Education city

Today, yet another concerned person asked me about the education city. And he too wanted to hear my views on the 1 billion dollar project.

Some of you may have seen my views in Tenzing Lamsang’s story. But, it appears that many others haven’t. So, with the permission of Business Bhutan, I’m reproducing their entire story….

Billion $ education city under scanner

US$ 500m foreign exchange a year and around 30 international universities on 1,000 acres: this is what the prime minister’s pet project, the planned education city, aims.

If MediaGlobal, a United Nations-based news agency, is to be believed, the ground breaking ceremony for the city is just a year away.

“While anchor universities should start operating initially, it is likely to be 10 years for the entire city to be in place gradually,” MediaGlobal quoted Kushal Sengupta of Infinity InfoTech Parks, the agency that is proposing to implement the project at a site yet to be identified.

But critics of the project say the manner in which the country’s biggest foreign investment plan is being pursued is not proper.

Opposition Leader Tshering Tobgay said that he is ‘very concerned’ about the project by its lack of transparency.

“The Royal Education Council had proposed a similar education city idea. So when the government took over REC, if it felt that it was a good idea, the government should have discussed it, invited international companies, evaluated them and then got the best possible deal for the country,” he said.

He gave the example of the IT Park where road shows were held in foreign countries and the government invited open bids.

Tshering Tobgay said the education city is giving an impression that government policy is being formulated around a particular project.

The government had earlier said it would have a detailed framework of private participation in infrastructure (PPI) for establishing such cities and for soliciting interest from firms.  But the cabinet decision to award the 1,000 acres land to DHI in February 2010 based on a proposal from Infinity was done before the framework came out.

Sources in the government told Business Bhutan that this had come as a surprise to senior government officials involved in drafting the PPI. The PPI document released on April 2 states that it is effective only from the date of notification which is April 2 with no retroactive clause. The PPI mentions a detailed bidding process with evaluation and approval committees for infrastructure projects.

“I am very surprised and concerned that the cabinet has already approved 1,000 acres of land for a project that nobody knows about, that has not even been developed and no detailed project report has even been carried out,” the opposition leader said.

The cabinet had recently approved the land as equity for DHI in the education city project and directed DHI to negotiate with Infinity and also look for other suitable partners. This is contrary to what the Infinity official had told MediaGlobal. He had indicated the project would start in a year.

Interestingly, 1,000 acres is the exact quantity of land proposed by Infinity for the education city.

A February 17 cabinet website press release says, “The cabinet has approved giving about 1,000 acres of land to DHI to be used as equity grant in the proposal to build a knowledge city in Bhutan by the Indian-based company, Infinity Techno Parks.”

But questions are asked on why the country’s biggest FDI project is being given to a company that does not have experience in building an education city.

“Infinity is just a Nu 10b company and their experience is in information technology with no experience in education city or even colleges.  Something I don’t understand in why the government is eager for a Nu 10b company with limited experience to carry out and develop a Nu 47b project?” asked Tshering Tobgay.

Business Bhutan found that, of Infinity’s 12 commercial projects, most comprised of single or double multistorey buildings in different locations mainly in and around Kolkata. One of them  is an information technology office called ‘Infinity Think Tank’ in Kolkata that comprises of two towers with 11 and 16 floor each which its website says is a ‘model of environmental and futuristic aesthetics’.

In terms of size compared to the Nu 10b Infinity, the net worth of owners of Indian infrastructure companies is far higher.  Jai Prakash is Nu 175.5b, GMR is Nu 279b and Unitech is Nu 522b.

The opposition leader said the government in its eagerness has already forced the project on DHI when in fact DHI should come with such investment proposals after evaluating them.

“The government should exercise extra caution and transparency the moment family members are involved. It is incumbent on the government to insure that there is no conflict of interest and that the government enjoys the confidence of the people at large,” said Tshering Tobgay.

The opposition leader also said he was worried about the sheer size and impact of the project of bringing in 40,000 foreign students when the population of Thimphu itself is around 80,000. He also said that the 100,000 employment that the project is supposed to generate would involve large scale import of foreign workers into Bhutan. “I think this is dangerous and beyond what we can handle as a society.”

Earlier, in an interaction with the media the prime minister had said, “it is something we are trying very hard to make it happen since it is in keeping with our manifesto and policies to make Bhutan an educational hub where we can bring in the very best of world class educational institutes.”

The prime minister said that if all things go well then it would be the first green city in the world and would set standards not only for Bhutan but for the world. He also said that it would improve Bhutan’s image as a destination for education and provide employment to many Bhutanese.

He said that DHI as the investment arm of the government was negotiating with Infinity to get the right terms and conditions. He said that other previously interested agencies like NAASCOM after showing initial interest had backed out. DHI CEO Karma Yonten said, “we have had some preliminary discussions with Infinity and we are trying to get a feel of what they are thinking about or where this is going.” He said that the project would be put before the DHI board which would give further directions on the course to follow.

He said that DHI would also be doing its due diligence like seeing the background of the company and its implementation capacity.

Another DHI official said that currently DHI would have to try and walk a fine balance between negotiating with Infinity and also try to see if others are interested without losing Infinity.

 

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  1. Lobxang says:

    I am wondering which ‘student friendly town’ of Bhutan would be lucky to receive the one thousand acre, one billion dollar Education City regime.
    Certainly not Thimphu because basic infrastructure to attract international students (besides the promise of quality education) starting from simple handicap access to bike routes are non existent, and also, there are more bars and discotheques than public libraries.
    But of course, it would be nice, if improving the general infrastructure of the city to international standards, are also included in the billion dollar.

  2. If I am correct and pardon me if i am wrong,. but most universities ( well known all voer the world) including in the US has about 20-30 thousand student including undergrad, exchange programs, grad and PHDs or whatever certificate program, These univerisities have taken at least 100 years or some even more to become what they are …and be able to take in the numbers they are right now. Besides, the annual operation cost of running these unvisities are numbers that most of us have not learnt count.
    A project such as the “education city” in Bhutan seems not only not doable but also unnecessary right now or even for a long time to come. To attract foreign students shhould be the alst of the reasons. Our own students don;t ahve good enough qualitiy education right now..our own young people don;t have jobs to keep them off the street. The unversity will definitely create jobs but for poeple from outside of the country to o the highly paid ones and for the Bhutanese… some low paid jobs.

    OUr coutry has taken a long time to be what it is right now… and for us even if things have been fast, it still has been fairly slow compared to the rest of the world. I beleive it is also because because we are a small country and we do things in a small but effective way. Trying to 100 thousand tourist or 40,000 foreing student is not what we want for our country.
    I think the PM should stsrt listening more to his own people than to people from outside who for some reason seem to have a lot fo interest in coming to work in Bhutan….
    Finally, the country has some good and qaulified people who will be able to do similar studies and researches that outsiders do and perhaps make similar recommendations, if not better because we have the best for our country on our minds.

  3. Sunny Side says:

    Small is Beautiful, please!!!

  4. It will be interesting to know how this fits with GNH. The Education city plan strikes to me as a business scheme for economic growth and not really for what Education ought to be. For instance, I wonder what will be the consequences of such a mega project on our culture and values?
    30 international universities? I wonder which ones will be coming, with what motives, & what will be on offer that’s not done better elsewhere? (The one in Doha, Qatar don’t even have half this number despite all the oil money, vision & best people to set it up)

  5. Practising GNH says:

    I would love to see such a city in our country. Even to hear the name “Education City” itself brings pride to me as a Bhutanese. But as someone said, we need to understand whether such cities are in line with our principles and values. Is it to spread the Bhutanese philosophy of life, of values and traditions? Is it to promote the peace and harmony in the world? Is it to promote environmental sustainability? The vision and mission of such projects will provide a clearer idea. Certainly, dollars must be generated as they need to sustain but the overall idea should be beyond dollars and should be around serving the humanity. But it would be wiser to first focus at providing safe drinking water, improve the living conditions in “bagos” and give enough “kharang” to our small population.

  6. Hopeless says:

    when will DPT govt. stop selling Bhutan??

  7. I wouldn’t be surprised if PM’s family members have a big hand in this billion $ project.

  8. OL, along with the education city I see they are creating a slum just next to your house. How is that happening?

  9. The most green city in the world is Thimphu?
    Excuse me dear Government of Bhutan!

    As somebody rightly said,forget about other things Thimphu does not have enough public areas, disability accesses are non-existent, no proper bike lanes, no plans for rapid transits, no energy efficient buildings and you name them.

    with more cars than anything, snail public buses, more bitumen roads then grasses, buildings out numbering trees, i wonder how we would consider ourselves green!

    The country is green for sure with trees as our forests are too steep or cold.
    But we with our excessive import of cars, other goods and total dependence on hydropower i doubt even if that will last long. Its unfortunate, but it could be true. Sometimes I wonder if there is any substance in government’s commitment to remain carbon neutral in COP15.

    Do we realize the sheer amount of manufactured goods we imports, millions of liters of fossil fuel and all the electronics which have tremendous carbon emissions?
    We might have to bite our tongue.

  10. Pema Wanmo says:

    Education city? JYT’s son and nephew are involved and gains if education city plans with Infinity, a BPO group from Kolkata, goes through.

  11. In my view, the Education City project is just too big for the size of Infinity group to handle. Further, having gone through their past operations, I can see that they have no past experience in such undertakings. Therefore, unless they field a consortium of other players with experience and the financial competence, Infinity by themselves would not qualify as the sole promoter of the project. So please have no fear that DHI will consider them on their own merit.

    Having said that, I believe that the Education City is THE greatest idea to date, provided we can get the right partner to pull it off. But I seriously doubt that we can attract a serious player since this is a HUGE, HUGEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE deal – at any scale. It is mind boggling! I can’t stop the gush of adrenaline at the prospect of what it can do to Bhutan, if it is successfully implemented.

    For once, please stop this crap about the involvement of the PM’s son and nephew and niece and grandchildren and uncles and aunties. This deal is just too big and complicated and complex for such theatrics from any one single person.

  12. media detective says:

    why call it ‘education city’. May as well call it ‘Palden and Palden city’

  13. Bhutan Reviewer says:

    I think the Infinity group should be allowed to invest as well, along side the present plan of DHIs Education city. But the government should not be involve in the investment. The government can allow the private investors to join hands with this group and start one such hub, with government laying down the guidelines that it be pro-GNH. There will be no worry of government money being misused.
    The two similar project can be good competitor.

  14. Arun Saxena says:

    Education city is much needed dream project of Bhutan.There is no harm in inviting foreign investment. Foreign investment can be a boon for Bhutan if its inflow is monitored properly . we should not hesitate in reaping the benefit of globalization

  15. First empty the cup and go for another drink or whatever. I meant first bring improvements and developments in our own educational institutions like Royal University of Bhutan, and then only go for your lusty projects like education city. It’s a hell for me to see such thing is going to happen in Bhutan.

  16. 1. For buying bundle of cable for office work we have to follow formalities. But this billion $ is awarded direct to infinity with stupor reason of back out. Re tender cannot?
    2. It will be nothing different from IT Park. Only the contractor benefits n under used
    3. The whole idea of being destination for foreign student is funny. It’s like making domestic airport for 200km distance. Instead of improving road n shortening where every one can afford- wasting money on air n only ministers can afford to fly that also with gov money.
    Pheeee all blunder for country m people for benefits to few Rich.

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