India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi and France's President Francois Hollande met in connection with India's agreement to hire French engineering companies to design new smart cities.

French engineering and design company Egis Group, as a part of a Hong Kong-based AECOM Asia-led consortium, has won the bid from the Mumbai Metro Rail Corp. as general consultants for implementation of Mumbai’s fully underground, 32.50-kilometer-long Metro Line 3 project, with 27 stations, on May 15. Japan International Co-operation Agency (JICA) will provide $2.08 billion as a grant for the project. The partners include Japan-based Padeco and U.S.-based LBG Inc.

Egis Chairman and CEO Nicolas Jachiet recently met India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi in France and came away convinced that India is open for business. “What we heard was a string of commitments to promote investment in India,” he told ENR. During the visit, French firms committed to an agreement that covers three of the 100 smart cities for which France has committed to invest 2 billion Euros. Development funds cover “Pondicherry and Nagpur,” French President Francois Hollande announced in April. “We will try to be part of the program. … [We can expect] competition from French companies or others, even if the French [are] financing,”  Jachiet said.

Moving forward, Egis will stress innovation by providing high-value engineering, Jachiet said. “Because we are [making] big efforts and the Indian market is growing with huge needs for transport and water, we are committed to bringing in technology. … An important strategy for us is to bring together the best of expertise in urban planning, transport, waste management, buildings [and] water supply, using building information modeling to design the city of the future in India.”

Jachiet added Egis would be responding to future requests for proposals for smart cities in India. “It is good to see India is committed,” he said.

Egis is now a consulting engineer on the preliminary design report for roads and utilities for India’s first smart city, at Dholera in Gujarat. Its two metro projects in Chennai and Kochi in South India will be completed by 2016.

Despite delays caused by hurdles in infrastructure projects due to land acquisition, “a sensitive issue in India. … [As] an engineering company, we would like to see clear decisions on projects [as well as] a proper balance and processes within a limited period of time and a clear legal framework.” Egis has been operating for two decades in India and sees it as one of the group’s top markets. Others include the Middle East and Brazil.

“So much has to be done in India. We’re here for the long term,” said Jachiet. Most of Egis’ business in Asia is from India. Of its 12,000 staff worldwide, 1,600 are India-based. “There is a huge need in the Middle East, and we count on our Indian team to provide services,” he added.

The company recently announced plans to make Bangkok its Southeast Asia hub “to tap business from Thailand, Myanmar, Cambodia and Indonesia,” said Jachiet. "In China, we are present in design and project management of nuclear plants. We would like to do that in India, also. But we do not have a big foothold in China, for historical reasons.”

While Egis is not involved in financing because “our biggest asset is our services and people,” Jachiet said, the company has to deal with contractor coordination and cost
 control. “Cost optimization is the heart of what we would like to do. We are able to do a simple design with a strict mandate. What our engineers really like is a project that starts with a [blank] sheet for us to produce different solutions [for] the client with the highest level of expertise.” BIM will be developed in India in coming years, he assures, which will ensure that, from start to completion, a project will be on the same information level. “It is a foolproof tool. It will come gradually to India. Our goal is to achieve it.”

He adds, “Supervising what the contractor is doing is our basic task—to be between the contractor and client to request corrections when there are problems.”

In all this, the code of ethics is not forgotten. The group has a worldwide policy on ethics and recently published a detailed code of integrity, given to each employee worldwide. “We provide training for managers on approval of contracts, process information on clients and partners, so we need face no legal problems,” he added. A few clients had to be rejected along the way. What if the company faces a problem midway during the project? “We stop,” said Jachiet.