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Modi's ambitious GIFT project take off slow, complains top US business daily, revealing "undisclosed" details

Counterview Desk
While the Gujarat International Finance Tec-City (GIFT), the ambitious state-driven “smart” city project envisaged by Prime Minister Narendra Modi about seven eight ago, has refused a right to information (RTI) applicant, Roshan Shah, any details regarding details of the progress made in the project, an influential international business daily has created flutter by revealing facts on slow progress in the ‘smart’ city project.
The daily added, the slowness would tell adversely on Modi’s 100 smart city projects, too.
The RTI applicant had wished to know the number of towers proposed in initial launch plan and number of storeys in each and date of initial plan in the GIFT city project, target date to get all towers operational in initial plan, initial estimated budget to build this city as per initial plan, number of towers and number of storyes in each that are now planned in the plan that Government of India (GoI) would have in 2015, the new target date to get all towers operational as per this plan with GoI, and the current estimated budget to build this city as per this plan.
While Shah was refused details saying that GIFT is “not a public authority”, US’ business daily “Wall Street Journal” (WSJ) in its article titled “In India, a GIFT waiting to be opened”, declared, the future smart city had so far been “slow”. “Only two 29-story steel-and-glass office buildings rise above a dusty wasteland in the Indian state of Gujarat… Construction work has moved slowly and few private enterprises have signed up. Of the two office towers, the first is about 50% occupied and the second one is empty”, it said.
Further pointing to the “slowness”, the daily said, “Goal posts for the city’s development have changed over the years. Its creation was announced when India was booming back in 2007, and the first phase—covering around 25 million square feet—was supposed to have been completed by 2010.”
“On a recent visit, two buildings with 1.6-million-square feet of office space had been completed. Part of one building was occupied. A data center for telecommunications was also ready, as was a fire station and a school. The rest of the area was mainly empty. Construction was under way for a hospital and other facilities”, it said.
All slowness has happened amidst the approach adopted by the Gujarat government for it – “the if-you-build-it-they-will-come idea” to create “a magnet for banks, securities firms and information-technology companies akin to Canary Wharf in London or La Defense outside Paris”, the daily pointed out.
The daily quoted GIFT’s critics approvingly to say that GIFT’s halting progress is a cautionary tale as Modi’s federal administration moves ahead with plans for 100 smart cities, “which, among other things, would use technology to improve public services such as waste disposal and save energy.”
It added, “The government should focus more on delivering basics—like 24-hour electricity and water—to India’s rapidly growing and often poorly run existing cities. About 340 million people lived in Indian cities in 2008, a number expected to rise to 590 million by 2030, according to a study by McKinsey & Co.”
The daily cited Greg Clark, an urban-policy expert and chairman of Business of Cities Ltd., a London-based consulting company, to say that “developments like GIFT are ‘not really serving the benefit of Indian citizens that need better cities’.”
Suggesting the type of city GIFT would be, the daily said, it would have “central air-conditioning in all buildings, filtered tap water and municipal waste collection (a rarity in urban India).” Thus, it adds, “GIFT, as planners envision it, would be far more advanced than existing Indian cities.”
But here finances are an important hurdle, WSJ suggested. “All this comes at a cost. If 100,000 people live in a city, the cost of building the city’s infrastructure comes to around $23,500 per person. In comparison, India’s gross national income per capita is around $1,600, according to the World Bank.”
Even other smart city projects would face the same hurdle of finance, the daily said. Quoting Jaijit Bhattacharya, a partner at well-known consulting firm KPMG India’s infrastructure division, WSJ says, it will cost “$20 billion to create a smart city, so 100 cities would cost around $2 trillion—about the size of the Indian economy. India has so far budgeted $7.5 billion.” It adds, “If by some magic you get that money, India still doesn’t have the capacity to execute this plan”.

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