GIFT City holds plenty of promise for the future if executed properly, and can serve as a model for smart cities anywhere.
However, there are also concerns about the development of the city. It remains to be seen if the possibilities outshine these concerns in the coming years.
During my week-long stay in Ahmedabad, a number of residents talked about “Modiji ka janta ko gift (Modi’s gift to people)”. There was hope and enthusiasm about this “gift”. So we set out to visit the place and find out what this was all about.
Gujarat International Finance Tec-City, also called GIFT City, is being developed as a multi-service Special Economic Zone (SEZ) between Ahmedabad and Gandhinagar. Currently, the financial services sector contributes significantly to the Indian economy and represents around 5 per cent of the Indian gross domestic product and is set to grow to 15 per cent by 2020. Hence, there is a need to tap into the significant potential of the sector and create a hub of international standards. This new city, therefore, seeks to compete with global financial hubs like London, New York, Singapore, Dubai and Hong Kong. It is the first of its kind in India and is to be developed on par with other such international centres, and will have an International Financial Services Centre (IFSC), IT/ITeS services and export-oriented services in a multi-services SEZ, while the area outside the SEZ will house domestic financial services along with residential, entertainment and social facilities supported by state-of-the-art infrastructure.
The project is being developed by Gujarat International Finance Tec-City Company Limited (GIFTCL), a joint venture between Gujarat Urban Development Company Limited (GUDCL) (a Government of Gujarat undertaking) and Infrastructure Leasing & Financial Services Company Limited (IL&FS). It is being hailed as a model greenfield smart city initiative with world-class infrastructure and planning, and has been included in the smart city mission statement and guidelines as a model city. Our visit to the site on a cloudy day was followed by a personal tour and interaction with representatives from Adfactors Public Relations, the PR agency for GIFT.
While the city is still under construction, one can easily gauge the scale of the project and how it is likely to turn out. A number of features of the project are a first for India and unique to this futuristic city. GIFT is being built at a total investment of around Rs 78,000 crore. Spread across 886 acres, it will have 75 high-rise buildings, including a 400m high tower, world-class information communication technology with tier-four data centres, India’s largest exhibition complex, a training centre for skill development in financial and IT/ITeS sectors, a hotel, a club, a golf course, international and CBSE schools, a hospital and so on.
The entire city is connected through an underground utility tunnel wherein a vehicle can travel for all utility maintenance works, requiring no further digging work. The city also boasts of a district cooling system, automated waste collection system (India’s first automated collection and segregation of organic and inorganic waste), city command and control centre (single management point for the entire city) and potable drinking water supply across the city.
The enterprise is already attracting a large number of companies, with more of them in the pipeline. Its “signature towers” include the ‘Diamond’, a 410m spire resembling an icy stalagmite, and the 362m ‘Gateway Towers’ (also called GIFT 1 and GIFT 2 towers). With two major towers completed, the city already hosts Yes Bank, Federal Bank, ICICI Bank, Kotak Mahindra Bank, IDBI Bank, State Bank of India and IndusInd Bank, which have started their IFSC banking units in the SEZ at GIFT IFSC. GIFT now looks to corner a share of the NIFTY derivative trades which are executed through the Singapore Stock Exchange. Some domestic banks like Bank of India, Syndicate Bank, Gujarat State Co-operative Bank and Janalakshmi Bank have also begun normal banking operations outside the SEZ.
In the first phase, which is now completed, 15 million square feet of built-up area has been allotted in the GIFT SEZ and non-SEZ area for development of office towers, residential apartments and social facilities.
But as is the case with such projects, GIFT has given rise to a number of concerns and stirred controversy. While GIFT reflects Indian government’s vision for its smart cities, many experts and planners fear that such “insta-cities”, if they are made, will prove myopic and inequitable. Some also believe that smart cities may turn into social apartheid cities, governed by powerful corporate entities that could override local laws and governments, and sanitise the city from the poor. As the city is surrounded by rural hinterland, there are also fears that it might now be able to create adequate and suitable jobs for those living around and thus be nothing more than a “Disneyland”.
The city is still struggling to provide basic infrastructure to those who work here. Most of them travel from Ahmedabad or Gandhinagar in their personal vehicles as there is hardly any public transport functional inside. The city, as of now, is only glass and steel with world-class facilities but no culture or sense of a city. Setting up a completely new financial sector outside the established ones is a difficult task as a city like Mumbai, for instance, already had a robust trading network before it became the financial capital.
Despite the concerns, the concept holds promises for the future if executed properly. During our interaction with people working there, many suggested that though they were hopeless about the entire project till a few years ago, now that they can see developments on the ground, they are hopeful.
Cynicism is an old Indian trait, but perhaps it’s time we suspended it and waited till 2023 (expected date for completion of Phase 3 of the project) to pass further judgment. If the city prospers, it would indeed be a gift – not only to Gujaratis but to all of India.