In India, Dynamism Wrestles With Dysfunction
Ordinarily, such a wild building boom would have had to hew to a local government master plan. But Gurgaon did not yet have such a plan, nor did it yet have a districtwide municipal government. Instead, Gurgaon was mostly under state control. Developers built the infrastructure inside their projects, while a state agency, the Haryana Urban Development Authority, or HUDA, was supposed to build the infrastructure binding together the city.
And that is where the problems arose. HUDA and other state agencies could not keep up with the pace of construction. The absence of a local government had helped Gurgaon become a leader of India’s growth boom. But that absence had also created a dysfunctional city. No one was planning at a macro level; every developer pursued his own agenda as more islands sprouted and state agencies struggled to keep pace with growth.
“We have to keep up,” said Nitin Kumar Yadav, the local HUDA administrator. “That is our pressure.”
Gurgaon had been marketed as Millennium City, yet it had become an unmanageable city. For companies that had come to India in search of business efficiencies, the inefficiencies of Gurgaon presented a new challenge they would have to overcome on their own.
It is 8 p.m. on a recent Tuesday, time for the shift change at Genpact, a descendant of G.E. and one of Gurgaon’s biggest outsourcing companies. Two long rows of white sport utility vehicles, vans and cars are waiting in the parking lot, yellow emergency lights flickering in the early darkness, as employees trickle out of call centers for their ride home. These contracted vehicles represent Genpact’s private fleet, a necessity given the absence of a public transportation system in Gurgaon.
From computerized control rooms, Genpact employees manage 350 private drivers, who travel roughly 60,000 miles every day transporting 10,000 employees. Employees book daily online reservations and receive e-mail or text message “tickets” for their assigned car. In the parking lot, a large L.E.D. screen is posted with rolling lists of cars and their assigned passengers.
And the cars are only the beginning. Faced with regular power failures, Genpact has backup diesel generators capable of producing enough electricity to run the complex for five days (or enough electricity for about 2,000 Indian homes). It has a sewage treatment plant and a post office, which uses only private couriers, since the local postal service is understaffed and unreliable. It has a medical clinic, with a private ambulance, and more than 200 private security guards and five vehicles patrolling the region. It has A.T.M.’s, a cellphone kiosk, a cafeteria and a gym.
“It is a fully finished small city,” said Naveen Puri, a Genpact administrator.
Actually, it is a private island, one of many inside Gurgaon. The city’s residential compounds, especially the luxury developments along golf courses, exist as similarly self-contained entities. Nearly every major outsourcing company in the city depends on private infrastructure, as do the commercial towers filled with other companies.
“We pretty much carry the entire weight of what you would expect many states to do,” said Pramod Bhasin, who this spring stepped down as Genpact’s chief executive. “The problem — a very big problem — is our public services are always lagging a few years behind, but sometimes a decade behind. Our planning processes sometimes exist only on paper.”
For many years, even Gurgaon’s commercial centerpiece, Cyber City, was off the public grid. “They were not connected to any city service,” said Jyoti Sagar, a lawyer and civic activist. “They were like a spaceship. You had these shiny buildings, and underneath you had a huge pit where everybody’s waste was going.”
Not all of the city’s islands are affluent, either. Gurgaon has an estimated 200,000 migrant workers, the so-called floating population, who work on construction sites or as domestic help. Sheikh Hafizuddin, 38, lives in a slum with a few hundred other migrants less than two miles from Cyber City. No more than half the children in the slum attend school, with the rest spending their days playing on the hard-packed dirt of the settlement, where pigs wallow in an open pit of sewage and garbage. Mr. Hafizuddin pays $30 a month for a tiny room. His landlord runs a power line into the slum for electricity and draws water from a borehole on the property.
“Sometimes it works,” Mr. Hafizuddin said. “Sometimes it doesn’t work.”
Even at the fringes of Gurgaon’s affluent areas, large pools of black sewage water are easy to spot. The water supply is vastly inadequate, leaving private companies, developers and residents dependent on borewells that are draining the underground aquifer. Local activists say the water table is falling as much as 10 feet every year.
Meanwhile, with Gurgaon’s understaffed police force outmatched by such a rapidly growing population, some law-and-order responsibilities have been delegated to the private sector. Nearly 12,000 private security guards work in Gurgaon, and many are pressed into directing traffic on major streets.
When an outsourcing employee was sexually assaulted after being dropped near her home in New Delhi, politicians placed the onus on the companies, even though the attack occurred on a New Delhi street. Outsourcing companies now must install GPS devices inside every private car and hire more security guards to escort female employees to their home at night.
The politicians “are basically telling me that the Delhi roads are my responsibility, which is not the case,” said Vidya Srinivasan, who oversees logistics for Genpact.
Yet outsourcing is thriving in Gurgaon, anyway. Last year, a leading Indian industrial association determined that outsourcing was directly and indirectly responsible for about 500,000 jobs in Gurgaon. Companies still gravitate to Gurgaon because the city’s commercial space is more modern, more abundant and far cheaper than that in New Delhi, while Gurgaon is also a magnet for India’s best-educated, English-speaking young professionals, the essential raw material in the outsourcing business. And there is the benefit of a concentration of expertise: in the past decade, Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Motorola, Ericsson, Nestle India and other foreign and Indian companies have opened offices in Gurgaon.
Still, Ms. Srinivasan said, the lack of government support is frustrating. She recently returned from a new Genpact operation in the port city of Dalian, China. There, she said, local officials “are doing everything to keep companies like ours.” Asked if the government in Gurgaon was equally responsive, she shook her head.
“In India, it is not because of the government,” she said, explaining how things get done. “It is in spite of the government.”
Sudhir Rajpal, the wiry, mustachioed commissioner of the new Municipal Corporation of Gurgaon, has a long to-do list: fix the roads, the sewers, the electrical grid, the drainage, the lack of public buses, the lack of water and the lack of planning. The Municipal Corporation was formed in 2008, and Mr. Rajpal, having assumed the city’s top administrative position a few months ago, has been conducting a listening tour to convince people that government can solve their problems.
It is not an easy sell.
One recent morning, his audience was a few dozen farmers in Badshahpur, one of the villages absorbed into the sprawling new territory of the Municipal Corporation. Most are actually former farmers, having sold their land to the developers constructing the office parks and apartment towers now ringing the village. Many of them had bought new cars or new plots of land or invested in the new developments. They were now richer. Their frustration was their village. It was becoming an urban slum.
“The drains are broken and accidents are happening,” shouted one man. “Yet no one is answerable! There are problems and problems. Whatever water we get is dirty, but we have nowhere to complain.”
When India’s public and private sectors are compared, the contrast is usually stark: the private sector is praised for its efficiency, linear command structure and task-oriented ethos; the public sector is condemned for its opacity, lack of accountability and the fact that often no single agency seems in charge. Even as many Gurgaon residents hope that the Municipal Corporation can improve services, others worry that its authority is too limited, given that state agencies will maintain authority over licenses and infrastructure.
In Haryana, developers make campaign donations to politicians and exercise enormous power. Critics say graft and corruption are widespread. Many developers have disregarded promises to construct parks and other amenities. Meanwhile, state agencies like HUDA operate with little accountability. Civic leaders say more than $2 billion in infrastructure fees collected from Gurgaon have gone into HUDA’s general budget without any benefit to the city.
“They used that money somewhere else,” said Sanjeev Ahuja, a veteran journalist in Gurgaon. “The government thinks the private sector will take care of the city: ‘People are rich. If they need water, they can buy water.’ ”
Some people hope Gurgaon’s new municipal council, which was elected on May 13 to oversee the Municipal Corporation, will create a political voice for the city capable of forcing action. Eventually, the Municipal Corporation is expected to assume responsibility for providing services in all of Gurgaon, yet some residents are leery of the change.
Santosh Khosla, an information technology consultant whose family moved to Gurgaon in 1993, has services provided by his developer, DLF. He said DLF had broken numerous promises and did only an adequate job of delivering water and power. Still, adequate is tolerable.
“I’m certain that if it goes to the government,” he said, “it will be worse.”
Citizens Speak Up
Col. Ratan Singh, his military beret placed neatly atop his head, has arrived at a busy intersection in the midday sun for what he calls “an agitation.” He is 82, an Indian Army veteran who has decided that private citizens need to incite a little conflict in Gurgaon. Demonstrations are common in Gurgaon, and he is leading a protest against shoddy work by a contractor.
“Every day some agitation is taking place,” he said, shouting above the din of traffic. “People are not satisfied.”
If people should be satisfied anywhere in India, Gurgaon should be the place. Average incomes rank among the highest in the country. Property values have jumped sharply since the 1990s. Gurgaon’s malls offer many of the country’s best shops and restaurants, while the city’s most exclusive housing enclaves are among the finest in India.
“The tipping point has come in India.”
Yet the economic power that growth has delivered to Gurgaon has not been matched by political power. The celebrated middle class created by India’s boom has far less clout at the ballot box than the hundreds of millions of rural peasants struggling to live on $2 a day, given the far larger rural vote, and thus are courted far less by Indian politicians. This has made it harder to accrue the political power needed to correct Gurgaon’s problems. When middle-class civic groups in Gurgaon pushed state leaders to create a single government authority overseeing the city, they were flicked away.
Faced with so many urban headaches, though, civic activists like Colonel Singh are pushing the government for change, or simply making change on their own. Colonel Singh leads an umbrella group of residents’ associations that have started volunteer vigilance groups as watchdogs against crime.
Another civic activist, Latika Thukral, a former Citigroup employee, is involved in creating a biodiversity park. Ms. Thukral led efforts to clean up an illegal garbage dump and is organizing a campaign to plant a million trees this summer.
“If people like us don’t stand up for our rights, our country will not change,” she said. “The tipping point has come in India.”
Across India, Gurgaon is both a model and a cautionary tale. Other cities want to emulate Gurgaon’s growth and dynamism but avoid the dysfunction and lack of planning. Meanwhile, Gurgaon is trying to address its infrastructure woes; last year, the city was connected to the New Delhi rapid transit system, while a public-private project is under way to construct a link to Cyber City. Yet the state and local governments are still struggling to keep up, especially since Gurgaon is already building a industrial district and planning to create more commercial space.
“If Gurgaon had not happened, the rest of India’s development would not have happened, either,” contended Mr. Singh, the chairman of DLF. “Gurgaon became a pacesetter.”