- - Friday, August 1, 2014

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

A city without government-provided electricity, water, sewerage, police or public transportation sounds like a nightmare. For many residents of Gurgaon, a bustling city just outside New Delhi, the Indian capital, it’s a dream come true.

Gurgaon is a boomtown of 1.5 million people, one of the fast-developing nation’s fastest-growing cities. It boasts India’s highest median income and offers 40 shopping malls, eight golf courses, several sports stadiums, a Bollywood theme park and 30 million square feet of prime commercial real estate.

It’s a metropolis with an impressive skyline of glass skyscrapers and futuristic private neighborhoods that house “white-collar factories,” producing $17 billion yearly in accounting-, finance- and tech-service exports to the world economy.

As a tech hub, Gurgaon attracts educated workers in waves. Hundreds of Fortune 500 firms, including General Electric, Microsoft, IBM and Ernst & Young, have set up shop in low-cost Gurgaon, which welcomes them with enthusiasm.

Gurgaon’s entrepreneurs have come up with a replacement for expensive and inefficient local government. White-collar factories, such as “Cyber City,” provide tenants with electric power, water, sewerage and public transportation. Other companies and residential areas offer similar services, and by and large (and mostly large), it works.

Gurgaon is India’s most robust financial and industrial engine, but it hasn’t always been that way. As recently as the ‘80s, the city was little more than an expanse of rocky, infertile farmland. The city exploded when private developers, frustrated by heavy-handed application of environmental and industrial regulations written in New Delhi, began fleeing to the abundant cheap land in Gurgaon.

Soon afterward, the national government decided to move away from socialism, which for decades after the British departed had been a secular religion. The government finally realized that socialism had to go if the country wanted to pull itself out of grinding poverty. Experiments like Gurgaon prove what could happen when entrepreneurs are allowed to build office parks and skyscrapers to take advantage of northern India’s cheap, increasingly educated, labor force and to escape strangulation by red tape from New Delhi.

To escape state postal services, Gurgaon companies rely on private couriers. Since government emergency response is unreliable, private ambulances stand at the ready. Private security firms replaced corrupt and inept state police.

Gurgaon suffers problems familiar to all big cities. Traffic congestion is overwhelming, and it’s becoming difficult to supply enough water to the growing city. Still, Indians from the vast hinterland hurry to live there.

It’s not just Gurgaon’s rich who enjoy the proceeds of rapid growth and modernization. It’s the first and only city in India with electricity running to all households. Young people from all over India — rich and poor, educated and illiterate — see Gurgaon as a desirable place to live and work. There are new, well-paying jobs.

Gurgaon is a vibrant argument against the notion that good things come only from the government, countering the rebuke that “you didn’t build that.” The people of Gurgaon, though struggling with the pains of growth, know better.

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