A NEW momentum and drive to develop India is palpable, and visiting President Tony Tan Keng Yam wants Singapore and Singaporean businesses to ride on this renewed optimism.
Dr Tan identified at least five promising areas arising from the slew of ambitious initiatives that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has introduced since his election last May.
These include the development of smart cities and skills training centres, improving transport links as well as encouraging Indian states to go out on their own and directly link up with countries for expertise and investments.
The President was giving Singapore reporters a wrap-up of his four-day state visit to India that ended yesterday.
India plans to build 100 smart cities, using digital technologies to reduce costs and resource consumption, and engage effectively with citizens, among others.
Singapore can play a role. As a small country, it has "accumulated considerable expertise in land planning, urban planning, transportation links and digital infrastructure", said Dr Tan.
Already, Singapore has tied up with Andhra Pradesh state to develop a master plan for its new capital city, which will be 10 times the size of Singapore.
Its first phase, which includes government and commercial buildings, will be ready in five years.
"If it goes successfully, other states and cities could be interested in some of these ideas," he said. "This state focus will liberalise a lot of energy and create direct contacts."
Four state chief ministers have visited Singapore since last May.
Mr Modi's "Make in India" project, to transform the country into a manufacturing and industrial hub, has given rise to another promising area: the setting up of skills training centres to level up the skills of Indian workers.
Singapore has already taken the step, teaming up with the New Delhi government in 2013 to establish a skills training centre modelled on Singapore's Institute of Technical Education.
It is offering courses in hospitality and retail merchandising at a temporary campus, and will offer 10 courses when its new campus is ready in two years' time.
Improving connectivity via ports and railways is yet another potential business.
Mr Modi wants to modernise and extend India's railway system, an ambitious plan that will need lots of funds, Dr Tan noted. "Singapore as a financial hub may be of help."
Similarly, there are opportunities for companies in logistics and maritime.
Dr Tan also welcomed Mr Modi's Act East policy of greater engagement with the region.
Singapore can play a role, he said, noting that "Singapore has always been an interlocutor between India and ASEAN: We know them well, and we're a founding member of ASEAN".
He acknowledges that doing business in India has challenges, like the country's bureaucracy.
But he is hopeful that "if we concentrate in small niche projects, like the smart city, we can make rapid progress".
He said India's 360 million young people offer Singapore companies a huge market for goods and services.
"It's up to us to see, and our businesses to see, how we can come here and invest."
Reflecting on what he called a fruitful and successful visit, he said: "We should do what we can to ride on this new drive."
This article was first published on Feb 12, 2015.
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