“I’m confident that we will build the best capital in India,” Naidu said. “Tomorrow, all over the world, people will talk about Amaravati

Some critics call the dream a land grab that will benefit developers over ordinary citizens. Others say attempting to build a city of this size from scratch in India’s raucous democracy – with competing political power centers and a long record of mismanaging major infrastructure projects – is an epic folly.

Naidu has only fueled detractors with claims that, by 2050, Amaravati will be “the best destination in the world for technology, infrastructure and also human resource development.”

The new Indian city of Amaravati, as envisioned by its Singaporean designers.
The new Indian city of Amaravati, as envisioned by its Singaporean designers. © Surbana Jurong

Mallela Seshagiri Rao, a farmer and activist who opposes the project, said Naidu ignored a government-appointed expert panel that advised against placing the capital on “some of the best agricultural lands in the country.” Some farmers have said they were coerced into giving up their lands under a “land pooling” program that promised them smaller, developed plots in the new city.

“They have turned productive farmers into land speculators,” Rao said. “This was a green belt producing rice and vegetables for many other states. If you create another concrete jungle, where will that agriculture come from?”

But Naidu from the start was seduced by the idea of a river running through Amaravati, like the cities he has listed as his models: Amsterdam, Venice, Tokyo, Singapore.

To create something different, Naidu formed a joint venture with the government of Singapore. Singaporean experts drew up Amaravati’s master plan, and one of the island’s leading urban planning companies, Surbana Jurong, is leading construction on the first of three phases of the city.

“It’s a much more complex political context than ours, but at the end of the day the principles of sustainable development are the same,” said Khoo Teng Chye, executive director of the Center for Livable Cities, a Singaporean government agency involved in the effort.

Naidu has a longstanding fascination with Singapore, but when he visited a few years ago and took in the city’s reclaimed Marina Bay from atop an iconic luxury hotel, Khoo had to temper his excitement.

“I said, ‘Mr. Chief Minister, this is the result of 40 to 50 years of planning,’” Khoo recalled. “It doesn’t happen overnight.”

That is quickly becoming clear in Amaravati, which looks unlikely to meet the 2020 target to complete the first phase of construction.