The Dubai-based SmartCity, which develops knowledge-based business townships such as Dubai Internet City and the soon-to-open SmartCity Kochi, is looking for another Indian site to develop as a free-zone business park.

Telangana, Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka are being considered for setting up the next SmartCity project in the PPP mode in partnership with the state governments. “Once the SmartCity Kochi project becomes fairly functional, we will start scouting for the next Indian project site,” Baju George, Managing Director of SmartCity, which is a member of the multi-billion-dollar government-owned Dubai Holding, told BusinessLine.

The first phase of SmartCity Kochi (SCK) will be thrown open to business on February 20 and the work on the much larger second phase would begin the same day.

Almost, the entire 6.5 lakh square feet first-phase building will host the ‘IT cluster’ and three-fourths of the built-up space has already been leased out to major IT companies.

George noted that Dubai, one of the seven emirates of the UAE, is looking to step up project investments in India following Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the UAE in August and the setting up of a bilateral investment body. Following up on the initiative, Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, along with a high-level team of officials and investors, visited India last week and signed seven bilateral agreements.

Dubai, which has a huge sovereign wealth fund, has invested heavily in many countries.

Change in policy

George pointed out that the Dubai authorities followed an investment policy of ‘one dirham in, one dirham out.’

During the global economic slowdown of 2008-11, this policy had changed to focus on developing infrastructure within the emirate. Now, Dubai was investing heavily in a range of projects across the globe. Dubai Holding, set up in 2004, had invested in more than two dozen countries.

However, George pointed out that the experiences (in India) of many UAE companies — such as Emaar and DP World —were not exactly encouraging. Though many had burned their fingers, new ones were making fresh investments. SmartCity Kochi — a PPP in which the Kerala government has a stake of 16 per cent and the rest is held by Dubai Holding’s TECOM Investments — was delayed by many years. “We have learnt from the experience,” he said. “I am sure the successful launching of the first phase of the SCK will change the negative perception of Kerala among investors.”

Special zones

Explaining the concept of SmartCity, George said this aimed to build special zones where knowledge-based communities worked, lived and did business in a state-of-the-art ecosystem. SmartCity Malta, in partnership with the Maltese government, was a successful example. The idea grew out of Dubai Internet City, Media City, Finance City, Design City and so on.

The SmartCity Kochi, when completed, would have a built-up space of around 140 lakh square feet. The land was leased out by the government for 99 years. There would be four clusters — IT, media, finance and research and innovation. The SCK would also be home to an international school, a five-star hotel, a stadium, parks, convention centres and hundreds of dwelling units.

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