UNDER ANILESH AHUJA’S ENTREPRENEURSHIP IN INDIA, A NEW DEVELOPMENT DEBUTS SOLAR PANELS, WATER HARVES
Updated: Oct 12
Originally Posted: UNDER ANILESH AHUJA’S ENTREPRENEURSHIP IN INDIA, A NEW DEVELOPMENT DEBUTS SOLAR PANELS, WATER HARVEST, WELL SYSTEMS, RECYCLING, AND GREEN SPACES ON 210 ACRES
This is a sentence that seems far-fetched: A former Wall Street investment banker is spearheading the development of an environmentally friendly city in India. But that’s exactly what Anilesh Ahuja is doing.
True to its name, the Solitaire Valley development is a one-of-a-kind small town. Rising up from a stretch of land in Uttar Pradesh in northeastern India, the city will house 14,000 families and a plethora of revolutionary ideas.
From housing that runs from affordable spaces to luxury flats, abundant parks and green space, and a host of environmentally friendly features that extend to the school and hospital, Solitaire Valley is an exercise in deploying all the best research about creating a healthy community into one planned development.
“These concepts are new to India and very new to tier two, tier three cities,” Anilesh Ahuja said. “I mean, these are two steps in front of a village. We are creating solar panels and buildings. We are creating water conservation units, water harvesting units. I mean, water is the next gold, by the way. You figure out a way to buy equity in water, do it. Because we are going to run short of it, at least part of the water. We're trying to create a carbon-neutral town, create that level of understanding and awareness amongst the people and not pick the land to a point where we're building every square inch that's allowed. To give you an example, in India and every state has its own rules, but the state that we are in allows you to build 70% of the land in terms of building. We are building 44. You are allowed to have only 30% green, we have 56. We're building less than 50% of what's allowed.”
The Case for Change
Much of the forward thinking that powers the more innovative aspects of Solitaire Valley can be traced directly back to Anilesh Ahouja’s childhood.
Although he was born in Mumbai, he moved to New Hampshire at the tender age of 14 and was immediately sent to an all-boys preparatory school. The jarring juxtaposition of moving from India to the U.S. left an indelible mark on him.
A top student, Ahuja attended college then moved to New York to work as an investment banker. In an odd way, the move felt familiar. He was following in his father’s footsteps by moving for the sake of a better life.
“That's what my dad did. He started off as an operations engineer at IBM, a U.S. company, which was a very, very prestigious job to get. Just basically got it through hard work and his father passed away when he was very young. I've never met my grandfather, and he made it with very, very humble beginnings,” Ahuja said. “He started his own business as IBM left India. He started to do something that IBM was doing, a small piece of it. Then built that business and then sold it to a company in the U.S. in the early '80s and thought it was important.”
Having experienced life in both countries, Anelish Ahuja has a unique understanding of how a city’s layout and amenities can influence culture. He hopes his new development, which mixes high- and low-cost housing together, will foster a deep sense of community among residents.
He believes Solitaire Valley will be an “aspirational city” that uses its amenities to encourage residents to do great things.
“I'll give you a little bit of a background on the city itself and then make a comparison of being a brown kid in Mumbai with 25 million and a brown kid in New Hampshire,” he said. “It's very, very different analysis, to say the least. Mumbai is a city like New York City. I mean, you go there, it's an aspirational city. Folks go there to succeed, build families, and it's actually, once you go there, you make it and then you stay for generations. It's an expensive city to live in. It's a tough city. It's like New York City. You make it there, you make it anywhere, so that's Mumbai in a sentence.”
Back to India
If Anilesh Ahuja followed his father’s example of moving up toward a better life, his return to India is his chance to bring far-off opportunities closer to home.
But after being away for so many years, he feels a bit like a stranger in his own land.
“I don’t even speak the language as well as the locals do, because my vocabulary is very limited. I left as a child. And I read and write at a different level. And I’m learning, I’m reading again. I’m trying to get myself back to that point where I’m not handicapped in any way,” he said. “There is a lot to still build. There’s a lot to still add to society. In this case, what we are doing is we are working in tier two, tier three cities, more of the underprivileged, undereducated places where we’re trying to create an aspirational environment. The building, our first project, was a township for 14,000 families with schools, playgrounds and making it a story of positive conservation.”
Ahuja has paid particular attention to the facilities that will help advance the development’s next generation, but he’s also assured that spaces will exist for everyone.
“There is one school in the township. We would probably hire an expert to run it. We are real estate developers, so we will build it, but we will have an expert person who has had a lot of success with running schools to come and run it for the community,” he said. “I mean, at the end of the day, the community belongs to the people. I mean, we will eventually build it and walk away, but we want to make sure that the quality is sustained. Create systems to make sure that the place is maintained, create systems for the kids to enjoy their childhood with space. India is an experience of multi-generational families living together. I mean, it's very much of a joint family culture. Old people have space to walk without being afraid to be knocked down by anybody. I mean, it's a gated community. You cannot just drive in.”
“[The school] is one of the first of its kind in this small town,” Ahuja added. “There will be solar panels to enhance electrical supply in a country which has issues with power. Then the water harvesting, all of this was done, the water harvesting was built way before you could put one brick down. These are major investments in well systems, underground well systems.”