Monday, January 25, 2021

Interview - Dr Baju George (Smartcity India)

View from DUBAI



Kerala, which not long ago lay outside the weltanschauung of infrastructure development, is now seeing considerable action in the form of a rash of projects like private airports, metro rail, malls and IT parks. Among the most prestigious projects to come up in the state is the Rs 5,000 crore SmartCity Kochi project. DR BAJU GEORGE, MANAGING DIRECTOR, SMARTCITY INDIA, the international business parks arm of Dubai Holding, and the prime mover of the Kochi SmartCity Project dilated on the progress of the project and the prospects of other Smart City initiatives across India in an exclusive interview with SHRIKANT RAO from Dubai. 




Tell us about the current status of the projects taken up under the aegis of SmartCity?


The vision of SmartCity is to create a global network of inter-linked business clusters. The network currently consists of two nodes – Kochi in India, and Malta in Europe that are connected through knowledge clusters developed in Dubai.

SmartCity Malta phase-I is completed and it is about 98 per cent occupied with companies such as IBM, Oracle, Cisco etc. Laguna Walk, the new destination for leisure, retail and F&B was recently launched with a number of restaurants setting up shop there. In Dubai our clusters such as Dubai Internet City and Dubai Media City have been home to over 4,500 companies, many of them in the Fortune 500 list. With an over 95,000 strong combined workforce of knowledge workers these zones are the world’s largest networked cluster. SmartCity Kochi’s first building, SCK01, is expected to be ready by December 2014 and will have major players interested – many of which already have operations in our Dubai and Malta nodes. In addition, we are in the midst of co-developing nearly 30,00,000 sq ft of BUA with partners for IT offices, commercial spaces, residential high rise towers, a K-12 School and a Design District.




When can we expect it to be fully completed? What will be the benefits that will accrue from this project both to Kerala and to the country?


Both SmartCity Malta and Kochi are large projects and will be developed over phases. The first phase of of SCK will witness about 36,50,000 sq ft of BUA spread over 50 acres of the 246 acres at SmartCity Kochi. The first building, SCK01 at SmartCity Kochi will be completed by December 2014. Five major business partners will co-develop another 30 lakh sq ft by 2014. If market sentiments continues to be positive, we expect the entire project with about 140 lakh sq ft to be completed in another 5 years as against 10 years provided in the agreement.




What were the main challenges of implementing this project?


We faced a few challenges from the regulatory front which caused initial delays. However thanks to the extreme support of the government we have resolved most of them and the Kochi project is now in a rapid development trajectory. The slowdown of the economy during the initial years posed a few challenges. But we have bounced back strongly. It will all be positive henceforth.




Give us an understanding of SmartCity India’s plans to replicate a Kochi like project in the north of the country?  What will be the geographical, operational and financial contours of the project like?


There will be an exponential growth of knowledge industries globally between now and the year 2020 and India will have a major role to play. It is projected that global productivity of knowledge industries will reach $5 trillion from the existing $2.1 trillion while in India it will triple to $300 billion from the existing level and in the same period. So we need extensive infrastructure to cater to this growth and SmartCity will be in a position to make a contribution in this line by looking at alternate locations for expansion.




What is your take on India’s plans to develop 70 smart cities across the country?


The challenges of poor infrastructure can be overcome to some extent by adopting the SmartCity model of self-contained township development where there will be superior work space and strong social infrastructure to attract and retain knowledge workers. In the Kochi project, for instance, apart from an attractive physical environment, there will an international school to be developed by the GEMS group of Dubai, international hospitals, retail and hospitality facilities, sports facilities and residence. That will give a reason for knowledge workers to live in SmartCity. Today’s trend is that international companies will opt for locations where their workers will prefer to be or where they can attract fresh talent. Additionally, the smart cities being planned need to have that draw, or pulling power, to attract companies to set up base there, whether from abroad of from the Tier 1 Indian cities. This is a key success factor that needs to be evaluated when forming the blueprints for such cities, two in each state.




What are the important points that need to be factored while constructing a smart city?


One unique feature of SmartCity is that it has a master plan which will determine the physical aspects and the common infrastructure will be overlaid with a digital master plan that will make the city technologically smart and thus making knowledge workers and their families more efficient. We have identified technological partners who will play their roles in different layers and also integrators who tie them together to give a superior experience. Smart cities are ever evolving and constantly re-defining smart concepts in energy, balance, quality of life, connectivity etc. It is crucial to have this outlook and mindset when at the early implementation stage.




There are concerns that such islands of technological prosperity could lead to a social divide. How real are those fears?  


A smart city must focus on inclusive growth, that which will bring overall development for society. For the Kochi project, we expect direct employment will be 100,000 while indirect employment to be created will be 300,000.

This will come from different strata of surrounding communities. So apart from 100,000, many of which will stay outside the SmartCity parameters, 300,000 more families are also going to be positively impacted. The success of the SmartCity project will also encourage children from the next generation to get attracted to training for employment in high value knowledge industries thus improving living standards of many more families. Half of the SmartCity area will be in the non-processing zone, which will be open for the general public too.




What are the key ingredients for the success of a Smart City?


 The most important element for the success of any smart city would be availability of talent, either trained or trainable. Hence, of the four knowledge clusters visualised for the Kochi project, one has been earmarked for Research and Innovation – this includes development of skill sets which make the youth of the society employable for high end tasks. Smart cities also need to incorporate elements of Work, Play, Live, Learn, and Create.




How can such smart developments be made sustainable? 


Any ecosystem will be sustainable only if they can be self-supported in long run. So we have selected smart features and facilities after carefully evaluating the tangible value for end users. It is not correct to say that the benefits will be curtailed at the boundaries of SmartCity – they will be available to society at large.




Smart Urbania

A 246-acre knowledge hub, SmartCity Kochi, will house the ICT, media, finance and global research and innovation giants. While the Kerala government holds a 16 per cent stake in the project, the rest is held by Tecom Investments, a subsidiary of Dubai Holding. The project when finally completed will be a 8.8 million sq ft development and will create over 90,000 direct jobs. Now with the first phase of 650,000 sq ft property getting ready by the end of the year and work on another 3.6 million sq ft to be launched soon, SmartCity India has got its sights on replicating the project elsewhere in the country, possibly in the North, but on a larger scale – the area being mentioned for acquisition is around 500 to 1000 acres; the area to be developed over the next 5 years: 8.8-14 million sq ft; and the cost: a whopping Rs 10,000 crore! The plans for the second high tech park are expected to be finalised soon.


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