Saturday 28 February 2015

Singapore special envoy for Andhra Pradesh

Gopinath Pillai will act as adviser, liaison in projects
By Nirmala Ganapathy India Bureau Chief In Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh, The Straits Times, 27 Feb 2015

SINGAPORE has appointed a special envoy to the southern Indian state Andhra Pradesh, where it is involved in developing a capital city from scratch.

Foreign Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam, together with Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu, announced the appointment of Mr Gopinath Pillai to advise the state government on companies in Singapore and help liaise with them on the greenfield capital city project and other potential projects. Mr Pillai is ambassador-at-large at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

"Singapore is a centre for international capital and private equity. Those are all people who could be invited to come and look at Andhra Pradesh. Ultimately whether they actually invest depends on macroeconomic conditions and political stability but we are committed to try to help," said Mr Shanmugam at a joint press conference with Mr Naidu.

"He (Mr Pillai) can play a role because he is ambassador-at-large... He has been in the public sector and is in the private sector and he is known to the government of Andhra Pradesh. So we felt he would be a good fit," said the minister, who was on the second day of his two-day visit to India.

Singapore is helping the state create its capital on swathes of land, with Singaporean firms Surbana International Consultants and Jurong International developing the masterplan.

The state has to create a new capital because it will lose its current one to India's newest state, Telangana, which was carved out of Andhra Pradesh last year. Hyderabad is their joint capital for 10 years while Andhra Pradesh builds a new one.

The masterplan is being developed in three stages with the first phase comprising a 7,325 sq km state capital region, to be ready by June.

The second stage will be a capital city master-plan for a 220 sq km city and the third a seed development masterplan for an 8 sq km development.

"By June of this year, the first cut of the master-plan will be ready. So that is very, very, I think, quick progress. So based on the masterplan, we can go further beyond that," said Mr Shanmugam.

The project is seen to have the potential to be a landmark project for Singapore as it looks at deepening strategic ties with India.

Mr Naidu called it "the rarest opportunity".

"To get an opportunity to build a capital is the rarest opportunity. Even in India in this century, it is an opportunity for us to build a capital. It is a crisis but it is opportunity," said Mr Naidu, who had built up Hyderabad as an IT hub.

"There are so many advantages in having Singapore's help. They are having expertise... and they can guide us. In Singapore, land is very limited, even in India land is very limited. For our situation, the best country is Singapore to advise us."

However, there are challenges ahead, including land acquisition, with pockets of farmers resistant to giving up their land to the project.

Another is attracting foreign investments. India ranks low in ease of doing business and is known for bureaucratic red tape and policy uncertainty.

Still, said Mr Pillai: "My role will be to match opportunities with investors... My appointment is a signal by the Singapore Government to say it is committed to Andhra Pradesh."

Singapore expands presence in India with training help
Republic to set up skills centre, train Rajasthan officials in water recycling
By Nirmala Ganapathy India Bureau Chief In Jaipur, Rajasthan, The Straits Times, 26 Feb 2015

SINGAPORE has launched a programme to train 100 government officials in water management and conservation in the desert state of Rajasthan and initiated plans to set up an "iconic" skills centre there, marking an expanding presence in India.

Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam, who is on a two-day visit to India, yesterday held talks with Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje to finalise the collaboration plans between the two sides, which will also see Singapore offering technical expertise on water recycling.

A grant agreement was signed between the Rajasthan government and the Singapore Cooperation Enterprise to train officials in an 18-month programme.

The programme is supported by Temasek Foundation, which is giving a grant of $420,508, with co-funding of $271,028 by the Indian state government.

Rajasthan, which has a population of 73 million people, is a desert state that is often hit by drought and suffers from an acute shortage of water. The state makes up 10 per cent of India's land area but has only 1.16 per cent of its water resources.

"It is a large state with a large desert, but where there is some synergy (between Singapore and Rajasthan) is in that they need to maximise their water resources. So they are focused on desalination, they are focused on recycling waste water, and in those areas, we have technology which is among the best in the world," Mr Shanmugam told The Straits Times.

A team of Singaporean experts will also share with the Rajasthan government the Republic's experience in water recycling that could be implemented in the state's capital and tourist hub of Jaipur.

"This partnership is something we value highly," Ms Raje told the visiting Singapore delegation in talks.

The collaboration between the two sides includes the setting up of a skills centre in Rajasthan within a year, with help from Singapore's Institute of Technical Education.

"She (Raje) was very keen on setting up a world-class skills centre here and we have agreed that the focus can be on hospitality management and training. So we have identified six... related courses which can be put together along with some English training, but make it an iconic project that can be a real brand value for Rajasthan and its young men and women," said Mr Shanmugam, who is also Minister for Law. "We are hoping to do it within a year."

Also, Gardens by the Bay will help in the planning of two parks in Jaipur.

Mr Shanmugam's visit to India is part of a series of bilateral visits that have taken place since Mr Narendra Modi became Prime Minister after leading his party to power last year.

President Tony Tan Keng Yam was in India earlier this month to kick off celebrations to mark 50 years of diplomatic ties between India and Singapore. Mr Modi is expected to visit Singapore later this year. Last month, Second Minister for Trade and Industry and Home Affairs S. Iswaran was in India. Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj was in Singapore last August.

The visits come on the back of the Modi government's push for foreign collaboration and focus on upgrading and building of dozens of cities, an area in which Singapore has expertise.

Singapore is already helping the southern state of Andhra Pradesh to build a new state capital city, with two Singapore companies, Surbana International Consultants and Jurong International, in the process of preparing the masterplan for the city.

Mr Shanmugam will meet Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu today, the last day of his four-day South Asia tour that also took him to Sri Lanka. "Andhra Pradesh and Rajasthan are two states which have asked us to work with them and we have agreed," said Mr Shanmugam of Singapore's expanding cooperation with the Indian states.

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