Hailed as ‘India’s Singapore’: Dholera, dressed up and waiting
18th May 2023 | Source by https://indianexpress.com
From the time it was announced in 2008, in sync with the announcement of the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor (DMIC) by the then UPA government at the Centre, the Dholera Special Investment Region - packing in a port, a metro, an industrial smart city, and an international airport - missed its initial timelines. It now appears to be slowly taking shape.
About 110 km southwest of Ahmedabad, 35 km from the Indus Valley Civilization site of Lothal, and some 200 km from the Pipavav Port in Bhavnagar, on the dusty bare landscape of Dholera, an occasional backhoe or a road roller are signs of activity in Gujarat’s first Special Investment Region (SIR) carved out from villages of two talukas.
The Ahmedabad-Dholera Investment Region was prioritised over the Bharuch-Dahej Petroleum, Chemicals and Petrochemicals Investment Region (PCPIR), as part of Phase-1 of the Centre’s DMIC project in 2011, on a recommendation from the Gujarat government led by Narendra Modi at the time as the chief minister.
Envisioned as a “city built from dust”, the development at Dholera SIR is largely limited to 22.5 sq km of space called the “Activation Area”. This is just 2.5 per cent of the total 920 sq km expanse of the planned greenfield city coming up in a low-lying, flood-prone, and salinity-affected zone located at the northern coastal tip of the Gulf of Khambhat.
The Special Purpose Vehicle for the project – Dholera Industrial City Development Ltd (DICDL) – is building over 600 houses in the SIR to be rented out where Rs 2,700 crore worth of “trunk infrastructure” has been planned.
Dholera SIR is the biggest of the eight smart cities proposed to be built on the DMIC, besides other greenfield smart cities – Ghaziabad (Uttar Pradesh), Jodhpur, and Khushkhera Bhiwadi Neemrana (Rajasthan), Aurangabad (Maharashtra), Pithampur (Madhya Pradesh) and Bawal (Haryana). The Centre and the Gujarat government together will spend Rs 7,000 crore on a metro rail, Rs 7,000 crore on the expressway to Ahmedabad, Rs 2,000 crore on the international airport, and Rs 300 crore on a railway line between Bhimnath to Dholera, besides a port link to Pipavav in the connectivity plans for this new city that signages call “New Dholera”.
Being constructed as a “dig-free” city, like GIFT City in Gandhinagar, Dholera SIR, conceived by Modi, has been hailed as India’s own “Singapore”, “Shanghai” and “Kobe”.
“We have floated an Expression of Interest to build 600 affordable rental homes in Dholera SIR. These are houses meant to satiate the demand for housing for the employees who will soon work here. We will decide on the design based on the demand from industries. We have reserved space for building villas and apartments within the SIR,” said Dilip Brahmbhatt, General Manager, DICDL, where Gujarat has a 51 per cent stake and Centre 49 per cent. Brahmbhatt, who has been associated with the project for over a decade, visits the site once a week to review. Currently, only 25-odd persons work at Dholera SIR, some from nearby villages and a few from Ahmedabad who pool a ride to work.
The houses will be built under the Affordable Rental Housing Complexes (ARHCs), a sub-scheme of Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana- Urban that aims to provide homes to employees near their workplaces. Dholera SIR aims to accommodate 20 lakh residents and create employment for eight lakh people by 2040.
Though Phase-1 of the project was supposed to be spread over 153 sq km and completed by 2020, the government decided to develop the “Activation Area” of 22.5 sq km keeping investors and visitors in focus. When The Indian Express visited the site last week, projects with completion deadlines of 2018-19 were still lying incomplete.
Hareet Shukla, Managing Director of DICDL, however, asserts that 95 per cent of the work in the Activation Area “is complete”.
The completed trunk infrastructure includes 72 km of four-lane roads with cycle tracks and utility channels for electricity cables, optical fibre cables, sewage, and water supply lines running parallel to the road where smart street lights automatically light up at dusk. These roads cover 80-odd industrial plots — marked in purple — and residential zones — marked in yellow — on the activation zone map at the DICDL office, which is currently the nerve centre for all developments.
Then there is a petrol pump, bus stands, and signage. A six-km-long canal front with harvested rainwater cuts through the area, and canopies on its banks protect visitors from the sun. The white patches on the ground are from the encrusted salt.
The DICDL has built nine water tanks –the round-shaped ones for storing recycled water and square ones to store fresh water. Their outer wall was painted with figures found on seals excavated from Lothal like unicorns, mountain goats, tigers, and bulls. The bridge on the canal has paintings of the Indus Valley script. There is also a Common Effluent Treatment Plant, Sewage Treatment Plant, water pumping station, and electricity distribution network. But there is no industry yet. “This is a different kind of project. Mostly infrastructure is built after a town grows and expands; first people come and then water and sewage infrastructure follows. Here (at Dholera) everything is systematically planned for future industrial and residential development. Whatever is needed for a town – including the airport, expressway, and railways – is being built beforehand,” says Shukla. “Lothal was a planned city with a dedicated water-supply system, drainage, and structured housing. Now, we are developing a similar city with the latest technology. We are trying to develop a synergy between Lothal and Dholera and so we have recreated some of the ancient pictorial inscriptions from the seals and excavations at Dholera SIR. This is largely being done for beautification purposes,” says Brahmbhatt.
To prevent rampant flooding in the low-lying region, there will be bunds on Adhiya and Sukhbhadar rivers. Provisions have also been made to divert all water inside the Activation Area into the six-kilometre-long canal, which is expected to get longer as the project progresses.
The DIDCL has so far allotted land to only four entities in the SIR. These include Torrent Power (for setting up a power distribution network) and Hindustan Petroleum (for setting up petrol pump and electric vehicle charging station), said officials. The only industrial unit that is under construction at the SIR is that of Renew Power, which is setting up solar cell and module manufacturing units on 100 acres, promising to employ 400 workers initially.
Tata Chemicals has been allotted 126 acres for setting up a lithium-ion battery manufacturing plant. However, the groundwork for the project is yet to begin. Vedanta-Foxconn, an anchor investor in Dholera SIR, that promised to invest Rs 1.5 lakh crore, is yet to be allotted land.
While Renew Power and Tata Chemicals got land at least 30 per cent discount, Vedanta Foxconn is expected to get 250 acres at 75 per cent discount under the new semiconductor policy of the Gujarat government, as per people privy to the matter.
Under the Gujarat Semiconductor Policy (2022-27), the state government now plans to build a “Semicon city” on 5,000-10,000 acres in Dholera SIR where both land and power will be provided at subsidised rates.
Private real-estate developers have been quick to react to the opportunity. “The earlier you invest, the earlier you gain and earn” screams a hoarding at the entrance to the Activation Area. “Invest in Land, Invest in the future,” reads another. One developer has installed a blue-and-white model of a plane to hard-sell land adjacent to the Dholera International Airport. About 100 developers from the Ahmedabad wing of CREDAI met Dholera SIR officials last month and sought special incentives as the construction cost — that will include piling and landfilling — will be much higher in the SIR.
Dholera International Airport
Earthmovers and trucks can be seen levelling 1,426 hectares of land at Navagam village, 28 km from the Dholera SIR where the Airports Authority of India (AAI) is building an international airport at a cost of Rs 1,305 crore. Its two parallel runways are planned to handle wide-bodied long-haul aircraft such as A380s amid hopes to offload the Ahmedabad International Airport.
Sonu Kumar, a migrant from Bibipur near Varanasi who is a crane operator on the site, says, “They fly drones every evening to take a stock of the work that has happened. Currently, landfilling work is underway. We work around six months a year, as this area gets waterlogged after rain.”
The Phase-1 of the airport with a 3,200-metre-long runway has a 2025 deadline. It is expected to handle 15 lakh passengers annually. The second runway of 3,800 metres is expected to come in Phase-2. Apart from the runways, the proposed developments include taxiways, 12 aprons, a perimeter road, and a terminal building. Once complete, the airport is expected to handle 100 million passengers a year. The work on the project began largely after the AAI had picked a 51 per cent equity in Dholera International Airport Company Limited (DIACL) in 2018. Formed way back in 2012, the DIACL is currently a joint venture between AAI, the Government of Gujarat, and the National Industrial Corridor Development and Implementation Trust.
The four-lane access controlled, 108 km-long road is set to be the link between the Sardar Patel Ring Road in Ahmedabad to Dholera SIR. Being built at a cost of Rs 4,200 crore, it is planned to connect the international airport and the SIR by January 2024.
The expressway promises to reduce the two-hour travel time from Ahmedabad to Dholera by half. About 38 km of the expressway project – which began in 2021 – passes through the Dholera SIR where more than 35 per cent of the work is complete. A sizable section of the expressway being built by the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) is kept elevated due to the rivers and water bodies in the salinity-affected SIR.
The new 32-km-long Bhimnath-Dholera rail link will connect with the Western Dedicated Freight Corridor at Sanand. This rail link connected to the existing railway network at Botad will require the acquisition of 15 hectares of forest land and will benefit both passenger and freight movement at the SIR. Currently, land acquisition for the project is underway, where 16 km of the proposed rail line will pass inside the SIR. “About 80 per cent of the land acquisition is completed and we expect to release the tender shortly,” says Shukla. The DICDL plans to develop it on a Non-Governmental Railway model, which is essentially a private model of construction.
After toying with the idea to develop the old Dholera Port, the government shelved it in 2009 after deciding to build the Kalpasar project, a tidal dam project across the Gulf of Khambhat. Now the only port link for the SIR lies 200 km away at Pipavav. The project is also expected to be linked with the Ahmedabad metro rail project.
Once the 22.5 sq km of Activation Area is saturated, the DICDL plans to take up an additional 55 sq km of development at the SIR. DICDL twice floated an Expression of Interest to build a hospital and school in the SIR. With nobody coming forward, the company is expected to try a third time.