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 $300,000 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 India.
“Gurgaon is just a symbol of beautiful buildings. Otherwise it’s rubbish,” said PK 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 Rs 21,000 ($380) a square foot in 2011 from about Rs 11,000 in 2008, according to a report by Citibank.
At current prices, a 2,000 square foot apartment in those areas would cost $760,000. At the very top end, huge 5,500 square foot apartments set around a golf course sell for about $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.
“I don’t think the government anticipated the level of growth or the problems that come with it and therefore, has no plan for it,” Mohit Gujral, vice chairman and managing director of DLF India, told Reuters.
“We are changing the urban landscape of the city because we have been allowed to get involved.”
DLF recently launched its own fire brigade equipped with Mercedes fire trucks imported from Finland. In a public-private partnership (PPP) with the state, it also started building a $100 million, 16-lane highway running through the city.
Vishwas Udgirkar, a senior director at consultants Deloitte India, believes Gurgaon’s good security, recreational centres, shopping areas, eateries and cinema complexes attract more people and companies to the city every year.
“But come to the public infrastructure, it’s pathetic,” said Udgirkar, whose office is in the city.
“In terms of governance, again it’s pathetic. I don’t know who would still call it ‘Millennium City’. It cannot be.”