There are as many as 40 cities in India with a population above one million, crying out for clean water, sewage systems and other municipal facilities.
Despite the economy growing at an annual rate of close to 8 per cent, only a third of funds set aside by the federal government for its urban renewal mission were spent in the current fiscal year ending in March. Local authorities could not muster the resources or the speed to match New Delhi's federal funding under a joint program. In the absence of empowered mayors or elected city governments in most townships, the pressure from these levels is low.
That is changing, but very slowly.
A Canadian company has managed to quietly make a dent and position itself for greater opportunity in India's urban revolution. Toronto-based R.V. Anderson Associates Ltd., an engineering services firm with 200 employees specializing in water facilities, wastewater management, roads and transportation, has been doing business in India since 1994, using expertise honed in Canada since 1948.
RVA has been mapping and designing wastewater treatment plants in Mumbai, the country's congested financial capital with a population of 16 million people.
Sanjay Devnani, who heads RVA's operations in India, says some of the Mumbai water works will involve capacity of more than 800,000 cubic metres a day, roughly equivalent to the plant at Toronto's Ashbridges Bay, Canada's largest facility.
The $928 million project, set to be completed by 2015, involves large scale improvements to the city's infrastructure, including sewers, water treatment, tunnels, pumping stations and outfalls. For RVA, the biggest challenge has been dealing with local authorities. In India, policies made at the federal level by well-intentioned officials and political leaders often get stalled by local bureaucratic red tape.
"We operate in conjunction with local partners who provide local staff teams to jointly execute projects," Mr. Devnani says in an e-mail, adding that RVA took time to find a partner with skills that complemented its own. "The most important part was to recognize that an equal partnership must be established between the Indian and Canadian partners for the work to succeed, and that whatever could be done in India using Indian resources would be done."
RVA officials say the company was attracted by the lack of a language barrier, the rule of law and a robust private sector, and it slowly built up relations and a reputation for the long haul. The firm first helped improve the existing sewage system, and then it prepared a 25-year master plan for authorities before moving on to full design and construction.
"Perseverance is definitely the key to success in India, especially as many large foreign firms operate (there). RVA adopted a long-range perspective ... and worked to establish our credentials and abilities for working successfully," Mr. Devnani says.
A key hurdle, he notes, is the business of approvals. You never know what procedural (or individual) whim can hold up a project. RVA made sure agreements were in place before starting any major assignments. In other words, make your journey bureaucracy-proof – at least as much as possible.
Mr. Devnani says Indian officials are more motivated and skilled than their Asian counterparts but being a "country of many layers" it calls for patience to help balance cash flows with investments. The upside is that for RVA, the huge Indian market provides a revenue cushion with the Canadian market for engineering services relatively quiet.
Special to the Globe and Mail
Narayanan Madhavan is associate editor of the business news pages of Hindustan Times, a leading Indian daily newspaper. He has previously worked for Reuters, the international news agency, as well as The Economic Times and Business Standard, India's leading business dailies. Though focused mainly on business and economic journalism with a strong focus on information technology and the Internet, he has also covered or written about issues including politics, diplomacy, cinema, culture, cricket and social issues. He has an honours degree in economics and a master's degree in political science from the University of Delhi.