By: James Bennett
Date: October 25th 2016
Source: ABC News
It is hot and windy as farmer Parduman Sinh looks out across a salt-encrusted floodplain in India's western state of Gujarat.
The Government has offered Mr Sinh part of the muddy expanse as compensation for his farm to make way for one of India's much touted smart cities.
Local land rights activists say much of the land is useless and during high tide it is inundated with seawater.
"Only when a farmer can farm will he be able to earn a livelihood. But as you can see, you can't grow anything here," Mr Sinh told ABC's Lateline program.
The smart cities idea is one of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's signature plans, and part of his promise to lift up the poor in a country the World Bank estimates has more people living in extreme poverty than any other nation.
So far, only 20 the planned 100 cities have been announced.
Mr Sinh's farm is supposed to make way for the Dholera Special Investment Region Smart City and in promotional video animations it looks like a waterfront metropolis akin to Dubai.
The reality is different.
At a meeting of local farmers, many shared concerns that smart cities were going to leave them with nothing.
"If we lose our land, what will we do?" Jasubhai Jeny Bhai said.
"We're not educated enough to work in factories. Our entire livelihood is based on our land."
Under the Government's compulsory acquisition plan, the farmers would retain ownership of half the land taken from them and be given the other half elsewhere.
The system is called "land pooling", and means that when the developed land increases in value, the original owners share some of that gain.
But Mr Sinh said he would have no way to earn a living in the meantime.
"If they take 50 per cent of our land and then give us that 50 per cent land at an infertile place, we're at a 100 per cent loss here," he said.
In the centre of Dholera construction for the smart city is underway, but on nearby farmland the building has been halted as they await a court ruling, due early next year.
Closer to Gujarat's capital, Ahmedabad is another of the so-called smart cities.
'History being made' in city of the future
The Gujarat International Finance Tec-City (GIFT) is being built on crown land and construction is well underway.
Underground, an impressive network of tunnels convey everything from chilled water for super-efficient centralised air conditioning, to household waste which goes directly to a central separation plant for sorting.
There it can be recycled, buried or even burnt to generate power.
Supposedly the brain child of Mr Modi — who was once the state's chief minister — GIFT's biggest strength is its status as a financial hub, free to transact internationally without burdensome regulation.
According to GIFT's managing director Ajay Pandey, the city has already done more than $750 million worth of business.
"We are actually proud to have the tag of India's first international financial services centre," he said.
Most of the smart cities will not be gleaming new creations like GIFT, but retrofits of existing metropolises.
GIFT has been mocked for being slow to attract as businesses or prospective residents, but Mr Pandey said the project was a long-term one.
"It's a great aspirational story," he said.
"Irrespective of who's here, who's not here, history's getting made on every passing day."
Mr Pandey said he believed Mr Modi was right to aim high.
"In a growing economy, if you want to leapfrog, you need some enabling things," he said.
"This is a perfect example of that."
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