Doklam is an area disputed between China and Bhutan and located near their tri-junction with India. India supports Bhutan’s claim. Chinese soldiers arrived with bulldozers and excavators and were building a high-mountain road near India’s border. India responded by sending troops to stop the Chinese army construction party from advancing into the Doklam Plateau. The tense standoff escalated, raising concerns in both capitals of an all-out military conflict. The standoff has been resolved and both armies have pulled back, much to the relief of all.
Yet, silently and stealthily a Chinese invasion of another nature is afoot and if we are not vigilant enough, it could overwhelm us. Chinese companies have jockeyed themselves into positions from where they are poised to play a leading role in the construction of some important and iconic infrastructure projects of Mumbai and in the state of Maharashtra.
Attracted by India’s infrastructure development programme, state-run Chinese firms, including China Harbour Engineering Co Ltd and China Datang Corp (CDC), are looking to buy Indian companies in the engineering, procurement, construction (EPC) and power generation space, respectively to drive their business. Not only are Chinese companies looking at investing in Indian companies but are also freely bidding for infrastructure and development projects in the country.
When the bids for the redevelopment of the iconic BDD Chawls at Worli, Mumbai were opened, it revealed that only three construction companies had bid for this iconic project and all three are foreign albeit in joint venture partnerships with Indian companies. What is even more alarming is that two of these three JVs, involve Chinese companies!
Another capital infrastructure project that has the potential to change the economic dynamics of Maharashtra is the prestigious Mumbai-Nagpur Expressway. Yet again, one sees that Chinese companies have pre-qualified for the project and are well-placed and poised to bag the mandate.
Sadly, this brings into focus even those Indian companies which are stooping low to join hands with Chinese partners at a time when the nation has been under threat from them. Surely, these well-known construction companies are aware of the overall scenario and even then to seek such partnerships is almost tantamount to being anti-national.
Chinese goods, rightly or wrongly, have ‘won’ the reputation of being ‘cheap, use & throw’ thanks to the huge quantities they churn out from humongous Chinese factories that give them decided advantages of economies of scale. Residential construction, however, requires expertise that calls for being sensitive to local interests, understanding the local environment, having knowledge of new construction technologies, possessing expert project management skills all at a competitive price. There are enough of strong, well-established Indian construction companies with proven track records that can deliver just as well or even better on these counts. Hence there is no plausible reason as to why Chinese companies, solely or through joint ventures, should figure in the list of those vying for a share of a project, especially one as sentimentally crucial as the redevelopment of the BDD Chawls.
Another important aspect to be borne in mind is PM Modi’s ‘Make in India’ initiative that is only relevant if it is also ‘Made by Indians’ provided of course that Indians possess the requisite know-how and capability. That is not at all in question in this present case. Surely, long-term national considerations are more important than short-term economic gains? It would be very injurious to national pride if large, prestigious projects in sensitive sectors involve Chinese companies in the present scenario and no stone should be left unturned to prevent such a malpractice from being committed.
One needs to take a step back and ask tough questions to the authorities who are responsible for giving business of such magnitude to these Chinese companies. Not that there is a dearth of quality infrastructure companies in India itself. It just makes so much sense to appoint an Indian company or an Indian consortium to create such infrastructure projects together. Not only will it help Modi’s agenda of ‘Make In India’, but will also help the Indian economy at a macro level.