Prime Minister Narendra Modi has delivered each of the promises he had made during his time as the Chief Minister of Gujarat—be it about Narmada’s water reaching each village for drinking and irrigation, converting canals into underground pipelines to ensure water reaches villages in Gujarat, making the state the solar power capital with an energy surplus, 16 hours of uninterrupted electric power supply for farmers, toilets in each household, raising the height of the Sardar Sarovar, or building the Statue of Unity, which now stands tall in the tribal region of the Narmada, employing thousands of youths.
A few days back, news arrived about Tata Power doing bhoomi pujan for 400 MW solar power plants at Dholera SIR (Special Investment Region). Amid the worldwide slowdown of real estate and infrastructure, this has brought a new life for the industries. The project is part of the 5,000 MW solar power plant which the government of Gujarat is setting up for the future-ready smart city of Dholera, which had been conceived and planned by the then Chief Minister, Narendra Modi.
Another significant development, which happened on 18 September this year in Gujarat, was the first approval for project development being issued by the Dholera Development Authority & Real Estate Regulatory Authority (RERA) to the developer, GAP Associate Pvt Ltd. This might seem like an ordinary action but it is actually special. It is the result of 11 years of hard work, and part of the promise made by Narendra Modi: “Jis project ka bhoomi pujan hum karenge, uska lokarpan bhi hum hi karke jayenge (Projects conceived by us will be completed in our time).”
Dholera is an ancient port city and was an affluent destination in the past. The famous 5,000-year-old Lothal port was part of it. The 350-year-old temple of the Swaminarayan sect, established by the first guru, is also still there and visited by thousands of devotees each year.
Five hundred years ago, when Karnavati (Ahmedabad) was established by Karn Solanki, the Chalukya king of Patan, the focus of development and business had shifted to the new city. Of course, nature played a big role and Bhal Pradesh started seeing frequent droughts which made people migrate to other places for their livelihoods. However, with the construction of check dams across Saurashtra-Kutch, the area saw a steep rise in rains and groundwater. The barren lands of Saurashtra started yielding gold for farmers in the early years of the century, and people came back from places like Mumbai, Surat, Ahmedabad and Vadodara, to cultivate their fields again. Today, with Narmada’s water reaching Saurashtra, those green days are back.
I think this change is what brought the idea of setting up a green city to Modi in 2007, when he was elected Chief Minister again with a thumping majority. The idea of choosing Dholera may sound orthodox to his critics, but it reposes faith in and respects the knowledge of our ancestors. A grand old city, with its own port and drainage system 5,000 years ago, when the rest of the world was using leaves to cover their bodies and wandering in jungles—isn’t that inspiring?
The idea was put forth and action initiated. The Special Industrial Region Act was envisaged and enacted in 2009. The world-class planner Halcrow was engaged in planning the city, which will have the simplicity of village life with the amenities of a world-class metro. The vast 920 sq km land was carved out of 27 villages and given the name of Dholera. From 2009 to 2014, measuring and planning sectors, road grids, dividing the place into industrial zones, residential and commercial areas, demarcating district and city centres, schools and colleges, marketplaces, and zones for high-rise skyscrapers and recreation, planning sea-face development and 250-metre trunk infrastructure, allocating a dedicated international airport and seaport for smooth cargo handling, setting up metro connectivity from Ahmedabad, etc, were carried out, and a draft town planning was ready in April 2014, the year of the general elections.
Dholera SIR has some unique features. Farmers will not lose their lands, the government will provide world-class infrastructure with future-ready provisions free of cost, and landowners will get 50% of their undeveloped land, which is usually 40% in other parts of the country. Farmers can also sell and develop residential, industrial, and commercial projects on their lands or enter into partnerships. For the remaining 50%, farmers will get compensation from the government, even though the government hasn’t acquired it yet.
In 2017, L&T was assigned the infrastructure development work, at a cost of Rs 2,000 crore for a 22.5 sq km area, known as the activation area. A few other construction companies got the responsibility of the central administrative building, water treatment plant, sewage treatment plant, ETP, power plant, and the protection diaphragm wall around the city. The government has spent over Rs 5,000 crore so far and the 22.5 sq km area is ready to plug and play. Industries can come and start production within six months’ time of their arrival as they do not have to develop any infrastructure, as all facilities are already at their battery limits. Tata has procured land to establish a Li-ion battery for automobiles at Dholera SIR and is going to start work soon, and the GAP group has also received RERA approval for project development.
This is the fruit of 13 years of hard work by the man driving the country forward. Dholera will generate six lakh jobs in the next five to ten years. It will halve the burden of cities like Surat, Ahmedabad, Vadodara and Rajkot and stop migration from villages. The construction of a four-lane expressway between Ahmedabad and Dholera SIR is also under progress with the aim of connecting the cities with just a one-hour journey.
Dholera SIR has become more significant after the pandemic. People are now moving away from dense city lives to village-style living, but with the availability of modern-day facilities at walking distance and at workplaces. Dholera is also designed in such a way that one would not have to move more than 3 km for working from home. Moreover, no home will be lesser than 200 sq m, no factory lesser than 1,000 sq m, and no road lesser than 18 metres. Even society roads are 12 m wide. More importantly, no polluting industries will be allowed in the city.
People often ask about what happened to the promise of Dholera SIR which Modi had promised 12 year back. The answer is that cities take hundreds of years to develop, and compared to that, the kind of progress Dholera has made in the last 10 years is phenomenal. We cannot criticise Modi for the sake of criticising—even Gurugram and Noida are still under development. The cheap land prices are also a big advantage as even the lower middle class would be able to own houses here. But what keeps Dholera apart from other cities is that it will be a green industrial city with world-class industries. Now it is for the commerce and industry ministries to invite manufacturers and move them away from China.
The writer is Research Scholar, Sardar Vallabhbhai National Institute of Technology, Surat. The views expressed are personal.