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India can learn from other global initiatives in sustainable infrastructure development, though it is leaders who need to drive these initiatives, says Hans-Peter Egler, CEO, Global Infrastructure Basel (GIB). The Switzerland-based foundation works to promote sustainable and resilient infrastructure through sustainable infrastructure design and financing on a global scale.
Where do you see India as far as creation of sustainable infrastructure is concerned?
India is at a very interesting and crucial moment right now. The Indian government has stimulated a lot of activity involving infrastructure development such as the Smart Cities programme and the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor. This is actually a very interesting ground for holistic infrastructure development, with all the elements of sustainability and governance majorly on board. Carrying them forward would stimulate creative and innovative solutions and application of new and innovative technologies. It´s a little bit scattered around at the moment, but one must really bring all the stakeholders and opponents together to have an open dialogue, in order to optimise infrastructure projects.
You have also been very actively involved in the Chinese market. What can India learn from the Chinese experience of infrastructure development that happened between early 2000s till recent times?
Yes, I think India can learn from a variety of other initiatives, but all these initiatives have been carried forward by leaders. So, leadership is important. There has to be right leadership in the government, construction and financial sectors. How can you have this leadership? In each sector, you have people motivated enough to walk the extra mile to actually contribute to show the case. Personally, I am convinced that sustainability is a business case, per se, not just in the long-term but also in the short- term. It´s just about how you go about it. Incorporate this thinking in the very early stage itself. Because when you start the business in the planning period, usually it is the least expensive. If you invest a little bit more at that time, then you will have a variety of solutions in the end. If you have multi-purpose solutions instead of just a single-purpose solution, you can have additional working places and income. This kind of thinking is around. I think the Chinese have also seen this as an opportunity for their markets, particularly in outward investment, because more and more investors there are confronted with the idea of accomplishment of sustainability. If you want to attract money from institutional investors, it´s important to have environment solution and governance (ESG) criteria as well on board because they are usually very particular about that.
How do you make sustainability an attractive proposition for businesses?
By showing the business case. And obviously, you have small projects, you have mid-sized projects and you have mega-projects. For all these projects, it is worthwhile to think sustainability. Particularly, to think along the lines of multipurpose use, and to think along the lines of good connectivity. With connectivity, you can attain a lot of additional synergies. And synergies mean additional income not only for infrastructure, but with all those associated with it; be it sub-contractors or consumers of infrastructure products and services.
What are the major challenges that the Indian infrastructure sector is likely to face as it goes about becoming sustainable?
I think the biggest challenge right now is that most stakeholders think that they have to hurry up. That it is now or never. This hurry might result in the danger of not enough time being invested in the project preparation and design. And it is precisely there that a little bit more attention should be paid as it is the riskiest part of a project.
Also, consult stakeholders to know what they expect and what they exactly need, while also letting them have a say in the design of the infrastructure project so that services provided by it fulfill the needs of the target group. It is important to see these interlinkages, to see how an individual project is part of a broader supply chain that goes into the whole sub-contracting business in the construction phase, but also in the operational phase of an infrastructure project. Also, check if the infrastructure project is well-embedded in a system, be it in a city or be it in a connectivity system between rural and urban areas.
It´s not something that you can´t solve. But it´s something that you must invest a little on. So, we are talking about incurring an additional investment to not only lower cost but also to gain more returns in the end. And that should make the business case.
- Manish Pant