“We can’t even get a cup of tea”: Andhra Pradesh court slams delays in building capital

The high court of the southeast Indian state of Andhra Pradesh has attacked the government for its "dilly-dallying" over the construction of its new capital city, pointing out that "even a cup of tea is not available" for judges.

The 20,000ha city of Amaravati, masterplanned by UK architect Foster + Partners, is being built on a "Swiss Challenge" system. In this method of procurement, the state government invites companies to propose public projects that it will carry out. It then publishes the proposal and invites other companies to do better, after which the original company has the chance to respond.

A number of petitioners, including construction companies Aditya Housing and NVN Engineers, have launched legal objections to the adoption of Swiss challenges, leading the court to warn the government about delays in construction and to direct it to respond to the complaints within two weeks.

Chief Justice JK Maheshwari said: "The high court is facing many serious problems. We are coming here with a great deal of difficulty. There is no place for advocates to park their cars. There is no place even to sit. Facilities exists only in the name. We are receiving complaints from the lawyers every day. There are no houses for the judges and they are staying in guesthouses. How long they can stay like this?"

He added: "If you don’t complete the work, we will see to it that you are forced to carry out the works."

At present, judges and other civil servants operate out of temporary buildings pending the construction of a courthouse and a state legislature. Work on a state assembly had got as far as the construction of foundations before it was halted.

In the case before the court involved the selection of a developer for a 684ha plot in Amaravati. The petitioners were not arguing against the use of Swiss challenges per se, but rather the way the process was being implemented and the alleged lack of transparency over the award of contracts.

The Swiss challenge system was approved by the state cabinet of the Chandrababu Naidu government last June and adopted by YS Jaganmohan Reddy’s YSR Congress government, which came to power in May.

The Indian press has commented that there may be more to the "dilly-dallying" than the choice of procurement route, and cited the political rivalry between Reddy and Naidu.

At present, the Andhra Pradesh government is waiting for an expert committee’s report on the future of the city. It is possible that its location will be changed, with some reports suggesting that an alternative site at Mangalagiri, southeast of Hyderabad, may be chosen.

Image: Foster + Partners’ rendering of the new capital

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