Business Today

Urban renewal: Diamond in the rust

     Print Edition: Jan 6, 2013

In 1994, Surat , in Gujarat, saw an exodus as the fear of a plague outbreak led people to flee the city in droves. Today, things have come full circle - Surat is witnessing a migrant influx from across India. In terms of living standards, it is ahead of other cities. Indeed, in 2010, Business Today pointed out that Surat was ahead of most cities on three key parameters that make a city liveable: water supply, sanitation and roads. And that has led it to be cited as a model for other cities seeking to urbanise in an orderly fashion.

97% the proportion of Surat's 4.5 mn residents who get piped water. By March 2013, Surat could become India's first city to have 100% piped water.

Ironically, India's ninth-largest city may have to thank the epidemic fears of 1994 for its resurgence. That incident, says Manoj Kumar Das, Surat's municipal commissioner, was a wake-up call. But, he adds, the city did not function by a different set of rules to transform itself. It simply did the same things better. The sanitation system was overhauled. Basic health care has been made available to every section of society. And the water supply system has been modernised - 97 per cent of the city's 4.5 million people residents get piped water today, says Das. The rest will get it by March 2013, he adds, making Surat possibly the first city to have 100 per cent piped water supply.

The city is developing commercially viable and environmentally sustainable infrastructure. "The citizens are ready to support and experiment," says Das. For instance, piped water is not subsidised, but slum dwellers pay less. A waste water treatment project will be completed by the end of this financial year. The corporation is working to generate 40 per cent - 35 megawatts - of its power needs through renewable energy. Some 15 MW is already being generated.

Diamonds, textiles and engineering are the city's main industries. These, along with quality of life, are attracting investment. Paresh Patel, who heads the local industry chamber, says a 15 sq km area around Surat now has an investment of Rs 1.2 trillion (a trillion is 100,000 crore).

The city has dealt well with the influx of migrant workers, says Das, a computer engineer from IIT Kharagpur. For instance, government schools offer instruction in seven languages, including Oriya and Marathi.

Openness to migrants and the positive attitude of both the government and populace bode well for Surat's future.

Sanjiv Shankaran

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