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Ranju Sarkar / Rediff 

Mumbai, Aug 6: Today, if you travel by road from the central suburb of Ghatkopar to the western suburb of Versova, it could take you an hour if you are not caught in a bad traffic jam. Come 2009 and you could cover the same distance by the Mumbai metro in 21 minutes and, since the metro will have air-conditioned coaches, you can hope to arrive in good shape. Besides, the maximum fare of Rs 10 will not pinch most pockets.

Similarly, if you are a businessman or a senior executive tired of coping with the city's crumbling infrastructure, you could think of buying an apartment in the Navi Mumbai special economic zone, which promises to offer living conditions on a par with the world's most sophisticated cities. The city will come up next to the Navi Mumbai airport from where you could catch a flight to anywhere in the world.

And in case you are worrying about visiting Mumbai, a new 22.5 km, six-lane highway across the harbour will get you to central Mumbai in just 30 minutes.

Sounds too good? Well, that's a glimpse of the future of Mumbai. And what's common in these dream infrastructure projects is that the Ambani brothers, Mukesh and Anil, are either involved or pitching for them.

The brothers already have a finger in many infrastructure projects in the city. Anil Ambani's Reliance Energy-led consortium has bagged the Rs 2,356-crore (Rs 23.56 billion) first phase of the metro project and will definitely bid for the next few phases.

Mukesh Ambani, with other partners, is building two SEZs (Navi Mumbai and Maha Mumbai) and setting up a world-class convention centre in the Bandra-Kurla complex for which the land alone costs Rs 1,104 crore (RS 11.04 billion). While Anil plans to expand Reliance Energy's [Get Quote] Dahanu plant by 1,000 Mw, Mukesh will set up a 1,000-Mw captive power plant in the Navi Mumbai SEZ.

Both brothers have bid for the Rs 4,000-crore (Rs 40 billion) trans-harbour link that will connect the island city with Navi Mumbai and Mukesh's two SEZs.

Anil is also likely to bid for the new international airport at Navi Mumbai even as a non-compete clause in the family split will ensure that Mukesh can't bid for airports. But given its strategic location (the airport will be next to the Navi Mumbai SEZs), experts feel that Mukesh may bid indirectly through an associate like Anand Jain.

"The brothers have emerged as serious players in infrastructure projects in and around Mumbai," said a high-ranking state government official who requested anonymity.

To be fair, it's not that the brothers are bidding only for projects in Maharashtra. Anil just won a road project in Tamil Nadu and the 4,000-Mw Sasan ultra mega power project, while Mukesh is setting up an SEZ in Haryana too. Both brothers are keen on city gas distribution projects, including in Mumbai.

Unlike the product-market economy (which was liberalised in the early 1990s) and the financial markets deregulation (of late 1990s, when foreign and private banks were allowed), the infrastructure business is yet to be liberalised.

"It still involves government licensing, award of concessions or build-operate-transfer schemes. These require extensive networking skills, which the Ambanis are good at," said a Delhi-based expert on infrastructure.

"Today, manufacturing has far higher risks with the threat of Chinese dumping or reducing import duties while if you have an infrastructure project in your bag, it can offer you a steady stream of income," he added. That explains why the brothers are betting big on infrastructure.

"As a promoter, I would be unhappy if an infrastructure project does not offer 18 per cent return on equity over a 15-year period," said Nikhil Gandhi, chairman, Skill Infrastructure, which roped in Mukesh and Anand Jain in the Navi Mumbai SEZ.

"I see no reason why Anil or Mukesh should not be interested in infrastructure projects in the city. It's a very good opportunity. In a city with high disposable incomes and crumbling infrastructure, if you build railways and road bridges, people are bound to travel by them," added an expert.


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