Everybody is waiting for 16 May 2014 as it would finally put to rest the discussion and debates that have been raging for the past one year of whether Mr. Narendra Modi is our next Prime Minister. Every PM has a unique development agenda in general and also for urban areas/cities in particular. Cities have come to the forefront after economic liberalization of 1991, wherein shift from Rural to Urban has happened and the shift is in its crystallization stages, especially after the National Urban Renewal Mission (NURM), the single most powerful step in the history of our democracy undertaken by UPA government in 2005. The pertinent question in our minds, apart from other aspects such as outlook towards Kashmir, minorities, industrial growth and economy at large, is what is in store for the Cities if Modi becomes the PM. Mr. Modi’s outlook towards cities and urban development can clearly be judged by the past/ongoing projects in Gujarat and its major cities. In Gujarat, the city development agenda has been characterized by four major aspects and it is likely that these will continue at national level in similar or slightly varied expressions responding to the political diversity of respective states/cities.
Projects with strong Image and Visibility
Last 12 years in Gujarat have been characterized by implementation of projects that were very visible in the public domain, and Ahmedabad, the capital city, has become an urban laboratory for testing of these projects, which are then passed on to next tier cities such as Baroda, Surat, Rajkot etc. Sabarmati riverfront and BRTS at Ahmedabad are two such examples, wherein linear space formations cutting across the city introduced a new layer of visible change across 67 km of existing landscape. Specifically looking at the riverfront development; it is a bold initiative in which the river has been re-imagined. It is made up of concrete but rendered with traditional/local activities and character thus projecting a new and large urban public space for the city. A similar initiative has been undertaken in creating a linear and large urban space in Gandhinagar-the Mahatama Mandir complex. Smaller urban space formations/modifications are seen at Kankaria Lake, and makeover of other lakes of Ahmedabad is in the pipeline. Similar projects have now been introduced in other cities of Gujarat, and the Himmatnagar waterfront project is one of them. Besides intervening in the existing city stock in the form of large, bold projects of urban space creation and enhancement, Ahmedabad also saw the introduction of GIFT, a new city planned on an area of about 800 acres and projected as the International Financial Centre (IFC) with overall built up area of 8.5 million sq.m. This is a high-rise office district, meant for financial and IT/ITeS services, with its tallest structure being 400 m (100 strorey). Instead of the other way round, the Ahmedabad airport may be relocated due to the conflict in the height of GIFT buildings and air-funnel regulations. The current tallest structure of Gujarat (at 120 m) at GIFT is already in place, built in less than 1.5 years, and it has become a local tourist attraction. Architecture and space form of all these new projects is quite distinct and they symbolize a new era of development in the city landscape. Attempts to re-configure public space with such bold and monumental moves has not been seen in the recent(past 30-40 years) history of the Indian city. Even Delhi, with all the money that was pumped into the Commonwealth Games, was not able to create such spaces for the city and only focussed on wasteful expenditure on flyovers/flyways, recycled stadiums and unconnected and thoughtless pedestrian cum cycle tracks.
Rational translation of Vision into projects
Unlike many other cities and States, Gujarat has used best available professional resources to derive/devise projects in the State. This imparts a strong technical (we can say scientific and rational) approach to all the urban schemes and projects instead of them being mere political/personal wishes. For e.g. nobody knows the architect/designer of BSP government parks in Noida and Lucknow, but everybody in professional circle knows of the masterminds of the BRTS or riverfront projects. The use of professional skill in conceiving, designing and implementing urban projects has been the hallmark of the state of Gujarat, and no wonder the implemented projects show a distinct quality far above than in other parts of the country. Gujarat has been a haven for all kinds of engineering and planning consultants as well as for some of the most renowned and largest firms of India and the world. This is like an acknowledgement that in Gujarat, the technical advice of designers/consultants is respected and heard. The relatively corruption-free state of the state has also helped in supporting these urban development consultancies. This is a departure from the business-as-usual scenario because many states, such as, West Bengal, Kerala, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Rajasthan have negligible presence of professional/technical agencies.
Concurrent Emphasis on old and new Cities
Immediately after the launch of NURM by Government of India in 2005, the Gujarat government started its own Gujarat Urban Development Project (GUDP), which covered very small cities, with population ranging from 1.0 to 5.0 lakh. In total, 10 cities were covered under this project and City Assessment and Development Strategies (CADS) were prepared. A $300 million funding from World Bank was sought and the financing structure was quite similar to NURM, with WB, state and ULB share being 80:10:10 respectively. Gujarat was the one of the first states to launch a ‘New Township Policy’ for promoting sector-specific Greenfield development with the help of private sector. At the same time, Gujarat is the fore-runner in commencing the implementation of the nodes of Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor (DMIC), a GoI project about creation of industry-led new cities along the western DFC (Dedicated Freight Corridor). Work on the Dholera node of DMIC in Gujarat is well ahead with complete Town Planning schemes, and preliminary engineering in progress. Gujarat is the only state with a new legislation, the SIR Act (Special Investment Region Act), for creation and management of industry-led nodes on the model of DMIC. Similar to GUDP, the state has formed its own development framework for promotion of these nodes, and development work on many state-level industrial nodes is complete with the help of international consultants. Size, location and attractiveness of these nodes may become an issue in the future, but at least there is an attempt to use the otherwise infertile and barren land for employment generation in manufacturing sector.
In this election season, everybody remembers 28February 2002, but very few of us remember 26 January 2001. Besides being India’s 51st Republic day, this date marked the biggest shock for Gujarat and the country in its history when towns and villages like Bhuj came crumbling to ground. Within 3-4 months i.e., by May 2001, planning, design and engineering teams were on site for preparing reconstruction plans for these towns. We have not heard of a faster bidding process elsewhere in India. The emergency of the situation was acknowledged and substantial hope was generated in the otherwise devastated families by starting the reconstruction process. Today, Bhuj and other towns of the region are well settled, and enjoy a strong socio-economic set-up.
Implementation of about 60 km of successful BRTS network is another example of the fast-pace development which is much required in Indian cities for visible and impactful change. And, very few, if at all, have criticized the implementation of this project. In fact, this project has won accolades at national and international levels. Gujarat is ranked 4th in terms of overall allocation of JNNURM funds behind Maharashtra, West Bengal and Delhi, but in terms of number of approved projects, it is ranked 2nd, with 71 projects approved for four cities of Ahmedabad, Rajkot, Surat and Vadodra. In terms of completed projects under JNNURM, Gujarat is ranked 1st with about 75% projects completed. This is way above Maharashtra, West Bengal and Delhi, which stand at 50%, 30% and 40% respectively. It is also imperative to mention here that with faster implementation, the quality has never been compromised, as seen in the riverfront, BRTS or Mahatama Mandir projects.
The utilization of state of the art technology has reinforced all the initiatives of the state. Gujarat is one of the few states which started using e-tendering, and for the past 4-5 years, bids are uploaded online for urban infrastructure projects. Gujarat is the first state to digitize the land and revenue database, and this information is also available online, adding speed to the decision making process.
“Endeavour to build beautiful & vibrant cities of Gujarat”
“Creating Clean, Green, Efficient, Vibrant, Productive and Sustainable Cities within a reasonable time-frame with due thrust on People’s Participation and Public-Private Partnership”
These are slogans or vision statements on the websites of two of the urban development agencies of Gujarat. It can be inferred that similar visions and agendas may be followed at national level with Modi at the helm of affairs, with the four aspects discussed above providing the necessary fuel to the engines of growth, the cities.
Unless there is another result of the elections than what is being predicted by news channels, or there is an alien attack after Modi becomes PM, one could expect projects/schemes with high imageability, run by the best available technical/professional resources, implemented at a much faster pace, using the best technology, spread over both old and new cities, and small and big ones under this regime.
Contributed by: Manu Mahajan