Does Jagan have an alternative to the Amaravati World-Class Illusion?

By Jinka Nagaraju  Published on  20 Oct 2019 2:29 PM GMT
Does Jagan have an alternative to the Amaravati World-Class Illusion?

Hyderabad: Visiting journalists, who are mostly from India’s metropolitan centres, often, tend to get easily affected by the current dismal picture of Andhra Pradesh’s capital city Amaravati. The first thing they love to do is to describe this as a ghost city, even though there was no city whatsoever in the vicinity earlier.

Yes, construction activities at Amaravati have come to a grinding halt with contractors demobilising the men and material from the site. This, coupled with the destruction of a few illegal structures raised by the previous TDP regime, indeed presents a deplorable picture to all those visitors who wanted to see an emergent “World City” on the banks of River Krishna.

They tend to postulate that destruction is easier than building the brand image. Some had even gone to the extent of dubbing the policy of Chief Minister Jagan Mohan Reddy as the annihilation of Amaravati. Many see this as a wanton act of vendetta. Maybe they are correct to some extent because the politics of contemporary India, from New Delhi to Hyderabad to Amaravati, are driven mainly by vendetta.

To counter the criticism, Jagan is not able to offer any convincing alternative to the Amaravati world-class city illusion. As an architect of Greenfield capital Amaravati, ex-Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu, created an aura, true or false, around the capital. Though there has been disapproval for Naidu’s Amaravati from environmentalists and urban planners who consider this an all-out- war on nature, Jagan has so far not spelt out his priorities vis a vis state capital. He left the matter to his colleagues in the cabinet who added by their utterances more confusion instead of paving the path to move forward.

Many officials in Andhra Pradesh agree in private that Jagan did better by stalling the massive project because he could at least divert some funds to other projects, which are craving attention. For all those who invested in or wanted to reap real estate benefits from Amaravati, stalling the project is a monumental blunder. There is also a section of people who argue that shelving the project is the best option available to the government given the dire straits the state’s economy is in and the threat it poses to the fragile environment.

Against this backdrop, it is time to look at the concept of a world-class city. The idea of ‘World City’ was first put forth by late-twentieth-century urban theorist John Friedmann (1926-2017). The pompous aspect of the hypothesis, which Naidu fell in love with, is the integration of the city with the world economy.

Friedmann’s ‘World City’ envisages the concentration of corporate headquarters, international finance, global transport and communications, and a high level of business services. These, in turn, contribute to the economic growth for both upper-level workers and low wage labourers. These centres, according to Friedmann’s hypothesis, operate as metropolis like New York, Los Angeles and Paris and function as centres for the production and dissemination of information, news, entertainment and other cultural artefacts. As World Cities, they attract increasing immigration, which leads to the expansion of the informal economy.

Studies, meanwhile, reveal that while some nations and cities did draw benefits from the World Cities, others slipped into international debt, ultimately defeating its primary objective.

Citing the case of Astana, the Kazakhstan capital, many argue that the cost of a world-class city status often outweighs the fiscal capacity of the state. Finally, the burden of global capital accumulation would shift to the politically weakest and most disorganised sections of the population. They also argue that the police repression in the name of corporate and state interests further marginalise weaker sections of a World-Class City.

Assuming that political and caste rivalry has driven Jagan to abandon the World Class Amaravati project, many defend him by stating that it is the best option available given the global economic slowdown.

Now it all depends on Jagan’s ability to silence critics by offering a viable and democratic alternative to the corporate-friendly and people-hostile World Class City.

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