Thursday, October 15, 2015

Gujarat's GIFT project falters: Airport authority's 5-year NOC to 35 towers "expires", only two built

The "proposed" GIFT smart city
By Our Representative
A fresh document, obtained by a Gujarat-based right to information (RTI) activist, Roshan Shah on October 8, has revealed how very slow is the progress in implementing the pet "smart city" project floated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s when he was Gujarat chief minister – Gujarat International Finance Tec-city (GIFT). Envisaged in 2007, there are just two towers in the GIFT premises, one of which has partially started functioning.
The document reveals that the Airport Authority of India (AAI) had granted no-objection certificate (NOC) to GIFT’s 35 towers for five years as on May 21, 2010. While the five-year period has expired, the AAI reply suggests, so far it has not received any fresh applications for renewing NOC of building heights on behalf of GIFT.
The May 21, 2010 NOC, granted to 35 buildings, each of them having the “permissible top elevation” of anywhere between 175.6 metres and 191 metres above mean sea level (MAMSL), had said that the “certificate is valid for a period of five years from the date of issue”, and if “the building structure/chimney is not constructed and completed” in the five years, “it will be required to obtain fresh NOC from chairman, AAI.”
The distance between the Ahmedabad’s Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel International Airport and the GIFT city is 18.5 kilmetres on a straight road, one reason why NOC needed to be taken. Now being tom-tommed as a smart city, off Gandhinagar, of the 35 towers for which NOC was obtained, just two have so far come up.
An earlier RTI plea by Shah, seeking to know as to which MNCs have so far booked space in GIFT City, how much of square feet of space had been  booked, how much token amount for booking of the space had been paid, and when would the MNCs start their operations, was summarily rejected.
Dated July 16, 2015, the rejection letter said, the GIFT SEZ Ltd is "duly incorporated under the provisions of the Companies Act, 1956", and is therefore "not a public authority" under the provisions of the RTI Act, and therefore provisions of the RTI are "not applicable to GIFT SEZ Ltd, which is a wholly owned subsidiary of the GIFT Company Ltd. 
A document of the Gujarat government, which is a partner in the GIFT project alongside Infrastructure Leasing and Financial Services (IL&FS), says that there will be two “landmark buildings” in the GIFT premises with a height above 350 metres, 19 buildings with a height between 150 metres and to 300 metres, and 73 buildings with a height between 100 metres and 140 metres.
A GIFT document claiming itself as the best international destination
While critics have long doubted viability of GIFT, with founder of India’s telecom revolution Sam Pitroda predicting that it might turn out to be “real estate haven”, a top GIFT document claims that, in terms of Information and Communication Technology (ICT), the project is more viable than those already implemented in New York, London, Shanghai, Paris, Singapore and Tokyo.
Those who have been to GIFT to have an overview have noticed that there are “scarcely 20 cars in the car park”, and the “the busiest floor in Tower 1 turned out to be exactly like large offices in Mumbai or New Delhi on a public holiday, i.e. employees were few and far between”, and “tenants include Bank of Baroda, Syndicate Bank and ncode, which offers data services security.”
One of the “advantages” being cited for GIFT is not only its “plush architectural model of a smart city”, but visitors notice that GIFT has “no restaurants”, and “in a state where alcohol cannot be consumed without a medical or a special tourist permit, no bars.”
“What it offers is low rents”, it is pointed out, adding, “But, as Sebastian Morris, a professor at the Indian Institute of Management in Ahmedabad points out, ‘Financial services can afford very high rents.’ Indeed, New York, London and Hong Kong have among the highest office rents in the world, but that does not deter them from being the premier financial centres they are.”
Meanwhile, reports say that GIFT, whose just-completed second tower was to be the pioneer of making India to become a “global” reinsurance hub, might not be offered any tax incentives to the insurers and reinsurers setting up offices in the area. Already, large companies such as General Insurance Corporation of India, have presence at GIFT City. Some private insurers have also expressed interest to set up offices there.
“We have been told separate tax incentives will not be provided for setting up offices in GIFT City. This could be a dampener for many Indian insurers and foreign reinsurers to set up presence here,” said a senior industries department official has been quoted as saying.

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