Is Modi’s GIFT All Set To Recreate India In Gujarat’s Image?

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Supporters of Narendra Modi in the run-up to the 2014 General Election would often ask his detractors to “look to Gujarat,” as a validation for the claims of a man who would develop India as he developed his home state. Gujarat was sold as a model for the rest of India, and as one, which Modi would scale up for the rest of the nation. Almost a year in, after his swearing in as India’s Prime Minister, Gujarat announces that the first of India’s planned 100 Smart Cities, the Gujarat International Finance Tec-City (GIFT), is under construction.

However, what constitutes a smart city? At this point, there seems to be more buzzwords than definitions for the same – though the consensus is that, it will utilize digital technology to collect and connect information across the city. Good infrastructure will lay the foundation for the same, through constant power supply, internet access and security systems. One can expect sensors everywhere so that the cities are able to track their environmental, logistical and security data in order to act proficiently on the challenges of a growing city.

GIFT has been making headlines across the world after its inauguration on April 10, though much of the city remains under construction. Touted as India’s next big financial district, photos of its construction efforts have been doing the rounds, displaying the promise for a country accustomed to stalled mega-infrastructure projects.

Finance Minister of India, Arun Jaitley, has suggested the state governments to send representatives to study the city and its model, to better emulate them in their own respective smart city projects. Smart cities are not restricted to new constructions out of thin air, and many of India’s existing towns and metros are expected to revamp themselves in order to survive the future. He said the first phase of the city’s development is expected to conclude in 2016.

A common takeaway from the Prime Minister’s foreign trips is the promise of multinational investment in building India’s new infrastructure. Few major nations seem excluded from this club, with even China planning $100 billion worth of investments in ports and bullet trains, among other major infrastructure projects. China’s interest seemed to rise from a need to counter Japan – which has been planning $35 billion of investments spread across 3-5 years in similar sectors as India.

The race to invest in India’s smart development has even extended to the Rafale deal, with the fighter jet manufacturer’s major partner, Thale, expressing its intent to tap a market it estimates at worth 3,300 crores in the coming years.

Not everyone agrees that technology alone can solve the problems of India’s cities. A huge influx of migrants from rural areas is expected in India’s cities – in a scale of which only China has dealt with in the past. Sensors that tell us that our cities are overcrowded will not help the coming situation. We need good infrastructure, and above all else, a plan to use it and let it grow in a sustainable manner.

With 2015 commonly named the year of the “Internet of Things”, smart cities will be places filled with technological devices. Much as how the Indian voter looked to Gujarat and validated their support for Modi, will the time come when we can look to GIFT and validate the increasing role of technology in our lives?

Varun Ramesh

Image Source: The Viewspaper