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hi-tech city GIFT

Courtesy: K.T.R. Mumbai

Narendra Modi's Rs 78,000 cr hi-tech city GIFT to try new concepts; may shape future city technologies

5 Jan, 2012, 01.01AM IST,

Keyur Dhandeo, Himanshu Darji & Hari Pulakkat, ET Bureau

AHMEDABAD: Narendra Modi would not have thought of Gujarat International Finance Tec-City (GIFT) as the test-bed for future city technologies, but his dream project in Gandhinagar may well have this interesting spillover. Work on the proposed Rs 78,000-crore nano city has now started, and the first occupant may move in by March.

By the time the first phase is completed in three-and-a-half years, this special economic zone (SEZ) would have tried out, on a small scale, some contemporary urban design ideas.

GIFT would have a command and control centre to monitor the IT infrastructure and respond quickly during emergencies (a fire anywhere, for example, will trigger an automatic response). The city will use the energy-efficient district cooling system instead of air-conditioning. It will also use an automated waste collection system that sucks away garbage from buildings at high speed. Says GIFT Director Ramakant Jha: "We will now try on a pilot scale many technologies that will be used when the city is developed fully."

District cooling, which uses chilled water to cool buildings, is being tried in a few places such as Toronto, Cornell University and Masdar City in Abu Dhabi. Its proponents say the technology consumes 90% less energy compared with traditional air-conditioning.

In automated vacuum waste collection systems, garbage is sorted out and then sucked away at high speed through underground tubes to a central location, which can be as far as 20 km away. It is being used in cities such as London, Montreal, Stockholm and Barcelona. No Indian city has these technologies yet.

These concepts may be widely used in smart cities of future as they are considered sustainable. District cooling, for example, can be used easily with renewable energy. Automated waste collection can be combined with biomass energy generation systems, so GIFT will burn waste to generate energy. Greenfield cities such as GIFT have an opportunity to test new technologies before they are adopted in existing Indian cities.


GIFT was conceived in 2007 and the idea was developed initially by a set of consultants such as McKinsey and urban development specialist Fairwood Consultants. It is being planned as a top-notch global financial centre to rival London, New York and Hong Kong.

On a more immediate time scale, it is being built to attract companies from Mumbai, Gurgaon and even Bangalore. After the initial flurry of announcements, the project entered a stage of lull due to the global economic meltdown in 2008. With the city being granted permission last November to operate as a multi-services SEZ, the Gujarat government is keen to take it forward quickly.

The stock exchanges of London, Tokyo and Singapore have evinced interest in setting up offices in GIFT, as have many Indian banks. Singapore Co-operation Enterprises, a government agency, has just signed an agreement with GIFT to develop a banking enclave.

"Liberty to transact in foreign currency at the IFSC in GIFT will significantly raise foreign firms' investment and participation in India," says SS Thakur, former chairman of HDFC and former controller of foreign exchange in the Reserve Bank of India. Similar financial centres in Hong Kong, Dubai, China, Malaysia, the UK (London) and the US (New York) contribute 5-60% of GDP of their respective countries. GIFT is expected to create 10 lakh jobs in 10 years.

Fairwood Consultants, which developed the first master plan, had envisaged a 'next-class city'. It proposed 110 buildings with the tallest being 88 stories. "God does not give us land anymore," says Vikas Chopra, senior vice-president of Fairwood, which is no longer associated with the project. Concentrating urban life into a small area was an eminently 21st Century concept as it made many services cost-effective and environment-friendly.

However, GIFT will have to wait a while to go vertical. Currently, it has clearance to build only up to 122 metres since the airport is seven km away. In 6-7 years, the airport will shift to a new location, allowing GIFT to soar high.

GIFT had made changes to the original plan, which had proposed subterranean roads and four levels of underground parking, leaving the surface purely for pedestrians. It had also envisaged a Personal Rapid Transit System similar to the one operational at London's Heathrow airport and one planned for Amritsar. Now, the parking will be on the surface since underground parking and roads are too expensive.

The Personal Mass Rapid Transit System has been dropped as the Metro would come right up to GIFT. However, cars will remain in the periphery as residents and visitors will use district-cooled, moving walkways to get to the city centre. The city is being planned in such a way that future planners do not have to dig for 100 years.

The first phase of GIFT would experiment with new technology concepts to see if they can be replicated on a larger scale. It would involve two 30-storey buildings with around 10,000 people working inside. The investment for infrastructure in this phase would be Rs 1,400 crore, and around Rs 10,000 crore for all the three phases. The city would need a total investment of Rs 78,000 crore.

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