Ahmedabad " janMarg"

Cheers A’bad! City is racing ahead

International study says Guj’s largest metropolitan is one of fastest-growing cities in the world

Your dear Ahmedabad is growing and at a rate that has now attracted global attention. The Forbes magazine has said in a report that Ahmedabad is one of the fastest-growing cities in the world and it has put Gujarat’s largest city in third rank after two Chinese cities – Chengdu and Chongqing.

Ahmedabad is India’s seventh largest city, and Forbes has placed it ahead of Chennai and Bangalore in terms of growth.The magazine has said Ahmedabad is a city ‘whose per capita income is twice that of the rest of India’.

The magazine describes Ahmedabad as “the largest metropolitan region in Gujarat, perhaps the most marketoriented and business-friendly of Indian states.” The report also states that “Gujarat’s policies helped lure away the new Tata Nano plant from West Bengal to Sanand, one of Gurajat’s exurbs.’’ It cites one Indian academic, Sedha Menon, as comparing the state – which has developed infrastructure more quickly than its domestic rivals – with Singapore and parts of Malaysia.

While surveying the ‘Next Decades’ Fastest Growing Cities’ in the world, the magazine has not focused upon established global centres like New York, London, Paris, Hong Kong or Tokyo which have dominated urban rankings. They have also not looked at cities

that have achieved prominence in the past 20 years and the massive, largely dysfunctional megacities.

Ahmedabad leads the list of Indian cities ahead of Bangalore which is home to Infosys and Wipro and Chennai which has created 100,000 jobs this year, says the magazine. Ahmedabad municipal commissioner IP Gautam, when reached for comments on the Forbes report, said that Ahmedabad has been growing at a fast pace with ambitious infrastructure projects like the BRTS, Sabarmati Riverfront Development and Kankaria Lakefront. “It is also because of positive development by the state government and local governments like AMC and AUDA that Ahmedabad is seeing development at such a fast pace.

Also, the government’s proactive policies have spruced up development in the city,” said Gautam.He said Vibrant Gujarat summits have brought in a lot of projects in and around Ahmedabad and development has been put in top gear.However, an expert, on condition of anonymity, said that the report may not be correct factually. “The per capita income of the country is around $1,100 while that of Gujarat is $1,300. It is difficult to understand on what basis they have taken Ahmedabad on the list of fastest-growing cities ,” he said.

From the congested city of the 1990s to the sprawling metro of 2010,

Ahmedabad offers lessons in urban renewal

Wricha Johari

Fifteen years ago, Ahmedabad shed its past and stepped into the future. The past it left behind was murky, full of dust, din and smoke. The soot from the chimneys of textile mills and the emission from auto-rickshaws blackened the face and burnt the eyes of people who ventured out on the streets.

Known as the Manchester of the East for housing over 100 textile mills, the city founded by Moghul emperor Ahmed Shah in 1411 AD had emerged as the commercial capital of Gujarat over the last 600 years. It was essentially a city of traders, some of who, under the influence of the westerly winds from England, had set up British India’s first textile mills.

Though Mahatma Gandhi had set up his Satyagraha Ashram here in 1917, and founded the country’s first trade union of textile mill workers on the noble principles of cooperation, in the late 1980s, the city was sitting on a powderkeg where stone-throwing, knifing, teargas, firing and curfew had become the order of the day. There were strikes and bandhs, squalor and stench from country liquor in the slums that dotted both sides of the Sabarmati river. There were women and children pulling hand carts, beggars and lepers.

The Sabarmati river, which remained dry eight months in a year, divided the city into two worlds. The world to the east was crowded and poor. In the west resided the burgeoning middle class and the wealthy for whom there were clubs, parks, stadiums, sprawling bungalows with their lush green lawns and swimming pools.

The east had potholes, overflowing sewage, mosquitoes, rodents and the accompanying cholera, malaria, tuberculosis and a teeming population of malnourished women and children. There were slum lords, loan sharks and hooch kings and their minions. Nearly half the city’s 25 lakh people lived in slums.

There were ghettos within ghettos, formed on the basis of caste and creed, in which high-strung people resided, waiting to explode on the slightest pretext, even a brawl among urchins over who should own the unclaimed kite that might have landed in the slum during the annual kite festival on January 14. The police and the fire-fighters remained on high alert during most religious festivals.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the city witnessed an unprecedented economic crisis caused by the closure of over 100 textile mills due to proliferation of power-looms. Over 1,00,000 workers lost their jobs. Given its past record of unrest and riots, the city should have either exploded or witnessed a mass exodus. Instead, Ahmedabad showed how chaos can lead to a new order that has become a role model for other growing cities. Ahmedabad prospered and flourished attracting in the last two decades over 20 lakh people who have made it their home. With a population of over 60 lakh now, Ahmedabad has become a mega city, officially, the seventh metro of the country.

Resilience of the people to survive a crisis and adapt to changing times is what makes the city thrive. The enterprising Ahmedabadis captured the essence of the changing economy that had been thrown open to the global market following liberalisation.

Today, the city’s 60 lakh people contribute about 18 percent of the state’s income, making up for over half of the total tax revenue generated. While the city is the knowledge, industrial and financial capital of the state, its influence extends nationally and globally. Falling on the proposed Delhi-Mumbai industrial and freight corridor, Ahmedabad is on its way to becoming the country’s hub for textiles, design, agriculture export, drug and pharmaceuticals, bio-technology, packaged food, information technology logistics and technical education.

From red to black

While the city dwellers showed exemplary resilience and adapted to the changing economy, the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC), the civic body charged with providing basic amenities like water, sanitation, health services and public transportation, too was hit by an unprecedented financial crisis in the late 1980s & early 1990s.

In 1994, when Keshav Verma, a senior IAS officer, took over as the municipal commissioner, the AMC coffers were in the red, reflecting a deficit of Rs 92 crore. Because the civic body was on the brink of insolvency, many of the ongoing projects, including the World Bank aided schemes of upgradation of sewerage and water supply works were in a limbo. To add to the burden of the already fundstarved AMC, the newly elected civic body hiked the salaries of the civic staff. AMC was already under a whopping Rs 150 crore debt.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the city witnessed an unprecedented economic crisis caused by the closure of over 100 textile mills due to proliferation of power-looms. Over 1,00,000 workers lost their jobs. Given its past record of unrest and riots, the city should have either exploded or witnessed a mass exodus. Instead, Ahmedabad showed how chaos can lead to a new order that has become a role model for other growing cities.

Faced with such a precarious financial situation when he took over as the municipal commissioner, Verma embarked on a rigorous drive to strictly enforce tax collection. There was huge evasion of octroi duty. Property tax was also not being paid by a large number of citizens who obtained stay from the courts on recovery measures.

Verma had inherited the colonial bureaucratic machinery of a civic body set up in the year 1857 which, over the years, had become burdened with paper work, pushing of files, palm-greasing of babus and municipal councillors. The corrupt and lethargic civic staff took shelter behind political connections and trade unionism.

“Keshav Verma inducted young professionals who specialised in finance, accounting and management. While plugging leakages in tax collections, he also brought in strict control over expenditure,” says deputy commissioner Dilip Mahajan, who joined Verma’s team after graduating from the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad (IIMA) in 1995.

After securing an ‘AA’ credit rating from Crisil in 1997, the AMC issued four successful series of bonds that got an overwhelming response from investors. The civic body received the ‘Best Financial Management System’ national award from Crisil. AMC has completed the redemption of three of the four bonds and is now planning the fifth in the series.

Verma is also credited with introducing the public-private partnership in the municipal corporation to undertake major infrastructure development projects. In exchange for advertisement rights, Arvind Mills rebuilt the arterial CG Road. Denim manufacturer Ashima, moulded plastic container maker Sintex and pharmaceutical major Torrent were roped in to develop and maintain public gardens.