In Mumbai, but thinking Maharashtra

Written by Sunil Jain | Updated: Dec 22 2010, 09:35am hrs
He has spent 10-years preparing Lavasa. Now the hill station is under threat from environmentalists and environment minister Jairam Ramesh, from a state government that says it will levy fines on the project and make it pay market rates for 900 acres of land and activists like Anna Hazare who threaten a jail bharo andolan against the project for illegally acquiring tribal land. But the 62-year-old chief of Hindustan Construction, whose order-book doubled from Rs 9,315 cr in 2006-07 to Rs 18,810 cr in 2009-10, is amazingly cheerful, gushing about Arevas upcoming nuclear plant in Finland and about President Obamas forthcoming visit. He tells Sunil Jain why:

Why did you go to Finland to see the project

Ive built 60% of Indias nuclear plants and wanted to see what Areva had done. Its a marvel; there are 47,000 tonnes of embedded parts in the concrete. It has been developed by 5 private chaps. Why cant we have private nuclear power here since the civilian and military separation has already been made Theyre even selling power from here to Sweden.

Its fascinating since theres a lot of government cooperation thats required to make something like this work.

Are you doing the Areva plant here

Nothings happening yet. Let us see what happens when Obama comes, when Sarkozy comes in December.

How do you react to the environmental charges made in the Lavasa project Its said you dont have the environment ministrys permission, that the land purchases were illegal, you got permission only because you were close to Sharad Pawar

On a general note, the environmental issues raised by Jairam Ramesh need to be raised. But you need to explain to a businessman like me what they are doing. In Niyamgiri, the permission is revoked (which means it was given in the first place) on environmental grounds, but the victory that is claimed is for protecting tribals! In the case of mangroves, someone needs to explain to an ordinary businessman like me what will happen to our children if mangroves are cut. We need to know what can be done. In a car, you have Euro III which allows a certain pollution. What is our equivalent of that Can we cut trees if there is afforestation In Lavasa, we have already planted 6 lakh of the 3 million trees we will plant using the hydro-seeding technology we got from Australia. Of the land we are developing, 70% will be greentrees, not golf courses! Lavasa is more green than it was when we came in (shows pictures on his iPad). As for the Sharad Pawar connection, I have known Supriya Sules father-in-law BR Sule for long. He has been a professional and on the Mahindra board for many years. He initially did have a small share in the Lavasa project. It is all transparent. As for environmental issues, the government needs to put on the table what its policies are. It doesnt help to raise issues after the project has taken off.

So why didnt you get the Centres permission

In those days, you got permission from the state. Now the law has changed and the Centres permission is required, so well get it for the next development beyond the first 2,000 hectares. We have all the documentation duly audited; there is no irregularity.

And the land

We got the land at negotiated market prices; we bought it from farmers in Mumbai, Dubai, the US. There is no tribal land (in response to Anna Hazare). People dont understand the distinction between class II (a) and (b) land(b) requires the Collectors permission, just to ensure the person buying the land wasnt cheated. All procedures have been followed.

You have more city projects

Gujarat is building a lake called Kalpasa and one of the cities there is Dholera. Once they finalise the contours of the project theyre talking to us.

Karnataka is planning 4 cities around Bangalore. Weve bid for one. According to the late CK Prahalad, India needs 500 cities.

Whats critical to a new city Developing the trunk infrastructure and giving the rest out to others

Developing trunk infrastructure is critical. We built the road from Pune, the gas connectivity, the sewerage. Were masterplanning the area, looking at the electricity grid, the water, everything. Any city must have worker housing. In the past, weve removed renting from the equation; now weve put it back. Of the 3 lakh persons in Lavasa eventually, 1,50,000 will be people living in low cost rentalsflats costing Rs 10 lakh and with rentals of Rs 500 a month. Theres a lot to be learnt from the chawls in Mumbai. We studied 3 slums and learntsome of the planning there is better than in parts of Mumbai. Theres very vibrant commercial activity in a slum. We studied that. To work, any city must have an economya service sector (well have a services park) or industrial employment, hospitals and tourism. We got 4.5 lakh tourists last year when the project was being built. Were looking at 2-3 million tourists each year in addition to our 3 lakh residents.

Indias FSI is too low and out of sync with other countries cities. Apart from other things, a certain amount of density of living also ensures safety (eyes on the ground). In our model, 70% is green while 20% of the rest of the land will be used to house 80% of the people and 80% to house 20% of the people. It is a new paradigm. Let people see it and then react.

How important is city management

Weve set up, with Cisco and Wipro, a company called MyCity Technology to provide ICT services for a smart city. This will do all the ERP for the city, give details of the water, electricity and solid waste generation or use in the city. I have a city manager from the US, the ex-city manager of Atlanta. Im going to set up a school of city management and urban planning in Lavasa.

Can older cities like Delhi and Mumbai become smart cities If you masterplan well, you can save 40% of the energy costs in a city.

You can redevelop and make the cities smart in clusters but you need to have the will. Look at Delhi. Prior to the privatisation, no electricity was supplied to large parts of the city and no one bothered. Now the same babus get after the Tatas and Anil Ambani if they dont supply power. The key is to want the change. What did Chandrababu Naidu do He cleaned up Hyderabad a bit and then built Cyberabad next to it. When Birmingham decided it wanted to be on the map, it decongested the city, it developed convention centres and got permission for flights to land directly from Europe.

The key is to have all authorities reporting to the Mayor or the chief minister (in the case of Delhi). Delhi has multiple authorities and Mumbai has 13, only one of whichthe municipal corporationis remotely reporting to the people of the state. At least in Delhi, all the authorities are thinking of Delhi. In Mumbai, theyre thinking of Maharashtra. There are lots of models of urbanisation; ours is one.

Well, thats where the votes are...

Thats not true. You may not be able to win with only urban votes yet, but you cant win without them. The BJP lost the urban vote and so it lost.

Can cities survive if the land value is not monetised

Monetisation of land is critical but it is not the only thing. In China, they leave half the taxes, I think, that are collected, with the city. You can collect higher estate duties or you can collect charges for services like solid waste management. Its all the same thing.