Chandrima Mukhopadhyay and Lila Oriard, Faculty of Planning, CEPT University, India
Private city is not a distant concept in India. Certain regions have already implemented their private city models, where private sector’s participation goes much beyond financing and/or constructing infrastructure projects; private sector actors are actually creating private townships that include housing, parks, streets, IT hubs, organisation of residents, etc. Followed by some more or less successful projects, such models are being replicated. While the concept is not so new, as we have had townships developed by industrialists for their employees away from main city, this new kind of model is an outcome of economic reform in early 1990s and is very different in character. NRIs, elite class and upper middle class, who can afford such projects, are excited about them because such cities are planned from the scratch unlike other traditional Indian cities. Latin American countries also share the similar concern. Here we share our experience of visiting one of such private city model in India this December (2015). Whereas we raise basic question on whether such megaprojects could be called ‘cities’ as they are loosely called in practice, in this blog, we mainly discuss the unique development/business model of Magarpatta and raise concern about replication of such model.
Magarpatta city is a private sector initiated mega project in close proximity to Pune, a first tier town in the state of Maharashtra. The development model of Magarpatta is unique as the project is initiated, planned, developed and owned by the farmer clan who were the original landholders.
L: I think they are interesting because they are doing business from creating attractive hubs that sell a lifestyle by offering housing, entertainment, employment, shopping, nice environment, proper organised streets, and very efficient management as a service, the city then changes its nature as it becomes a private asset.
C: The phrase ‘sell a lifestyle’ and their caption ‘buy an apartment and get a city free’ are interesting. On one hand, such tags show ‘we’ (who are Magarpatta property buyers) are separate from ‘them’ (outsiders); we have experienced that ourselves being there. On the other, Magarpatta promotes a lifestyle, which includes providing training on consuming little energy and water, and being sustainable (and supposedly self-sustained), which is innovative and is highly appreciated.
L: If they are replicable is a very complex question. The Magarpatta case shows that townships can become attractive environments and profitable businesses. It’s good for residents who can afford the price, good for the investors, good for the owners, good for the local governments because they are profitable hubs able to contribute to taxes. The big question is if the implications of these in terms of: what about those that cannot pay the price of townships? How they manage territories done by private people and those public? Which tools are required to ensure territorial coherence?
I have never seen a thing like Magarpatta, because in Mexico gated communities are not working in the same basis, they are not creating synergies within local contexts, they are really closed. They are exclusive and separated spatially from the rest of the city, which is not the case with Magarpatta.
C: Magarpatta is semi-permeable. Even though it is a private city, people from Pune can easily identify themselves with Magarpatta. Rickshaw drivers are allowed inside the city, and they know inside Magarpatta very well. Shopping malls and schools in Magarpatta are not only open to outsiders; they are also designed in a way that we could not initially understand that the shopping mall is part of Magarpatta on our first visit. As we experienced, Magarpatta at least aspires (if not achieved) to be an extension of the old Pune city, and not completely detached from the old city. However, as one of our interviewee mentions, they probably allow the para transit mode because this is what their ‘customers’ want. This shows the city is open to outsiders when it serves Magarpatta developers’ business purpose. Both citizens’ and outsiders’ movement is very much controlled, at times through gates, at times through surveillance, be it digital or manual, even the public spaces. This includes restriction on taking picture of the shopping mall itself.
L: There are two reasons why this model raises questions of replicability. One is the organisation and learning process farmers went through to develop their land. The second is the personal connections of one person, even the fact that authorities at some point approves application under discretion.
C: The first one is very unique. However, now Magarpatta itself is in the real estate business themselves, and helping farmers at Nanded city, to learn the model. Of course, this makes the business model for Nanded slightly different. Second, yes, acquiring approval through personal connection would raise question about favourism. However, each of such cases could be unique in some way. For instance, whereas Magarpatta was not waived from Urban Land Ceiling Act , Lavasa  was waived under Hill Station Policy . I’m thinking private sector innovation is one of the main components of PPP model in infrastructure; this can be extended to megaprojects too, and innovation does not have to be only technological. Hence, if each decision has to be taken on a unique case, is it possible that discretion in approvals may always exist? However, the decision-making process should be transparent and unbiased.
L: The first point poses a challenge of assisting people to organise but it is not the same as when it comes from their own initiative. The second challenge is that government has to open the possibility for this kind of townships to happen legally, and then an instrument of planning has to be developed, like a regional planning to define where (which land) these initiatives could happen and where they cannot. Also which kind of frame they need, for example allowing private sector to utilise their efficiency but at the same time to what extent, may be a kind of guidelines can be developed.
C: As the government mentions, the magar clan themselves had the vision for the region, which even the government could not think of at that time. Like many other mega projects, Magarpatta transformed its surrounding to a great extent, being the catalyst of change. If this is true, then probably government solely deciding about where (in physical terms) such project can happen, and developing a vision through regional plan, may not offer a full-proof solution.
However, any private sector proposing such proposals may have to identify the externalities of the project, and how does it fit into/ transform the surrounding context. There are some questions to be asked about these models, they are spreading quickly due to their success as business model, but how can government regulation ensure territorial coherence, in the sense of interaction of such projects with its immediate surrounding, is still an open question.
Acknowledgement: We visited Magarpatta city with a small group of students from Habitat Management, Urban and Regional Planning, and Technology postgraduate programs in December 2015 as part of CEPT’s Summer Winter School (SWS). We jointly offered a course on ‘Private sector in the city making process’ for the Winter School, 2015 at Faculty of Planning, CEPT University, India
 Maharashtra Govt introduced township policy reforms in 2012.
 Location of Pune: http://www.eastwestpr.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/india-map-Pune.jpg
 Urban Land Ceiling Act: An act to ensure a slab on private holdings of vacant land. This was repealed from Maharashtra in November 2007.
 Lavasa: Another private city model to promote tourism at the outskirt and in the proximity of Pune and Mumbai.
 Maharashtra Hill Station Policy: This act allows private developers to acquire large chunk of lands on hill to develop tourist resort, holiday home and townships in hilly areas.