FEATURE

EXCLUSIVE: Why did Indian officials tell Singapore: “You’re part of us now”?

Text by Tay Qiao Wei

Singapore has been behind the plans to develop a new Indian state capital region 12 times the size of our country. Challenge follows the inter-agency team to India to find out how they have been working on it.

mainAn artist’s impression of the new capital city. Image Courtesy Of Surbana Jurong 

Lush farmlands, sleepy villages and dirt roads now sprawl across the right bank of the Krishna River in the state of Andhra Pradesh (AP), in southeastern India. By 2050, this stretch will transform into a swanky metropolis named Amaravati, home to some 10 million people.

As the new capital of AP, Amaravati has ambitions to be the model “smart city” for the rest of India. Little surprise then that the master plans to guide the region’s development were created by Singapore, one of the leading countries in building smart cities.

It has been no mean feat for Singapore to clinch the AP partnership and make it work. But a mix of preparedness, sincerity, patience and effort made all the difference.

Fast mover

Our state agencies were quick to grab the opportunity to partner with AP as soon as it sprang up.

In 2014, AP had approached several countries, including Singapore, for assistance to build a new capital. Its previous capital, Hyderabad, had become part of the newly formed Telangana state (see map below).
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Andhra Pradesh needed a new capital urgently after it was split into two states in 2014.

The Singapore government already had a committee looking to further boost economic ties with India. As an informal knowledge-sharing network that started in 2012, the committee included officers from the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI), International Enterprise (IE) Singapore, the Centre for Liveable Cities (CLC) and the Building and Construction Authority (BCA).

So when the AP Chief Minister came knocking, Singapore was all set to respond quickly, revealed Dr Francis Chong, Senior Director of the MTI’s Emerging Markets Division, who leads the Singapore-AP partnership.

The AP state government needed master plans for Amaravati and its surrounding region spanning 8,603 sq km – about 12 times the size of Singapore – within months. To help them meet the tight deadline, the Singapore committee offered to create the plans for free as technical assistance.

Officers from the MTI, CLC, BCA and IE Singapore came together to work out the best way to do so. The result: urban planning firm Surbana-Jurong was commissioned and three master plans were produced in just seven months.

No strings attached

Right from the start, the Singapore team had made it clear that the pro bono plans would not be used as “bait” for future developments, explained Dr Chong. This means the AP government isn’t obliged to directly appoint Singapore companies to implement the plans.

“You’re part of us now,” an AP official said to the Singaporeans in a meeting during the trip attended by Challenge.

Instead, the plans were a sincere offer to share Singapore’s urban planning expertise. The team also wanted to foster goodwill as a foundation for deeper ties. India is Singapore’s 10th-largest trading partner. Working together on Amaravati could strengthen the relationship overall – translating into more opportunities for Singapore companies not just in AP, but also the rest of the country, Dr Chong told Challenge.

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Scenes of cattle roaming freely across fields and dirt roads will soon make way for the upcoming capital’s high-rise buildings and paved roads.

Taking time to understand

“We spent a lot of time trying to understand why AP needed to do certain things… to understand their challenges and constraints,” he added. This helped the Singapore team to build rapport with the AP team and propose solutions that were better suited to the local culture.

In 2015, AP flagged a problem with Singapore’s draft master plan for the city – it did not align with Vastu shastra a traditional Hindu system of architecture deep-rooted in Indian culture. According to Vastu, major city roads must be aligned with the north-south direction and the equator. After learning more about Vastu, the Singapore planners reworked the master plan accordingly.

The Singapore team also constantly seeks to understand what AP needs, as Challenge observed during a trip to AP in July. “We want to complement, not duplicate, your efforts and focus on key areas to relieve some of your load,” Mr Eric Tan, Dr Chong’s deputy for the Amaravati project, told AP officials at a meeting to explore further collaboration.

Growing the relationship

On top of the master plans, Singapore conducted knowledge-sharing sessions to train AP officials in urban governance, to help them execute the plans to build a new capital.

Seeing every meeting as an opportunity to strengthen ties, the Singapore officials flew over to AP at least once a month. They also understood that AP officials, faced with budget constraints and a shortage of civil servants after the split from Telangana, could not travel as freely.  

And it’s clear their partners in AP appreciate such efforts to boost the partnership. “You’re part of us now,” an AP official said to the Singaporeans in a meeting during the trip attended by Challenge.

It was such a simple comment, but that was heartwarming encouragement for the Singapore team. “These are the priceless moments that keep us going,” said Mr Tan. 

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Milestones in the Singapore-Andhra Pradesh partnership

  • Jun 2014: AP approaches Singapore to help develop its new capital, Amaravati.
  • Dec 2014: First Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed between Singapore and AP. Singapore to create three master plans: for the capital region, capital city and the city’s commercial area.
  • Mar–Jul 2015: Singapore hands over the master plans in three phases.
  • Oct 2015: Singapore consortium submits a proposal to be the master developer of a 6.84-sq-km start-up area, which is set to be Amaravati’s commercial core. The master developer will prepare and market the area to attract businesses.
  • May 2017: Singapore consortium appointed master developer of the start-up area. Second MOU inked for greater collaboration between Singapore and AP governments in economic and institutional development. 
  • Moving ahead

    After the master plans were completed in 2015, Singapore continued to play a major role in Amaravati’s development.

    In May 2017, a Singapore consortium – comprising Ascendas-Singbridge and Sembcorp Development – won a contract to master develop part of the city’s commercial core for the next two decades. A Memorandum of Understanding was also signed between Singapore and AP to boost collaboration in economic and institutional development.

    To support these collaborations, an inter-agency Amaravati Partnership Office (APO) has been set up. Led by Dr Chong, the APO – with officers from the MTI, CLC and IE Singapore, and partner agencies such as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and BCA – work closely with AP officials and support Singapore companies that are keen to work with AP.

    “This project has a lot of possibilities and opportunities,” said Dr Chong. He hopes more Singaporean companies will join them to seize these opportunities in meeting Amaravati’s growing needs. 

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    More hands on deck

    Keen to get involved in AP? The APO has been reaching out to Singapore agencies and companies in the areas that Amaravati is keen to develop, such as libraries, tourism, skills training, electric vehicles and district cooling.

    Beyond that, as the needs of the budding capital are still growing, the APO also welcomes collaboration with partners from other sectors. To help interested parties get started, the APO can facilitate grants and visits to AP, and offer advice and contacts.

    Contact the APO via email: Francis_CHONG@mti.gov.sg or Eric_TAN@mti.gov.sg

     

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