Vibrancy, Gujarat-style

By Mark Richards in Mumbai

As this is my inaugural blog, let me give you some background on myself. I am what I think would be classified as a seasoned construction professional, having over 25 years’ experience in the industry. I started with a contracting organisation but soon moved to the professional side. The latter 12 years have been with Turner & Townsend.

Before becoming India MD for Turner & Townsend I spent 10 years in Birmingham and two years in Kazakhstan, establishing our business there. Both experiences in their own way have helped equip me for operating in the Indian market and although I have only been here five months, I feel I am beginning to understand how things work – or not, as the case may be.

In January I attended "Vibrant Gujarat 2013", which is now India’s biggest investors’ summit. I have to report that this is no champagne-fuelled MIPIM on the Indian Riviera. Far from it. Gujarat is a dry state, out of respect to the Father of the Indian Nation, Mahatma Gandhi, whose birthplace it is.

The state itself is comparable in size to the UK, both by land area and population, the key difference being that Gujarat enjoys one the fastest rates of growth in the world, currently at around 11%. Much of this success is attributed to Gujarat’s Chief Minister, Narendra Modi, and it appeared, at least from an outsider’s perspective, that the event was organised in large part to pay homage to him.

UK trade delegation

There is, however, no denying the vibrancy in Gujarat, and it was encouraging to see a large amount of support and interest in the trade delegation representing UK industry. There was a particular focus on health and education. Of course, the stumbling block in all these areas is the restriction on foreign direct investment (FDI). There has been much talk in the press recently regarding the relaxation of FDI rules in the retail sector and we are starting to see retailers such as Ikea take their first tentative steps down the bureaucratic process to achieving this.

This could be the thin end of the wedge, and other markets may soon open up. I say "soon", but of course that depends on your perspective of time. It has taken many years to get this far and still there is some uncertainty over whether the direction of travel towards relaxed FDI rules will not go into reverse following elections next year. Although, with Chief Minister Modi being hotly tipped as the next Premier, this is perhaps unlikely, and an encouraging sign that foreign companies will enjoy increased opportunity in trade with India in the years to come.

From my perspective as India head of Turner & Townsend, which is now one of the world’s largest independent construction consultants, I see no lack of opportunities here. The challenge is picking those worth pursuing in a marketplace that is very competitive and still very susceptible to change, particularly in property development.

Mark Richards is managing director for Turner & Townsend in India

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