Gurgaon: what life is like in the Indian city built by private companies
Source : theguardian.com
Businesses are behind the growth of the north India city – providing sewage, waste disposal and even fire services – but is all well in privatised paradise?
The first thing you notice when you come to Gurgaon is the number of skyscrapers. The second is the pigs.
In the past few decades, Gurgaon, a city 32km outside the Indian capital New Delhi, has risen from a former agricultural wasteland. But it wasn’t the government, or even individuals, that led Gurgaon’s growth. The city was built almost entirely by private companies.
According to census data, Gurgaon’s population doubled between 2001 and 2011, from 876,000 to more than 1.5 million. Its people are made up of the two extremes of India’s developing society: rich, well-educated urban professionals who work for some of the biggest firms in the world live side by side with urban slums, home to villagers who used to own the land where Gurgaon now stands and migrants, who come to do blue-collar jobs for corporations.
Gurgaon has golf courses and shopping malls but it also has mountains of uncleared garbage, leaky pipes and potholes along government roads.
The companies have created a city to suit their needs. Big multinational firms, including Google, HSBC, Nokia and Intel, all have offices there. Startups too like to base themselves in Gurgaon, so they can be close to the huge network of corporates.
Because the city appeared so quickly, there was no basic infrastructure to make them work. The company buildings were built before the roads, electricity, sewage, waste disposal, security – and even emergency services – could be established.
Instead of waiting for the Haryana Urban Development Authority to set up the services they needed, the companies improvised, bringing in private builders to pave roads and drill borewells, and buying privately owned backup diesel generators. Private companies, they felt, would do the job faster and better than the government could.
Take the privately run fire service, managed by real estate company DLF for residents of its properties. “Many of the buildings here are over 90m tall. The government’s fire brigade doesn’t have hydraulic platforms that can reach that height. We do. In fact, we were the first in the country to get them,” says SK Dheri, DLF’s head of fire safety.
Residents’ organisations and private developers who manage Gurgaon’s elite residences do all the work that governments are normally responsible for. “We all used to pitch in around 3,000-4,000 rupees a month (£30-40),” says Surendra Lunia, a former resident of the DLF private colony. “The residents’ organisation uses that money to fix roads, build parks, pay for security and any other needs. If we left it to the government, it would never get done.”