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
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.
In an initiative that in a stroke ended the well entrenched red-tapism, AMC set up a full fledged e-governance system enabling online access and accountability. The 2 mbps leased line with the backup of 1,300 computers on a wide area network (WAN) covers 26 civic centres and 55 wards in six zones of the city. Applications, information, complaints, status tracking and even right to information are now available at the click of the mouse through internet access facility to people. AMC received a national award from the government of India for its e-governance initiative (www.egovamc.com).
Ahmedabad’s own bus rapid transit (BRT), Jan Marg was implemented without any hassle. Public transport users are happy and vehicle owners (unlike their Delhi counterparts) are not complaining either.
Along with computerisation, AMC also introduced professional asset valuation and transparent and speedy payment systems through ECS/RTGS to suppliers and contractors. This reduced delays and hurdles in completion of infrastructure development works.
As a result of various financial management measures, AMC was able to make an impressive turnaround. When in 2006, the present municipal commissioner, I P Gautam, took over the reins as the civic body’s chief executive, AMC had a surplus revenue of Rs 280.02 crore. In 2009-10, its revenue surplus jumped nearly four times to Rs 827.83 crore.
Making of a mega city
In the last one decade, the area under the AMC has more than doubled from 190 square kilometres to 464 sq km. This was done through the amalgamation of scores of villages which were on the periphery of the city. After the amalgamation, the new areas came under the jurisdiction of the AMC, which could now plan and regulate the development of real estate.
“AMC was able to plan and execute as many as 100 new town planning schemes. We could thus regulate the process of urbanisation,” says Surendra Patel, former chairman of the civic body’s standing committee and the Ahmedabad Urban Development Authority. Patel, as the chairman of AUDA, is credited with having turned the farmlands of west Ahmedabad into highly prized real estate by developing infrastructure in the form of roads, drainage and parks.
Before the areas on the periphery of the city were amalgamated with the AMC, the urban growth was haphazard and without the necessary infrastructure. AUDA introduced the scheme of voluntary demolition of irregular structures by the builders who were charged a fee for the development of infrastructure.
The biggest boost to the real estate market came after AMC constructed a 132 foot wide ring road and the AUDA developed a 76 km long and 60 metre wide SP Ring Road encompassing the entire urban conglomerate of Ahmedabad. A unique feature of the Sardar Patel Ring Road was that it was constructed in just three years and without using the land acquisition act.
The SP Ring Road has minimised traffic congestion on peripheral roads, segregated regional and urban traffic and has increased connectivity. The ring road is guiding the development and expansion of the city. It defines the new boundary of Ahmedabad.
While the SP Ring Road has been responsible for the development of residential and commercial areas along the outer areas of the city, the construction of the 132 foot wide inner ring road with the proposed Bus Rapid Transport System (BRTS) has boosted the value of real estate both residential and commercial in the core area of the city.
So charged up are the real estate developers of the city by these developments that they have started selling the ‘Dream Ahmedabad’ aggressively even abroad with the hope that non-resident Gujaratis (NRGs) might want to invest back home in this fast growing city.
The Gujarat Institute of Housing and Estate Developers (GIHED) joined hands with the Association of Indian Americans in North America (AIANA) in organising the first international property show at the second ‘Chaalo Gujarat: World Gujarati Conference’ in New Jersey in August 2008. The first conference was held in New Jersey in September 2006.
The three day conference-cum-exposition, in which nearly 50,000 NRGs participated, saw Ahmedabad based realtors pitching for upcoming residential and commercial property projects worth over Rs 20,000 crore to NRGs. The expo also showcased Ahmedabad of tomorrow that would have mega projects like Gujarat International Financial Tec-City, Sabarmati riverfront project, and the new international airport and the internationally acclaimed Bus Rapid Transit System (BRTS).
Ahmedabad’s BRTS, popularly called Jan Marg, has heralded a revolution in mass transportation. The BRTS stole a march over all other cities of the world when earlier this year it won the Sustainable Transport Award for adopting an eco-friendly transit solution. It is because of road infrastructure projects like Jan Marg and the construction of ring roads that this city of 60 lakh people spread across 464 km does not face traffic congestions on the scale that one finds in cities like Bangalore and Hyderabad.
The BRTS project is part of the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) which has sanctioned Rs 255 crore to develop 38 km radial and 4 km elevated corridor for its second phase.
Like other such systems around the world, Jan Marg has a dedicated lane for buses to speed their passage through congested streets, enticing riders who would otherwise be stuck in traffic. The first 12.5 km of the Jan Marg was opened on October 14, 2009, and received overwhelming response.
Initially, Jan Marg ferried around 24,000 passengers with an average income of Rs 1.20 lakh a day. After the extension of the BRTS in the 17 km stretch between the RTO circle, west of the Sabarmati river, and the Kankaria lake in the east, the swift model of transport is carrying around 30,000 passengers a day.
One of the major advantages for the Ahmedabad BRTS has been learning from the mistakes of Delhi and Pune’s BRTS corridors. “When BRTS was introduced in the national capital in April May last year, there was chaos on the roads and long traffic jams as people were not aware of the right lanes, traffic lights did not work, bus stands were found to be in wrong places, among other things,” says U C Padia, executive director of Jan Marg.
After Jan Marg completes the second phase increasing the dedicated corridor to 88.8 km, central city’s Kalupur, Geeta Mandir, Astodia and Danapith AMC office will get connected to industrial areas like Naroda, Odhav as well as Gujarat University and residential areas of Bopal and Chandkheda. The entire Jan Marg project, to be completed by 2012, is estimated to cost Rs 960 crore. There would be 250 buses plying on the dedicated corridor of the BRTS.
“BRTS becomes pertinent in Ahmedabad as there are about 20 lakh registered vehicles in the city. In terms of composition, almost 75 percent of the total vehicles are two wheelers. One of the major concerns for the city today is rising number of cars which have already started choking major arterial roads of the city,” says municipal commissioner IP Gautam.
Gautam says BRTS and other urban development projects under the JNNURM could not have been possible if the AMC did not have the requisite funds to match the aid from the central government. Under the JNNURM, the civic bodies of various cities are required to bear half the total project cost, while the central government would contribute 35 percent and the state the remaining 15 percent.
After the year 2005 was declared as Urban Year, Ahmedabad submitted its city development plan to the government envisaging an investment of Rs 5,000 crore for areas under AMC and of Rs 2,500 crore for areas under the AUDA.
The Sabarmati, which once was a non-existent river, now flows round the year with Narmada waters. Now one of its banks is going to have a new look with embankments and pavements that would host markets in the evening.
The city development plan submitted by the AMC was used as a role model by the JNNURM to prepare a ‘tool kit’ for all the 53 cities that are planned to be covered for infrastructure development.
Visitors from other cities like Bangalore and Hyderabad give credit to the foresight of town planners and non-government groups of citizens for the planned growth of Ahmedabad. First of all, the two civic bodies, the AMC and AUDA, have put in place their perspective plans. Because of this, the real estate sector in the city became organised and user specific.
“Because developed property has been available on the western side of the Sabarmati river at one fourth to one tenth of the price of similar property in other metros, regional and national corporate houses too have bought these properties to establish their offices,” says R Narendran, a landscape architect from Bangalore.
“Though their factories are located outside the city, all major pharmaceuticals, chemicals and engineering firms based in Ahmedabad have their corporate head offices in the heart of the city,” points out Sunil Parekh, advisor, Crisil.
Former municipal commissioner Keshav Verma introduced the public-private partnership to undertake major infrastructure development projects. In exchange for advertisement rights, Arvind Mills rebuilt the arterial CG Road. Ashima, Sintex and Torrent were roped in to develop and maintain public gardens.
The most attractive feature which makes Ahmedabad a favourite destination for businesses is the ‘manageable’ prices of real estate, compared to other metros. This is one of the factors responsible for the proliferation of shopping malls and multiplexes in the city.
No wonder, JadeBlue, the largest menswear store of the country, is in Ahmedabad and so are Sales India, the largest single store consumer durable retailer, and Golden Times, the largest watch store of the country. The pharmacy retailer, Planet Health, which is neither related to a hospital, pharmaceutical company nor an MNC, has its origin in Ahmedabad.
Ahmedabad was among the first cities in the country to have Big Bazar and Star Bazar departmental stores. The large Reliance Mega Mart was first opened in Ahmedabad. The retail revolution in the city has also contributed to development in the areas of logistics, warehousing, transportation, communication, technologies, IT, designing, marketing and advertising services.
The pressure on residential complexes and housing colonies in and around the city is likely to increase with IT, pharma and multi product SEZs coming up in the vicinity.
“Property rates are still low in Ahmedabad compared with those in other metros. However, the real estate market is expected to experience a sudden boom in the next couple of years by which time most of the infrastructure development projects will have been completed. Those looking at investing in real estate have begun to explore property and land in and around Ahmedabad,” says Suresh Iyer, a top executive of a housing finance company.
“All major real estate developers such as the Rahejas, DLF and G Corp are looking at Ahmedabad while others like Omaxe and Hiranandani are waiting in the wings,” he adds. “Already, almost all retail majors have bought or taken on lease properties all over the city both the eastern and western sides to set up shopping malls,” he points out.
“Ahmedabad is essentially a city of traders. It has all the characteristics of a mercantile city where everyone wants to earn through transaction of goods and services in the most peaceful and harmonious manner. The principle of life is very simplelet everyone have a share of the cake,” says Sunil Parekh of Crisil.
Parekh, who decided to return to his home town, Ahmedabad, 11 years ago, after having lived abroad and several metros of India for greater part of his professional life, says, “The quality of life Ahmedabad offers is distinctly superior to Mumbai, Bangalore and many others.”
“Ahmedabad has all the advantages of a metro minus its disadvantages. It has the best of national and international connectivity road, rail and air. It takes not more than half an hour to reach one corner of the city from another,” points out Vibhuti Bhatt, a public relations and advertising professional who came to Ahmedabad in 1987 and has made it her home.
Born and brought up in Mumbai and Nashik, Vibhuti finds working in Ahmedabad more comfortable from a woman’s perspective. “If you want to be ethical and professional in my line of business, it is difficult to work in metros like Delhi and Mumbai. People here are more business oriented. There is no glamsham. The clients here are concerned only with the deliverables,” she says.
“It is easier to start a business venture in Ahmedabad because the real estate and office space is five to 10 times cheaper than in Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore or even Pune. Moreover, the city has better infrastructure like broad roads and uninterrupted electricity. Unlike other metros, where commuting from home to office takes up a lot of time, in Ahmedabad one can reach any part in about half an hour,” says Nikhil Vaswani, 27, who set up Wellocity, a fitness and wellbeing studio in the upscale Satellite area of the city last year.
“Ahmedabad has all the advantages of a metro minus its disadvantages. It has the best of national and international connectivity road, rail and air. It takes not more than half an hour to reach one corner of the city from another. People here are more business oriented. There is no glamsham.
“People are exposed to the global culture, they have money to spend and they have desire to earn money. This is an ideal environment for starting any business,” he adds. For similar reasons, Niraj Gemawat, a first generation entrepreneur, too decided to start a software development company in Ahmedabad 10 years ago.
“Ahmedabad has emerged as a major knowledge centre and its institutions of technical education are producing a large number of skilled manpower. Earlier, there was a brain drain of IT professionals from Ahmedabad to the US and Europe because of lack of opportunities here. Not anymore. Those who had migrated to cities like Pune, Bangalore and Hyderabad in search of better opportunities are now eager to come back to Ahmedabad, even at lesser salaries. This is because the cost of living is less and the quality of life is much better here than elsewhere,” points out Gemawat.
The development of commercial and corporate office complexes in the heart of the city and the location of manufacturing units on the city’s periphery have gone hand in hand with the coming up of residential areas in the suburbs and on both sides of the three main link roads between the twin cities of Ahmedabad and Gandhinagar.
“Unlike Bangalore and Hyderabad, which witnessed sudden spurt in the growth of IT industries, the growth of the Ahmedabad city has been slow, steady and planned,” points out architect-cum-town planner Shodhan Shah.
Because of the colonisation of suburbs and the accompanying housing development, the prices of real estate have not shot up so alarmingly as in Bangalore, Hyderabad and even Pune.
“A middle income group family can still dream of having its own house with a little help from banks and other financial institutions,” says Praveen Mishra, a 32 year old graduate from the National Institute of Design who has decided to settle down in Ahmedabad.