The annual event for infrastructure management students at Symbiosis Centre for Management & Human Resource Development (SCMHRD) is fast becoming a valuable knowledge-sharing platform, with a fair smattering of high-profile guests.
A buzzing campus, enthusiastic students, a well-organised event, distinguished and exemplary speakers all made for a day´s worth of good entertainment but also important information and keen insights on infrastructure in India. Dr. SB Mujumdar, Chancellor, Symbiosis International University, set the tone as he pointed out in his address the need to become smart citizens if smart cities are to serve the purpose they are meant to provide.

The highlights of the event at SCMHRD were speeches by chief guest Nitin Gadkari, Honourable Union Minister for Road Transport & Highways and by Anil Swarup, secretary, Ministry of Coal, who delivered the keynote address.

Exuding dynamism, the two high-ranking government officials established an instant connection with their young audience as they revealed their own frustrations with bureaucracy and red tape. ´Strong political will is the biggest strength,´ said Gadkari, on one of the numerous occasions that he drew applause. ´A transparent decision-making process is the most important thing,´ he added.

Gadkari kept the audience hooked as he talked about the importance of infrastructure for national development and set a target to build 30 km of roads per day by March 2016. However, he pointed out construction and development should adopt a holistic approach combining ethics, ecology and the environment.

Cognisant of the fact that road projects comprise the highest numbers of stalled infrastructure projects in the country, Gadkari set a target of achieving zero NPAs (non-performing assets) of road projects by December this year. He revealed the keen interest worldwide to participate in India´s roads sector and said he was keen on tapping the foreign bond markets to raise funds for future projects.

Swarup, in his address, advised SCMHRD´s budding professionals to focus on things that are within their control. ´In the future, as you go into industry or government, you will be in situations that are beyond your control. Don´t spend your productive time worrying about those. Do what drives you,´ he said, providing anecdotal evidence from his long career in government as well as from his personal life.

Swarup took on questions with elan from SCMHRD´s students who quizzed him on a host of topics ranging from bio fuels, renewable energy and environmental care to possible cartelisation during the coal block auctions.

RC Sinha, advisor to Gadkari for Maharashtra´s road development projects, made an inspirational presentation on how the Mumbai-Pune express-way (India´s first and only totally indigenous express-way) came into being, drawing applause for the efficiently executed novel project.

Last but not least, the panel discussions took centre stage as experienced professionals provided students a ringside view to industry issues. The first of the discussions, moderated by Arvind Mahajan, partner, head of infrastructure and government services, KPMG, delved into issues in the energy and power sectors.

The applause from SCMHRD students got just a little louder when one of their own, Gaurav Sood, MD, Solairedirect India, an alumnus of the institute, took to the stage. The other participants in the panel included TS Venkateswaran, director, Deloitte Haskins & Sells, Viney Kumar, ED, IDBI Bank and Dr. Ajit Patwardhan, trainer and consultant in infrastructure management and education.

Sood said he believed solar power would continue gaining widespread acceptance and popularity as costs were expected to go lower compared with traditional energy sources. Venkateswaran spoke about ways to escalate strategic storage reserves for oil and gas while Kumar pointed out several issues with respect to the power sector, including the failing health of the state electricity distribution companies. However, he added that IDBI did not have any exposure to these companies.

Dr. Patwardhan spoke of the need to ensure projects are executed within a professional framework in order to avoid time and cost overruns.

An enthusiastic round of questions and answers followed and the second and final panel discussion of the day started well into the afternoon.

Moderated by NSN Murty, director and leader, Smart Cities, PwC, India, the panel comprised Ravinder Pal Singh, Director, Smart??? Solutions, Cisco Systems (India), Rajesh Phadke, chief architect and planner, urban Planning and architecture, GIFT City, Dilip Karmakar, PPP expert advisor and independent consultant and Vidhadhar Deshpande, ex-director, town planning, Maharashtra.

The discussion was engaging and discussed many aspects of what constitutes smart cities, the problems that such a project can solve in India and what it would take to deliver this ambitious project.

This second edition of SCMHRD´s ´INFRABLAZE´ event turned out a grand success, graced by top government representatives and industry professionals, providing a platform to both for industry-academia interaction, but above all, a tremendous opportunity for students.

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