India's smart city push gets boost from the UAE

A Dubai-owned IT and business park in Kochi in the south Indian state of Kerala launched yesterday following years of delays.

It comes as the Indian government gears up to spend as much as US$580 million across 20 cities chosen under the smart cities programme set up by Narendra Modi, the prime minister.

It marks the first phase of a plan to develop 100 cities into so-called smart cities by 2020.

SmartCity Kochi, a joint venture between Dubai Holding’s Tecom Investments and the government of Kerala, inaugurated its first phase, which includes a 650,000 square foot IT tower.

The project has had a series of setbacks since it was proposed more than a decade ago, including opposition, land disputes and red tape.

“This is a very important milestone for the United Arab Emirates government and for Dubai Holding,” said Mohammad Al Gergawi, the UAE’s Minister Of Cabinet Affairs and the chairman of Dubai Holding, speaking at a ceremony yesterday in Kochi, which was attended by Indian state and central government politicians.

“India is the UAE’s largest trading partner and the UAE is India’s third-largest trading partner,” said Mr Al Gergawi, explaining the importance of the historic and present day bonds between India and the UAE and Kerala in particular.

Indians from Kerala account for the largest group of expats in the UAE of any state in India, he said.

The design of SmartCity Kochi is based on the Dubai Internet City and Dubai Media City developments. Dubai Holding hopes to tap India’s burgeoning IT sector.

SmartCity Kochi is expected to employ 90,000 people by 2020, who might otherwise have travelled to other parts of India, Europe or the Gulf region for work opportunities.

Rajiv Pratap Rudy, India’s minister of skill development and entrepreneurship, said: “India is a huge country and the government of India, the prime minister, has launched the smart cities project. Kochi figures in that shortlisting and such projects across the country will build up a network, which will not only facilitate what we are doing within the country, but it will also facilitate our linkage internationally.”

Yusuff Ali, the managing director of the UAE-based LuLu Group, who is from Kerala, played an important role as a special invitee to the board of SmartCity in helping the project come to fruition.

The launch of the project follows the Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed’s visit to India this month, Mr Ali said, adding that the UAE was “happy” with the launch of the project and that the UAE “will do more projects like this in other [Indian] states, more IT parks”.

SmartCity Kochi “is a hub that IT companies from all over the world can come to”, Mr Ali said.

An educated workforce in Kerala was “sufficiently available”, he said.

Kerala has the highest literacy rate of any state in India.

When asked about the obstacles that SmartCity Kochi faced, Mr Ali said: “Initially any project will have challenges because there are a lot of rules and regulations. The Kerela government was very helpful and the Dubai government was patient.”

Oommen Chandy, the chief minister of Kerala, said that with SmartCity Kochi, a centuries-old relationship between Kerala and Dubai had “become even more deep and strong”.

The development would not only have a positive effect on Kochi’s economy, but the entire economy of the state of Kerala.

Twenty-seven companies are signed up to have operations in the first IT tower of the project, some of which have started fit-out work on their offices. They are expected to start operating out of those offices within three to four months.

The president of India, Pranab Mukherjee, in a written statement described the launch of SmartCity Kochi “as yet another milestone in the glorious relationship between the United Arab Emirates and India”.

He said that the project would help put Kochi and Kerala “on the map as a much sought after destination for knowledge industries”.

The developers announced yesterday that work on the second phase of SmartCity Kochi was also being launched and that it was expected to be completed within three years.

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