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Building 'a few Singapores' from scratch

By Rohit Bansal : Last September, Amitabh Kant, the chief executive and managing director of the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor Development Corp (DMICDC), was quizzed on the lack of visible manifestations of the $90-billion being poured into 24 manufacturing cities between Dadri in Uttar Pradesh and Jawaharlal Nehru Port in Maharashtra, alongside the 1,500-km dedicated freight corridor.


"I'm not here to build a mall," quipped the man at the helm of the master-developer of India's most audacious infrastructure project. But pressure to show instant results aren't new to the 1980-batch Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer, known for the "Incredible India" campaign and reported to be No.1 on the wishlist of Union Petroleum Minister M. Veerappa Moily for being made the secretary in his ministry.

Kant is clear his company alone will have to lay the trunk infrastructure:

* A 75-million gallons-per-day desalinisation plant that Hitachi, Hyflux and Itochu are sponsoring at Dahej in the southwest coast of Gujarat

* A model solar farm in Neemrana in Rajasthan and five gas-based ones of 1,000-1,200 MW each so that power-starved units are weaned away from gensets

* Roads with sensors and smart signals, with provision underneath for fibre power to fire household needs till 2030; a gas line, an electric cable and ducts for water supply, sewage, industrial waste and storm water

The Ahmedabad-Dholera industrial region in Gujarat, the master plan for which is being prepared by Britain's Halcrow, is being envisaged in 540 sq km. That's merely 25 percent less than the area of Singapore. It will be backed by a command and control centre for water, power, transportation, public safety, logistics, waste recycling, and smart-city concepts that hope to outstrip piecemeal "smartness" the world has known in Berlin, Rio de Janerio or Suzhou Industrial Park in China.

Add some more sub-projects and you have a mind-numbing aggregate exceeding 1,300 sq km. These include:

* A 120 sq km of developable area in the Dadri-Noida-Ghaziabad industrial region in Uttar Pradesh that Halcrow itself is tasked with

* The Manesar-Bawal leg over 354 sq km being planned by Jurong, KPMG, DTZ and ESRI India in Haryana

* The Khushkhera-Bhiwadi-Neemrana sector in Haryana and Rajasthan over 120 sq km, including an aerotropolis costing Rs.4,000 crore; A
knowledge city also at the sector being planned by Kuiper Compagnons, DHV, Ecorys, and Cushman and Wakefield

* The Pithampur-Dhar-Mhow section over 100 sq km being planned by Lea Associates in Madhya Pradesh

* Shendra-Bidkin Industrial Park being planned by AECOM over 24 sq km in Aurangabad in Maharashtra

* The Dighi Port and the Nashik-Sinnar-Igatpuri sector in Maharashtra adding up to 75 sq km

Each of these is going through the land acquisition process - made more challenging by the new legislation - ring-fencing via shareholder pacts, state-support agreements and special purpose vehicles that capture the upsides of urbanization and revolving funds for future development. Typically, municipal corporations in India are bankrupt.

Illustratively, Kant's refusal to leave the drawing board until each detail is integrated has saved Rs.675 crore in just one project of water balancing in Gujarat. The first round of ground-breaking should happen in mid-2014 and the first phase should be delivered in 2019.

He has also refused to do either of the two things - go the Gurgaon or Noida way. In Gurgaon, the government left private builders pretty much to their devices. They, in turn, squeezed every drop of the lemon and left little headroom for utilities like roads and power. In Noida, even as trunk infrastructure was being created by the state, adjacent large land banks were being doled out to select corporates at dust-throw prices.

All this should yield the desired results, even if the task at hand seems daunting. As Abhishek Chaudhary, the DMICDC company secretary and public information officer, quips: "The boss is planning for a few Singapores from scratch - and at the same time."

(Rohit Bansal is chief executive and co-founder of India Strategy Group, Hammurabi and Solomon Consulting. The views expressed are personal. Tweets @therohitbansal).

--IANS (Posted on 18-02-2014)

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