Drastic policy change is must

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Neeraj Gulati_MD_Assotech Realty (P) LtdNeeraj Gulati
Assotech Realty MD

Create separate service for urban planning
like we have IAS, IFS: Assotech MD Gulati

Though not too critical of the recent Budget and rather comfortable with the Government’s focus on affordable housing, Assotech Realty MD Neeraj Gulati is highly disillusioned with the way the much-ambitious Smart City project is being handled. In an interview to Realty & More Editor Palash Roy, Gulati seemed quite cut-up with the bureaucracy which, he said, had “no idea, no vision” what a smart city is. Creating smart cities is a very daunting and challenging job, according to Gulati, and given the existing structure, they can never come up in the country in the true sense.
The real estate veteran is of the opinion that urban planning should not be left to IAS officers and “we need to create a separate service for this, like we have the IAS, IFS, IRS, etc.” Comparing his working experience within India and Maldives, where his company has recently started a housing project on Government-leased land, Assotech MD said the decision-making there is very fast. “The sanctions and clearances happen faster than in India, and there’s very little red tape, which is an advantage”, he added.

Read all this and much more that Gulati had to share with R&M in this no-holds-barred interview:

Palash Roy: The Union Budget 2018 didn’t have much for the real estate sector. Do you feel the sector has missed the bus?

Neeraj Gulati: I wouldn’t say so because lots of things had happened for the sector prior to the Budget. How these things play out is also important to see. Therefore, we can’t say having missed the bus as such. But, yes, a lot could have happened with focus towards construction sector, real estate sector and housing as such.

PR: The Government seems to be focussed on affordable housing. Do you feel it is ignoring the middle and luxury housing segments?

NG: I think there is no problem with this. I don’t find anything wrong with this kind of policy because the real push is required only towards low-cost housing or affordable housing. Policy focus has to be towards the economically weaker segment. For the other segments, market forces take care of those as per the demand-supply scenario. There is enough structure of policies available to regulate the middle and upper segments. Their right enforcement is required, like ensuring that RERA is properly in place in all the states so that both buyers and developers are benefited.

PR: A big policy decision of this Government was the ambitious Smart City project. Do you think much is happening on the ground?

NG: I don’t think so. Nobody has any clue what a smart city is, what it entails? When I say nobody, I mean the bureaucracy which has to implement it. It has no idea, no vision. They have no idea what smart city is. So if they don’t know what it is, how will they implement it? So in my opinion smart city or urban planning in general is not only a cause of concern, it is a cause of worry in whole of India. It is so because the people who are decision-makers in cities, they are not qualified to do that. If they are not qualified to do urban planning, how will they be qualified to execute smart cities? ‘

When we are talking about developing smart cities, we are talking about development sustainable on a long-term basis, centuries-basis, communities which we are talking about. It is not about wireless and Wi-Fi. You are talking about real growing population and settling that population, and how will you do that. So in my opinion, all the urban development Authorities need to be manned by urban planners and not IAS officers. We need to create a separate service for this, like we have the IAS, IFS, IRS, etc., we should have urban planning service. Authorities need to be manned by town planners, who are qualified to do the job. The town planners can possibly be assisted by IAS officers.

Also every Authority should constitute a board, a board which can look after the various services – the availability of water in that area, availability of other resources in that area, the connectivity issues in that area, and various other issues, so that committee should have representatives from these. Also these committees should have key religious leaders of that area so all issues of that area related to religious structures are taken care of in the planning itself. This is my vision of smart cities as smart cities essentially mean sustainable cities – cities without carbon, where garbage disposal is taken care of and common areas or community areas are taken care of.

  • A lot could have happened (in the Budget) with focus towards construction sector, real estate sector and housing.
  • The real push is required only towards low-cost housing or affordable housing. Policy focus has to be towards the economically weaker segment.
  • It (the bureaucracy) has no idea, no vision. They have no idea what smart city is. So if they don’t know what it is, how will they implement it?
  • All the urban development Authorities need to be manned by urban planners and not IAS officers. We need to create a separate service for this, like we have the IAS, IFS, IRS, etc.
  • Looking at the mess that has happened in the name of urbanisation, creating smart cities is a very daunting and challenging job.
  • You have to know what smart city is, and who can execute it? Only technical people can execute this and not the administrative people.
  • We are employing Green technologies which are necessary to make the building sustainable. There is efficiency in the building in terms of usability, and then there is energy efficiency in terms of sustainability.
  • We recently started construction in our Maldives project, which is a housing project on a leasehold land with the Government of Maldives. This nearly 200-unit project shall be completed in two years.
  • By and large there is a single-window clearance (in Maldives). There are only two-three departments one has to go to, everything is managed through them only.

PR: What you are saying is changing the entire policy framework?

NG: Absolutely. This doesn’t require just an announcement, that smart cities will be made. For example you want to make Gurugram a smart city. But look at the mess which is created there. How will you overnight make it a smart city? You have to know what smart city is, and who can execute it? Only technical people can execute this and not the administrative people.

PR: Looking at the concerns you are raising, do you think we will ever have smart cities in our country the true sense?

NG:  Looking at the mess that has happened in the name of urbanisation, creating smart cities is a very daunting and challenging job. It will be good idea to have urban extensions to the existing cities, which are smarter, but then as I said you have to change the policy drastically, otherwise it is not going to happen. This is the reason that we are talking on this for the last four years, but nothing much is visible on the ground.

PR: Let’s talk about your NCR project ABC. While developing this project have you taken enough measures to make it a smart building?

NG: Absolutely! Our building is comparable with any building in the world anywhere in its category that is IT and ITeS. We are employing Green technologies which are necessary to make the building sustainable. There is efficiency in the building in terms of usability, and then there is energy efficiency in terms of sustainability. It is a LEED Gold rated building. We have recently launched the second phase of the project, and the initial response is good. We plan to finish the second phase by the end of 2019.

PR: Any other projects in the offing?

NG: Right now we are holding on. We will see how the market moves and then we will plan any new project in the country. Outside India we recently started construction in our Maldives project, which is a housing project on a leasehold land with the Government of Maldives. This nearly 200-unit project shall be completed in two years. Being our first international project, this is an important project for us.

PR: What difference do you find in working in the two countries – India and Maldives?

NG: The decision making of the Government is very fast there. The sanctions and clearances happen faster than in India, and there’s very little red tape, which is an advantage.

PR: Is there a single-window clearance there?

NG: Yes. By and large there is a single-window clearance. There are only two-three departments one has to go to, everything is managed through them only. And that is the reason the processes happen extremely fast.