As Britain comes to terms with a post Brexit world much focus is shifting to increasing trade ties with the Commonwealth. A new Free Trade Agreement with India will be a priority for the next Prime Minister. But what can Britain expect to find in India nearly 70 years on from Independence? Here IndiaGBnews correspondent ,and India expert, Aline Dobbie recalls her visits to the innovative Mahindra World City (http://mwcclub.mahindraworldcity.com) developments in Chennai and Jaipur.
Much has happened in the UK since I put pen to paper for this article and indeed one can scarcely believe the sheer onslaught of daily news. However, it is because of the huge decision by a large number of voters that Great Britain should leave the EU that this country’s future economically has been thrown into question. Well, it seems the FTSE is climbing back to more than respectable levels by the time I write and countries are queueing up to seek Trade Agreements with the UK. That is so encouraging. India however should, in my mind, be at the front of that queue (I was not the first person to use that word but mine is being used in a constructive welcoming sense) along with Australia, Canada and New Zealand. It would seem that those who will be in power in the USA after their presidential election think likewise.
I want to tell you about Mahindra and some of the ideas that great Indian Group has had which are now shown to be successful and beneficial not only to them as a group but indeed to India as a whole.
In 2014 when I met and briefly chatted with Dominic Barton the Global CEO of McKinsey and Company at his Asia Scotland Institute talk we spoke of India and that I had written Quicklook at India to help foreign business people understand and respect this great ancient land which is fast forwarding into the 21st century. Dominic very kindly and spontaneously said he wanted me to read Reimagining India which is a collection of thoughts of distinguished leaders and business people who are either Indian or of Indian origin put together by McKinsey. True to his word the book arrived with a personal note.
I immediately dipped into this fascinating book and came across the words of Anand Mahindra who is a most distinguished well respected leader of industry. I congratulated him on Twitter and this led to me being invited to visit Mahindra World Cities. In 2015 Graham and I visited the Mahindra World City next to Chennai.
For me who was born and brought up in India this immediately resonated with me strongly as the city is now some 15 years old and maturing nicely. It is green with great trees and parkland and shrubbery giving shade and respite from the heat of Tamil Nadu. It is very well maintained with clean roads and pavements, nicely designed industrial units and now residential avenues with different sizes of accommodation from villas to flats. A hospital was being developed and a community club. Mahindra World School had been in operation for years and we had the great pleasure of visiting the school and I had been invited to talk to some of the pupils. What a bright articulate bunch they were and it was really heartening to see this school. I should emphasise this is not a school for elite but across the social spectrum. Within the MWC Chennai boundaries there continue to exist three villages that have been on that land for decades if not centuries and these have not been bull dozed but incorporated. The children from these communities are also deriving great education from the World School. It is well laid out with nice grounds, airy classrooms and plenty to make them all very proud. I loved it.
It was Aristotle who said ‘A great city is not to be confounded with a populous one’. Hmm, in India where the population is 1.2 billion and anticipated to reach 1.5 billion by 2030 with the urban population doubling to 560 million that is a difficult pronouncement but yes laudable aspiration.
The economic centre of gravity is shifting to China and India and unplanned urbanization is affecting society, the economy and the environment of India and other developing countries. Therefore, when Mahindra initiated Mahindra World Cities to help transform India’s urban landscapes by creating sustainable places where people find work and can fulfil their normal aspirations it was a real step forward in India. Sustainability is the most vital word that is essential in thinking about urbanisation…. after all, through millennia history has shown us that cities were built and were grand and gave forth art and culture and wealth but if there was not a way of sustaining the populations therein then they withered and left us with wonderful great heritage sites….as a travel writer I have probably been round most of these impressive places which intrigue us today.
Jaipur is the second Mahindra World City and is only five years old so not in any way as green and matured as Chennai. But it is twice as big in area. Together these two MWC cover 4,550 acres. Each one is committed to building and creating new economic nerve centres and already there are over 120 Blue Chip Clients from across the world who have made their headquarters in one or other. For example: Prominent Clients in Chennai are: Infosys, Wipro, BMW, Renault-Nissaon, Mahindra Research Valley, Lear Corporation, Timken. I saw Cap Gemini and other world brands and was able to visit Srinivasa Fashions Ltd in the Chennai MWC which was exporting designer clothes to the West as well as in India. The factory floor was good and healthy in a splendid environment. Prominent Clients in Jaipur are: Infosys, Deutsche Bank, MetLife, Genpact, JCB, Rexam, Perto, Mahindra & Mahindra, Gaston Energy, EXL, Appirio, etc. JCB has its largest Asian HQ in MWC at Jaipur.
Last year we lunched with the MWC CEO Sangeeta Prasad who flew in from Mumbai to meet us. She is a most impressive young lady and also a Chevening Scholar. This year in February we were the guests of Sanjay Srivastava the COO of MWC in Jaipur. He took the trouble to come to our hotel and meet us and we travelled the 30 minutes in our chauffeured car so that we could talk…. a thoughtful gesture indeed. We met with his senior colleagues and received a presentation and then went on a tour. One has to realise that Jaipur, the capital of Rajasthan is in a semi desert area but they have that challenge in hand with their own nursery garden for trees and shrubs and plants that will ‘green the vast expanses’; there are also rainwater harvesting facilities. I am sure in five years’ time were I to return it will look very good and green. There is not yet a school here because as yet residential properties have not been built, the employees live in Jaipur but all that will come as it progresses.
37,000 people are employed overall at MWC Chennai and 9,512 people in MWC Jaipur.
MWC Jaipur is one of 16 founding projects in the Clinton Climate Initiative’s ‘Climate Positive’ Programme. MWC at Chennai belongs to the India Green Business Council. At Chennai they have a 75 KW Solar power plant and extensive water conservation and reuse regimes and Jaipur is doing likewise. MWC Jaipur is Asia’s first and world’s largest project to reach C40 Climate Positive Development Programme Stage 2.
I return to my memories of the India in which I grew up with 400 million people and now it is three times that population. This has inevitably brought great strain on the whole of society and sometimes one feels there are areas that are broken, but Indians are immensely determined and courageous and aspiration is their second nature. As a young woman I recall in my work coming across the plans for some of the post WW2 New Towns in Scotland…East Kilbride I saw in 1965 when still a teenager, Livingston, Glenrothes which I have never visited and Dalgety Bay. Construction of the modern town of Dalgety Bay as Scotland’s first “enterprise town” began around 1962 on the land of the airstrip and much of the remaining ground of the Earls of Moray family seat, Donibristle House. Dalgety Bay often now wins awards for best kept town and is proud of that fact…it brought rejuvenation to that area of Fife and has matured very well.
In my childhood memories and our archive photos we see the wide roads that had been built when India was under British rule with huge great trees on either side; there was room for cattle, buffaloes, the goatherd with his flock and the bullock carts and the occasional elephant or camels in the north in places like Rajasthan. The memory is of different strata of developing Indian society going about their business, and of course there were the ubiquitous lorries thundering along vividly painted and usually overloaded! Nothing much changed there….and yes the camels are still very much in evidence and the occasional elephants. The main National Highways are not supposed to have four legged friends on them or bullock carts and by and large are now free of that rustic traffic….. but not always!
Today India has developed from the cycling masses, to the scooters, then the motor bikes and now the cars and then the very sleek cars that are made by German brands and Toyota and others. All major cities have Rolls Royce and Bentley showrooms and top of range German marques are Mercedes, BMW and Audi with huge 4 by 4s and sleek saloons. It could be easy to drive in the comfort of air conditioning within a comfortable car, a confident reliable driver taking the strain and not be touched by that great world outside but happily my work takes me across the social spectrum and one minute I am in a bustling great city that barely sleeps or the guest of a maharaja in his exotic palace and the next day returning to visit the Indian Army at a regimental headquarters, or an ancient tribal community or a beautiful village that reveres all life and wildlife …..then in a wildlife park seeking out tigers which need our strong conservation support, or relaxing on the backwaters of Kerala or on a beach in Tamil Nadu ….India has many faces and many many challenges but she can overcome those with determination and commitment and democratically.
The most important value I took away from both my Mahindra World City visits is their ethos which I commend to you all….it would work globally. Livelihood, Living Life. That is what all of us need, security of work in a sustainable healthy environment where we build social cohesion with good values and educate the next generations and … we can also grow old in safety. I repeat: Livelihood, Living, Life.
Mahindra World Cities pioneered the concept of integrated cities designed to create a balance between Life, Living and Livelihood. These integrated urban centers are located near existing metros and comprise SEZs,industrial parks, retail and social infrastructure. Planned as a single point destination for domestic and global companies, Mahindra World Cities include Special Economic Zones and Domestic Tariff Areas. The Lifestyle Zone, located alongside the Business Zone, offers housing, schools, medical centres, retail malls, business hotels, recreation and leisure facilities, and wide open green spaces for a clean, healthy environment. Bringing life to the city is an environment replete with culture, sports, music, festivals and a lot more. Mahindra World Cities are operational at Chennai, Tamil Nadu and Jaipur, Rajasthan.
Aline Dobbie is one of the UK’s foremost authorities on India. Born in India to Scottish parents she spent the first 16 years of her life in the sub-continent. An acclaimed writer Aline is the author of a celebrated trilogy of books on India including,The Peacock’s Call (www.thepeacockscall.co.uk) and Quicklook at India which is specifically aimed at business people.