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Tapping into India's huge potential

Singapore companies can play a key role in India's drive to develop its infrastructure.

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"International Tech Park Bangalore's (above) success set an iconic benchmark for other Indian states vying to set up world-class infrastructure of their own to attract investments. It spearheaded the growth of Bangalore's knowledge economy, which saw the city transform into a global technological hub known as 'Silicon Valley of Asia' with the highest growth rate among all Indian cities." - Miguel Ko, group CEO, Ascendas-Singbridge

WHEN the Chief Minister of India's Andhra Pradesh decided to build a new capital for the state, he turned to Singapore for help. Urban consultants Surbana Jurong developed a master plan for the new metropolis, which was needed following a decision last year to split Andhra Pradesh, India's fifth most populous state.

The split saw the state lose its old provincial capital of Hyderabad. The development plans for the new capital Amaravati include building logistics infrastructure such as ports and airports, basic utilities such as power, water and sanitation, as well as industrial parks to broaden the manufacturing base. With over 7,000 sq km of land use for the Andhra Pradesh capital region, the urbanisation is projected to impact a population of 49.4 million.

"They were very keen to position this new capital city as a pioneer smart city for India," Wong Heang Fine, group chief executive officer of Surbana Jurong Private Limited, told Bloomberg recently.

In July, Surbana Jurong handed over the final part of the blueprint for the new city. The final phase involved drawing up a vision of an almost 17-square-kilometre area representing Amaravati's core, which will contain government buildings, residential and commercial developments and possibly light industries.

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The Amaravati project is the latest of many in India that Singaporean firms have been involved in for over two decades. In 1994, then Singapore prime minister Goh Chok Tong mooted the idea of the Republic sharing its expertise in the development of an IT park to then Indian prime minister Narasimha Rao.

Singapore developer Ascendas then ventured into India for the first time with International Tech Park Bangalore (ITPB) in Whitefield, which was opened in 1997. A first of its kind in India, the 28-hectare ITPB was designed to provide a complete "work-live-play" environment for IT and technology-related businesses.

The park pioneered plug-and-play IT infrastructure in an integrated environment, attracting leading corporations to locate their operations there. The development also offered a comprehensive suite of supporting infrastructure and services such as a dedicated power plant, security, sewage treatment plant and building management systems. ITPB houses over 35,000 working professionals today.

"ITPB's success set an iconic benchmark for other Indian states vying to set up world-class infrastructure of their own to attract investments. It spearheaded the growth of Bangalore's knowledge economy, which saw the city transform into a global technological hub known as 'Silicon Valley of Asia' with the highest growth rate among all Indian cities," said Miguel Ko, group CEO of Ascendas-Singbridge, the group that emerged when Ascendas merged with fellow developer Singbridge earlier this year.

Since then, the group has replicated the model for cities such as Chennai, Hyderabad, Gurgaon and Pune.

Huge potential

Asia is the fastest urbanising region in the world, while India has the world's largest rural population of over 850 million people. The South Asian nation is also expected to overtake China to become the world's most populated country in about five years' time.

These numbers suggest that there are huge opportunities for businesses to help develop the roads, buildings and utilities to cater to the country's growing number of city dwellers. In just the past six months, the Indian government has rolled out projects worth Rs 4 trillion rupees (S$86.2 billion), Prime Minister Narendra Modi revealed earlier this month. He noted that infrastructure was the top priority of his government and building roads was the fastest means to bring economic growth. "We'll not only create highways but also I-ways (information highways). Our mission is to provide 24x7 power to all villages of India by 2022," said Mr Modi, who will be visiting Singapore later this month.

Building closer ties

Smart city development and urban rejuvenation is one key area that Singapore and India are focusing on to build closer business ties between the two countries.

To this end, several Indian states are currently working with Singapore's companies to develop their infrastructure. Changi Airport International is jointly developing an airport in Durgapur, West Bengal, while PSA International, which operates three container terminals - in Kolkata, Chennai and Tuticorin - has signed an agreement to build a container loading facility in Mumbai.

Elsewhere, Sembcorp is involved in a US$1.5 billion coal-fired power project in Andhra Pradesh.

Singapore-based energy firm Chase Energy Resource believes that there is room to grow even though India already accounts for 30 per cent of its total business. Said director Jayanthi Manian: "India wants to develop smart cities - it takes Singapore as an example and wants to follow our footprint so, as India opens up, we can take part." He is keen to pursue solar panel projects in the country.

As for the Andhra Pradesh capital development, at least two Singapore companies - Ascendas-Singbridge and Sembcorp - are keen to take part in the building of the new city.

Then second trade and industry minister S Iswaran said in July: "I think the significance for Singapore and our companies of this next phase really is that firstly, there is interest from our companies to participate in this because they see this as an opportunity that plays to their strengths, having developed similar sorts of industrial parks and other larger townships in various parts of Asia, including in India."

He added: "Secondly, I think it also creates opportunities for other Singapore companies to get involved because this is a large-scale project."

 

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