International planners behind the brand new smart city in Andhra Pradesh have come up against angry farmers, disappearing land records and ancient architectural beliefs. Despite these hurdles, is Amaravati still on track?

Celebrations mark the creation India’s 29th state, Telangana - requiring a new state capital for the remainder of old Andrha Pradesh.
Celebrations mark the creation India’s 29th state, Telangana - requiring a new state capital for the remainder of old Andrha Pradesh. © Mahesh Kumar/AP

India’s grand scheme to create brand new “smart cities” along the lines of Singapore has encountered a few local difficulties in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh.

Deep-rooted beliefs about the alignment of buildings, for example – which, according to the traditional Hindu system of Vaasthu Shastra, can bring about good or bad luck – forced the state government to revise its ambitious masterplans for Amaravati, the new state capital being built from scratch there.

“The draft masterplan for Amaravati was prepared by planners from the Singapore government as part of an agreement between the state of Andhra Pradesh and Singapore,” explained Srikant Nagulapalli, commissioner of the Andhra Pradesh Capital Region Development Authority (APCRDA). “But when the first draft arrived, we realised that it would not work.”

According to Nagulapalli: “Global town planning principles do not take Vaasthuinto consideration. But the people of Andhra Pradesh have a deep-rooted belief and will not buy any property that is not north- or east-facing. We had to send [the draft plan] back to the master planners and ask them to rework it taking these principles into account. The whole capital city project would have had no buyers if the initial draft had been implemented,” he said.

There is some debate among Indian historians about how old Vaasthu(which translates from Sanskrit as the “science of architecture”, and is essentially an ancient compilation of rules for various types of building) really is, and who the original author was. What is indisputable, though, is its pervasiveness in Indian society.

“The master planners with the Singapore government were puzzled,” Nagulapalli said. “They wanted to know what Vaasthu was and who wrote it. We were stumped. After some rather frantic research, we found that the Indian scholar Varahamihira had written it in the 6th century. We have learnt a lot during the process of building this capital.

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The state government of Andhra Pradesh has its work cut out, battling irate farmers in court on one hand, and dealing with bureaucratic tangles on the other. Political pressures abound for the state’s chief minister, Nara Chandrababu Naidu, who was voted in in 2014 on the promise of a sparkling new capital city which would usher in foreign companies and provide employment opportunities to the people of the state.

As Naidu told an audience last month: “The whole world is looking at Amaravati and you should be aware of that.” He, of all people, certainly is.