The plush offices of the Gandhinagar-based Gujarat International Finance Tec-city (GIFT) are bustling with frenzied activity. Union finance minister Arun Jaitley’s provision of R6,000 crore for the 100 smart city projects envisaged across the country in the Union Budget 2015-16 as well as his assurance that regulations would be put in place soon to kick start the international financial services centre (IFSC), the SEZ within GIFT city, has come as a shot of adrenalin for the languishing project and created an air of palpable excitement in the spanking new complex.
A dream project of PM Narendra Modi conceptualised during his days as Gujarat chief minister, GIFT is on the fast track to becoming India’s first greenfield smart city. Says Ramakant Jha, MD and group CEO of the R78,000 crore project, “A smart city is not just about technology. It is about smart planning, design, execution, development, operations and management.”
Fast on his way to becoming
India’s Smart City Man in much the same manner that E Sreedharan was anointed the Metro Man, Jha, a professional engineer and technocrat who has been closely associated with projects such as planning and development of Navi Mumbai, a city of 2 million and its Mass Rapid transit system, planning of international airports at Navi Mumbai, the Multimodal International Hub Airport at Nagpur, the Western Freeway Sea Link and the Mumbai Trans-Harbour Link, is now nursing the GIFT city with equal passion.
Talk to him about the prohibitive costs involved in creating a smart city and pat comes the reply, “It is a misconception most people have. Yes, the initial cost is more but this is more than recovered in four years time. The average cost of creating the utility tunnel for most utilities except gas and sewerage from plants to various buildings works out to roughly R25 crore per km which is far more economical to maintain over the long term. The best part is that maintenance of services will not entail disturbance to people or digging of roads or disruption of services to consumers.” GIFT has planned to develop the Utility Tunnel throughout city including DTA (Direct tariff Area) and SEZ areas.
Clearly, the GIFT city promises to be among the most tech-savvy cities of the country. With white collar industries like financial services and IT based development being the mainstay of economic activity of this city, Jha maintains that GIFT may well turn out to be the most affluent of all smart cities in the country. “Since the concept of a smart city is that it is essentially a hub for a specific economic activity, each smart city will have to be customised keeping the end user industry in mind,” says Jha.
“In the case of GIFT, given the fact that it will house international banks, stock exchanges and the financial services industry, our clientele would constitute white collared employees with exacting standards and requirements. Foremost among these would be ICT and high security, connectivity around the world and extremely high security given the sensitive nature of the industry,” Jha elaborates. The government’s initiative to develop International Finance Services Centre (IFSC) in India under the SEZ route is a step towards realising India’s potential in international financial services (IFS).
With Modi at the Centre now, his dream “to tie up with technology and create a hub complete with infrastructure, to meet the needs of modern Gujarat, modern India and to create a space in the global financial world” is swiftly moving from the drawing board stage to realty on ground. If its partially completed Phase I is anything to go by, GIFT is already showing signs of creating a bench mark worth following. Expected to be completed by 2016, Phase I has sold development rights for 12.5 million square feet against a target of 10 million square feet. A joint venture between the state-owned Gujarat Urban Development Company and Infrastructure Leasing and Financial Services (IL&FS), the R78,000 crore project entails the three phase development and sale of a whopping 62 million square feet of commercial, residential and social space for a multi-service SEZ and finance centre. And while the initial marketing of Phase I was a herculean task, post Elections 2014 GIFT is the most sought after project in the country. Admits Jha, laughingly, “In Phase I we had to struggle to create demand but finally ended up exceeding our target. In Phase 2, booking for which commences by the end of 2015, we are struggling to manage demand.”
That GIFT is on its way to delivering on the huge expectations and promises it has made to investors is evident from the infrastructure
already in place and the two 30 storey glass and chrome towers already erected by IL&FS. Each 122 metres tall, the twin towers offer a staggering 1.6 million square feet of state-of-the art office space. Sample this: for its ICT network, the overall concept, master plan, high design of ICT services including a datacentre have already been developed by British Telecom and a consortium consisting of domain leaders like Tata Communications, Newgen ITeS and Centios, a joint venture of Korean Telecom and Cisco Systems has been selected to implement this. Not only that, a state-of-art Tier IV data centre with a capacity of 900 racks is being developed by the consortium which will provide advanced IT services like cloud computing, managed services and readily available access to multiple financial gateways.
Not only that, the GIFT Project ensures 99.999% power reliability, which means outage of 5.3 minutes per annum. To ensure this, construction, power arrangement and street lighting on access road to GIFT has been completed. LED street lighting is being done for energy conservation and work on a captive 66/33 kv substation is in progress. Apart from this, a district cooling system is being introduced for the first time in India for commercial use. Chilled water will be supplied till building level and it will reduce energy and maintenance cost, reduce noise and vibrations, and improve air quality.
Additionally, an automated waste collection system is one of the unique next class infrastructures being planned in the GIFT Project. It will maximise resource recovery/minimal emissions. It will also minimise impact on environment, human intervention, space requirement, impact on health hazard with no waste visibility.
Among the organisations which have already invested in Phase I are a World Trade Centre. Allotment has been made to WTC Noida Development Company for development of WTC at GIFT City spanning over 10,00,000 square feet at an investment of around R600 crore. The facility with ultra modern architectural features dedicated to financial and allied services will promote trade and business under one roof. The largest public sector bank SBI too is setting up its commercial tower in GIFT. Allotment has been made to SBI for development of commercial facilities of around 0.2 million square feet at an investment of around R150 crore to support their international and domestic operations from GIFT City.
With so much going for the GIFT City, the country is poised to get a smart city of international standards, a model which the 99 other planned smart cities would strive to emulate. And with permissions and regulations too likely to start rolling in any time soon, it may not be long before India’s quest for an international financial services hub at par with Singapore, Dubai and London ends.