than 10,000 houses would be easily available for rent. Expecting the influx of employees and new migrants, many have already constructed new houses or raised additional floors. Employees won’t face any problem regarding housing,” says Panigrahi, adding that as per their estimate, of the 13,000-odd employees shifting, at least 10,000 will need bachelor accommodation initially, with their families staying back in Hyderabad.

Andhra Non-Gazetted Officers’ Association chief Ashok Babu fears that the employees who would be affected the most are those with elderly parents receiving treatment in Hyderabad or those with children in colleges.

*****

As his counterparts searched for space at reasonable cost, the Director of School Education at Vijayawada has been on another job for six months. On May 15, he issued a circular to all schools in the district to be lenient in giving admissions to children of government employees shifting from Hyderabad.

In Vijayawada, there are 125 English-medium schools, 14 of them missionary schools, which are the top choice for most employees. A cell has been started at the office of the Director of Schools at Vijayawada to assist employees to get admission at short notice.

A similar circular has been issued to schools in Guntur, especially in Mangalagiri area, where a number of employees may take up residence. “The government has identified two batches of employees who have school-going children, 81 employees who were recruited in 2008 and 45 in 2013,” says Education Minister G Srinivasa Rao. “If necessary, permission will be given by the government to start additional classes at these schools.”

Other measures have been taken to ease the shift. “We have declared a five-day week as of now for all employees shifting from Hyderabad, where they have a six-day week. Many of them with families will be commuting to and from Hyderabad over weekends. HRA has been increased to 30 per cent. Those employees who have government accommodation in Hyderabad and do not shift their families will still get 10 per cent HRA. A majority of the employees will commute. We may request waiving off of road toll tax for them,” says Panigrahi.

Adds minister Narayana, “When the employees’ union asked for these benefits, the government did not bargain or negotiate. CM Naidu accepted whatever was demanded.”

*****

In Mandadam village, 1 km from the Velagapudi transitional secretariat, anticipation has been building up — visible even in pamphlets littered across the village road offering various kinds of “services”. Earlier, Mandadam was famous for its fruit and flower crops, and almost everyone was a farmer. After they gave up all their land to the state government under the land-pooling scheme for the new capital, most of them introduce themselves as “real-estate agents” or “businessmen”. One advertises “comfortable hostel accommodation for working men” at affordable rates. Another promises to deliver bottled water at doorstep. Autorickshaw drivers advertise their phone numbers to take employees to and from the transitional secretariat. New ‘To Let’ boards hang outside many houses.

“Depending on the size of rooms, the rates range from Rs 7,000 to Rs 12,000, which includes breakfast, lunch box delivered to office, and dinner. All rooms are air-conditioned,” rattles off Venkat Reddy, who has converted the first floor of his house into a hostel.

An overpowering aroma rises from ‘New Amaravati Hotel’, a rudimentary structure that attracts many people, most of them truck drivers carrying equipment and steel supplies to the construction site at Velagapudi. A small board says ‘Meals Ready, Rs 30’.

“Between Mandadam and Velagapudi, at least 20 new shops and eateries have come up since construction started three months ago. We even have an Internet café now, though it is closed most of the time. Most of the new shops keep provisions like toothpastes, shampoos, SIM cards, etc and their customers are construction workers,” chuckles Bezwada Rajesh Babu, who is into real estate.

G Omkar, 42, who grew up in Velagapudi but now lives at Undavalli, is thrilled at the freshly laid two-lane road. “They are even laying pavements on both sides of the road leading to Velagapudi,” he gushes. His neighbour V Narendra says he spent Rs 70,000 redoing his bathroom, building an extra one, and laying marbonite tiles in the two-bedroom portion which he will let out.

*****

At the house of M Kishore, an assistant section officer in the Revenue Department at Hyderabad, the mood is sombre. Kishore, who has been living in Hyderabad since 1999, will move to Velagapudi while his wife Lata Sirisha and their daughter, a Class VIII student, stay back for now. Their son is doing B.Tech at Manipal University in Karnataka.

“I will think about shifting them in a year or so,” Kishore says. Apart from his daughter’s studies, he admits, he is worried about rumours of high rents in Vijayawada. “Landlords say when the government is paying you 30 per cent more HRA, why can’t you pay a little more to us.”

Others point out that they had bought property in Hyderabad, never anticipating they would have to leave the city. Many question the timing of the transfer. “Hyderabad is joint capital till 2024. What is the hurry in shifting just two years after bifurcation? That too just before the monsoon is to set in. The area where the government buildings are coming up is prime agriculture land and gets water-logged and there is no proper road connectivity,” says one employee. In fact, CM Naidu’s car had got stuck in the mud near the transitional headquarters a few days ago and a crane had to be called to pull it out.

Capital Amaravati itself will take another three to four years to be built, officials admit. A Japanese firm is finalising the designs of the crucial buildings and once Naidu okays them, construction will start. “The basic buildings, like the Secretariat, Legislative Assembly complex, high court, governor’s bungalow will take at least two years to build and construction may be completed by early 2019. All the offices that are being built now are temporary,” says Minister P Narayana.

Officials add that the reason for Naidu’s haste for the new capital is that he doesn’t want to depend for too long on Hyderabad, the capital of bickering sibling Telangana. “Once the capital shifts to temporary locations, focus can be on developing the state and also Amaravati. Now with head offices located 300 km away at Hyderabad, it is very inconvenient. The government is also spending a lot of money on airfare and travel expenses of officers making frequent trips between Hyderabad and Vijayawada,” an official says.

The June 27 deadline was announced primarily keeping in mind the reopening of schools in the first week of July after the summer vacations, the official adds. On Friday, Chief Secretary S P Tucker said officials could take time up to August.

B Sirisha, the stenographer in the Revenue Department, was one of the first government employees to scout Vijayawada and Guntur for accommodation, schools, transport, and other amenities. “My wife’s temporary office is coming up at Mandadam and it is equidistant from Vijayawada and Mangalagiri. We chose Mangalagiri because the rents are not very high, good 2BHKs are available and my wife’s native place is just 20 km away. Schools are nearby,” says Srinivas Reddy, Sirisha’s husband who works with a private firm in Hyderabad.

Reddy, who hails from Kadapa, adds, “I settled in Hyderabad 12 years ago and, like any place, it grows on you. We might leave Hyderabad with a heavy heart but there is the promise of AP’s new capital and going back to our state and contributing to rebuilding it.” This spirit is what the Naidu government is counting on.

Assures R Srinivas, an official at the Andhra Secretariat, “Leaving an urbanised and well-developed modern city to go to a set of buildings coming up near villages is definitely daunting. But I am sure the famous entrepreneurship of Andhra people will ultimately prevail. That is the confidence that Andhra workers and staff have.”

The Countdown

June 2, 2014: Andhra Pradesh with 13 districts comes into existence after united Andhra Pradesh is bifurcated into Andhra and Telangana.

Nov 2014: TDP government decides the region between Vijayawada and Guntur ideal for establishing a new capital city. Vijayawada already has a well-developed airport, and a major railway junction, river Krishna flows through the region, and the area is almost in the centre of the state.

April 2, 2015: Government announces Amaravati as new capital’s name. The historic Amaravati is 33 km from Vijayawada. The task of designing the capital is entrusted to Singaporean firm Surbana Jurong Private Limited.

July 2015: Surbana submits layouts of Amaravati.

Oct 22, 2015: Laying foundation stone, CM Naidu calls it ‘People’s Capital’

Jan 14, 2016: CM says will shift the capital to temporary location in Vijayawada, sets deadline for June.

The Count

* Amaravati expected to cover 217 sq km

* Capital Region Development Authority estimates budget of over Rs 50,000 crore

* Farmers give 34,000 acres in 31 villages under a land-pooling scheme for the capital

* 2,304 employees of 32 departments at the Andhra Secretariat, and 11,020 employees of 90 departments in Hyderabad to move

* 500 trucks to transport 1 lakh files, 11,000 -odd pieces of furniture

* The 300-km transfer to Vijayawada, Guntur or Velagapudi will cost around Rs Rs 5 crore

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