India Infrastructure: A story of bad planning, poor execution

Time and time again India has demonstrated lack of long term vision and poor planning when it comes to infrastructure related projects.


GIFT City:  A white elephant in the making

The latest in the list of poor planning and project coordination, is the Gujarat International Finance Tec (GIFT) City that is coming up on 886 acres of land near the Ahmedabad airport. This was to be Narendra Modi’s showpiece project launched in 2007, when he was the Chief Minister of Gujarat. GIFT is a 50:50 joint venture between International Leasing and Financial Services (ILFS) and a state government firm.

The vision was to develop a world class integrated financial services centre, IT hub and a multi-specialty special economic zone (SEZ) on the lines of those seen in London, Paris, Shanghai and Tokyo, with all amenities of a modern city that would include residential, commercial, institutional, hospitality and retail. The project is expected to create a million direct and indirect jobs.

The plan was to develop GIFT as a superior alternative to Mumbai and draw investors both from Mumbai and the international business community to relocate to GIFT making it a thriving and vibrant business city. The development of the first phase is well underway with many superstructures nearing completion.

So what’s the problem?

The 78,000 crore project is now caught in red tape! Lack of clearances has resulted in several buildings being left incomplete with power supply yet to be made available. What is worse, is the fact that most buildings envisaged to come up in the project are high rises and do not have the requisite clearances from the Airports Authority of India (AAI).  Now the AAI has given permission for buildings to have a maximum height ceiling of 191 metres above sea level.

GIFT City has envisaged 110 high rise buildings with Diamond Tower, the tallest building in the project planned to rise up to 410 metres. Two other buildings in the project are expected to have a height over 350 metres. GIFT City has requested the AAI for permission to build buildings up to 476 metres.

In addition to this delay, the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) has not cleared permission to lay the underground power cables to the city.

And to top it all, the entire project which hinges on financial services, has not been able to attract a single client to set up operations, mainly due to lack of norms of operating procedures. Both the Finance and Commerce ministries at the centre have been slow to announce clear regulatory guidelines, without which financial services cannot be launched from the City.

This brings to question as to why and how is a project of this stature and vision allowed to be publicly announced and construction undertaken without all the above mentioned clearances. This is a 78,000 crore project where India’s capability and prestige is involved, so who is responsible for this mess? This is a clear example where the project gets announced first and clearances applied for later.

Vizag Airport gets hit by cyclone

Visakhapatnam or Vizag, as it is popularly called, is located on the east coast and every year the east coast between Coastal Andhra and Odisha gets battered by tropical storms and cyclones. This is an annual affair. The only variable is the intensity and the location where it makes landfall. So how is it that the entire airport gets battered by the cyclone with the entire roof virtually blown off? Sheer bad planning and poor design. The airport was never designed to handle cyclones of the intensity that Hudhud brought.

In the US, tornadoes and snowstorms are common and hit many parts of the US on a regular basis. Denver, in Colorado, is one such city. The city gets its fair share of storms and tornadoes but the airport continues to stand and operate, as usual. In case of Vizag, whoever designed the airport must be held accountable for what happened and the subsequent loss of tax payers’ money. Each time we tend to blame the contractors but a contractor can only build what he has been asked to.

The AAI and the specific architect must be made to answer otherwise we just have to wait for another cyclone in another airport or building for disaster to hit. The same is true for all buildings of the city and along the coastal areas.

Why are the building laws not stringent enough to ensure that they are all compliant to withstand cyclones and why are the townships not geared for flood control, when the fallout of a cyclone is flooding, especially the coastal areas? Again lack of planning and strict implementation of existing laws.

Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport flooding

In Sept 2011, Delhi received a massive amount of rainfall as a result of a cloudburst. It began to rain heavily at around 14 35 hrs and within an hour, the Palam area received over 120 mm of rain. The result was that a part of T3, the spanking new terminal, was under ankle deep water with parts of the roof leaking and the underpass leading up to the airport being under 4 feet of water. Major part of the telephone lines at the airport was down for several hours. Basically, the brand new airport was a mess and in a state of partial shutdown.

So how does the signature airport of the country’s capital suffer this fate within two years of its operation? Once again, a case of poor planning, bad design and poor execution. No, the AAI was not made accountable nor was the principle architect and of course all blame was tried to be passed on to the contractor and the Delhi Metro!

The RTR flyover fiasco

The Rao Tula Ram road flyover leading to outer Ring Road from the airport is a traffic mess. Any flyer on exiting the state-of-the-art showpiece airport soon encounters the frustrating reality of traffic chaos, especially during peak hours. The flyover is another case of project execution with little planning and forecast of the actual situation and the result is that despite crores being spent, the area continues to be a traffic mess.

The government is now said to be planning an underground road, connecting outer ring road to the highway near the Shiv Murti, near Mahipalpur. The question is, has this been adequately thought off or is this another knee-jerk plan to somehow address the current chaos? If this is indeed a practical and economically viable solution, then why was this not executed in the first place? Again, poor planning and poor design, with no one made accountable.

Delhi Gurgaon Toll Plaza

Here is another classic example of poor planning at the tax payer’s cost. The project was prepared based on estimates of traffic that was expected to peak in a decade or so. The concession was based on this study and the terms for concessionaire were negotiated accordingly. The traffic figures were apparently crossed within the first few years of operation itself and this strongly pointed to either very poor estimation on part of the body that was mandated to prepare the estimates or there was an underlying vested interest involved.

Either case, the result was a total breakdown in the traffic flow system. In 2006 itself, a study prepared by the Indian Railways Institute of Transport and Management, Lucknow estimated that the traffic congestion was causing a daily loss of Rs 5 crore per month in fuel wastage due to waiting at the toll plaza, while the concessionaire was earning Rs 18 crore per month from the same.

The government has finally scrapped the project and now we have a relatively free flow of traffic, only that the congestion has now shifted to RTR flyover and further up on the highway at Gurgaon.

So who is accountable for the loss of tax payers’ money that was wasted all these years on account of bad planning? No one from the government nor the bodies that conducted the surveys has been made accountable for the loss till date.

India continues on the path of haphazard planning with little or no long term vision. Infrastructure planning requires complete integration of various stakeholders to prepare the Master Plan along with the town planners, which will take into account the requirement for the next 50 years.

Do we have a Master Plan or vision document for all cities, towns and villages for the next 50 years? Ask China the same question and their plan is not only ready but under execution.