SARIKA KAPOOR lives in a spacious home in one of the wealthiest cities in India. But something as simple as having a shower is fraught with problems.
Most days there is just a trickle of water from the taps and sometimes even that dries up before noon. The 56-year-old has often had to scurry to a neighbour across a potholed road to borrow a bucket of water and haul it back to her rented US$300,000 (around $381,375) home, sweat rolling down her face.
"Every morning I have to decide whether I want the upper half of my body clean or my lower half. With the amount of water we get, it's impossible to take a full-body bath," Kapoor said, sitting in her large, well-lit living room.
Welcome to Gurgaon, a city of wealthy urban professionals with gleaming shopping malls, five-star hotels and sprawling golf courses on the southern outskirts of New Delhi that is a symbol of newly affluent India.
But crippling power and water shortages, crater-riddled roads and open sewage drains have made it an extreme example of the poor infrastructure that is constraining growth in Asia's third-largest economy.
"Gurgaon is just a symbol of beautiful buildings. Otherwise it's rubbish," said P.K. Jain, the founder-president of the Gurgaon Chamber of Commerce and Industry. "Ultimately, the town is going to collapse."
Alongside the towering residential condominiums are glass and steel office blocks. The India offices of some of the world's best known companies are here, including Microsoft Corp, Google Inc and agribusiness giant Cargill Inc.
But public infrastructure has failed to keep pace with the rapid growth unleashed by landmark economic reforms in 1991.
The provision of essential services is so bad that many companies and residents rely on expensive diesel generators to beat power cuts, pay private water tankers to deliver door-to-door when the taps run dry.
But demand outstrips supply, and with long power outages of up to eight hours a day, even well-off citizens are sometimes forced to have dinner by candlelight.
This week, residents erupted in anger over the lack of water and power during the hottest summer in the region for three decades. They took to the streets in protest and set tyres on fire to block traffic.
Nevertheless, Gurgaon has some of the fastest growing property prices in the world, with rates for some upscale homes nearly doubling to 21,000 rupees (around $483.075) a square foot in 2011 from about 11,000 rupees in 2008, according to a report by Citibank.
At current prices, a 2,000 square foot apartment in those areas would cost US$760,000. At the very top end, huge 5,500 square foot apartments set around a golf course sell for about US$3 million.
Like many other Indian cities, Gurgaon is made up of two parts. The highway to New Delhi separates the new from the old, which is still a traditional market town serving farmers in the region.
The new Gurgaon shot up out of farmland two decades ago, mainly to cater to the overflowing population of the nearby capital. It is now India's third-wealthiest city by per-capita income, and its population has climbed to more than 1.5 million from just 900,000 in 2001.
Gurgaon has also become one of the hubs for the IT and outsourcing boom that drove India's economic growth from the 1990s, giving it the name "Millennium City".
Experts say the boom caught local authorities unawares, and they did not plan adequately for the power and water needs of a rapidly expanding population.
A company like DLF, which has been buying up chunks of land in Gurgaon since the 1970s to convert into residential compounds, commercial hubs and shopping centres, has set up its own private infrastructure network.
Pockets of Gurgaon developed by DLF have their own back-up power plant, water recycling systems and solar power heating.
This summer, with temperatures soaring to 47 degrees Celsius (117 F), Gurgaon residents grappled with the city's worst-ever power and water crisis as supplies fell to 15 per cent of the normal volume.
In the city, pigs wallowed in fetid bug-infested ponds to beat the heat as huge billboard advertisements promised condominiums with 24-hour electricity and "world-class" facilities.
Many of Gurgaon's problems a lack of administrative will, shoddy infrastructure and a lackadaisical attitude to civic services are reflected across India.
Although the country has some state-of-the-art airports, multi-billion dollar national highways and a Formula One race track, much of its existing infrastructure has been unable to cope, and slums are mushrooming next to highrises in its cities.
Facing a barrage of criticism over his government's handling of the economy, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in June promised to help resuscitate the country's slumping growth by fast-tracking more than 200 key infrastructure projects.
New Delhi hopes to invest US$1 trillion to beef up India's infrastructure over the next five years. But the unlevelled roads and heaps of garbage lying in the empty housing lots of Gurgaon reflect how far India has to go.
Gurgaon's authorities acknowledge their failures but also blame the city's residents for wasting water, which - like many services in India is heavily subsidised.
"The problem is that people take water for granted," said Praveen Kumar, an administrator at the Haryana Urban Development Authority.
Purushotam, the caretaker in the upscale neighbourhood, says generators and water tankers are keeping the city on life support. "We moved to Gurgaon in 2005 thinking that this is the 'America of India'," he said. "But except the malls, not much is 'American' here."
Monday, July 9, 2012
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