Build infra, ban construction

As the smog settles, we will be able to see beyond the smokescreen. And the picture does not look too different yet, despite major efforts in keeping our spirits soaring by our PM who is on overdrive in screening favourable optics, one after another. Once the winter chill wanes, financial thrills may take over because the political (as well as the polluting particulate) dust will not settle easily. The Budget will be more about taxation as exemptions will end and the government will step up its easy money source: Service tax. The statistical jugglery that has confounded economists as to how the scales of our GDP changed (the base year was changed to 2011-12 from 2004-05 in January by the Central Statistics Office) has killed the pulse of the GDP number. The other numbers do not indicate an uptick as yet.

In a way, the courts have come to the rescue of the automobile industry after punishing it for its contribution to pollution. A notification to come into effect in January would seek to retire roughly 3.4 million commercial vehicles (CVs) older than 15 years from the Indian roads. Vehicular pollution contributes to 20-25 per cent of the pollution in the city. CVs contribute to nearly 74 per cent of the air pollution caused by all vehicles in the city. This will be a win-win for both the residents of the cities and the CV sector. The other silver lining emerging is the advent of commercial mining. The coal ministry has identified about six coal blocks for allotment to public sector units (PSUs) for commercial mining. Mining activity coupled with the phase-out of old CVs will be a big bonanza for the CV industry. FDI in construction-development projects fell by over 38 per cent during the year ending March 2015 to $758 million compared to $1,226 million in FY14.

FDI flow has remained weak this year with just $34 million of investments in the April-June quarter of this fiscal. The poor pick-up in the inflow is owing to the slow approval process. Despite the ´ease of doing business´ initiative, even the CM of Maharashtra is struggling to break the mafia impasse that stonewalls the approval process and runs an extortion racket under his nose. Even the Environment Ministry approvals have not improved and remain contentious. In a way, this is good, as cities barely have any capacity to carry the weight of high-rise towers. Ideally, construction in cities with a population over 5 million should be banned until and unless the municipal corporation can provide proof of the capacity per capita in terms of ability of the city to handle traffic, sewerage, and provide water and power.

These cut-off capacities should be published on their websites permanently and should be sacrosanct in implementation, or else all – Pune, Ahmedabad, Hyderabad, Chennai, Bengaluru, Kolkata and Mumbai – will follow Delhi in becoming dangerous cities. (Already, 13 of the world´s 20 most polluted cities are in India.) Delhi is bathing in dust as construction debris and dust are contributing to 45 per cent of the pollution in the city. So while the CM of Delhi is at his wits´ end over the odd-even car scheme, the real culprit goes unchecked. A city administration must develop city infra projects to raise the capacities of services before giving a nod to growth. As metro projects progress in a dozen Indian cities, as roads projects accelerate to reach 30 km per day, and as real estate construction gathers momentum to build even higher towers dotting the skyline, we need to set a framework so that the growth of a city is not at the cost of the life of its citizens.

After setting new benchmarks in infrastructure and construction publishing and then inorganically assuming leadership in engineering too, ASAPP is on the move again. In 2016, it aims to fortify its leadership in all three ICE sectors, namely infrastructure, construction & engineering. Its latest digital product will be relaunched early 2016. Its digital abilities are being scaled up and its brands will soar new heights. Its events too will accelerate into a new stratosphere. ASAPP has donned a new name in keeping with its mission to be an ´information brands´ company.