Singapore plans a subterranean future

A man looking at the underground cooling system installation of a resort in Singapore. Planners in the country are now looking underground as they seek new areas for growth. (AFP)
Updated 02 September 2019

Singapore plans a subterranean future

  • Singapore is the latest city to try to make use of subterranean space

VIENNA: Space-starved Singapore has expanded outwards by building into the sea and upwards by constructing high-rises but planners are now looking underground as they seek new areas for growth.

The nation has carefully managed its rapid growth in recent decades to avoid the problems faced by other fast-developing Asian metropolises, such as overcrowding and traffic chaos.

But with its population of 5.6 million expected to grow steadily in coming years, authorities are now considering how to better use the space below the streets in a city that is just half the size of Los Angeles.

Singapore has already built an underground highway and state-of-the-art air conditioning system, but is now looking to house more facilities beneath the surface in order to optimize land use above it.

“We need to consider options for putting critical infrastructure underground,” Abhineet Kaul, a Singapore-based public sector specialist at consultancy Frost & Sullivan, told AFP.

“We have an increasing need for industrial, commercial, residential and green space on land in Singapore.”

According to a draft development plan released in March, authorities want to put utilities, transport as well as storage and industrial facilities underground in order to free up land on the surface. There are as yet no plans to put housing underground, however.

Three-dimensional technology will be used to produce subterranean maps, with three pilot areas targeted initially, according to the Urban Redevelopment Authority, which created the development plan.

Singapore is the latest city to try to make use of subterranean space.

Finland’s capital Helsinki has tunnels housing car parks, shopping malls and even swimming pools, while Montreal in Canada has a so-called “Underground City,” a tunnel network connecting key points.

In a report commissioned by Samsung about what the world will look like in 50 years, experts predicted the appearance of “earthscrapers” — like an inverted skyscraper burrowing downwards for many storys — in an attempt to save space in overcrowded cities.

Singapore’s main method of expansion has been land reclamation from the sea, which has increased the country’s area by over a quarter to 720 sq. km., with most growth happening since independence in 1965. But reclamation has become more expensive as it moved to deeper waters, while countries that used to sell sand to Singapore have stopped exports due to environmental concerns.

Unregulated sand mining erodes beaches and riverbanks, affecting wildlife and removing natural barriers to flooding, and dredging the seabed can damage ecosystems, green groups say.

Moving facilities underground has advantages beyond saving space, including reduced use of air conditioning which could save energy in Singapore’s tropical climate.

Still, building underground in Singapore poses challenges — construction is difficult beneath an already urbanized environment while new projects will compete for space with existing subterranean facilities.


India probes Flipkart, Amazon discounts after retailers complain

Updated 15 October 2019

India probes Flipkart, Amazon discounts after retailers complain

  • Products on Amazon, Flipkart listed at steep discounts in sale
  • Trader groups allege firms violating foreign investment rules

NEW DELHI: The Indian government is looking into whether hefty discounts offered on Walmart-owned Flipkart and Amazon.com during their online festive sales violate foreign investment rules, a commerce ministry official told Reuters.
India introduced new rules in February aimed at protecting the 130 million people dependent on small-scale retail by deterring big online discounts. The rules forced e-commerce firms to tweak their business structures and drew criticism from the United States, straining trade ties between New Delhi and Washington.
While Amazon and Flipkart say they’ve complied with the federal rules, local trader groups say the two companies are violating them by burning money to offer discounts — of more than 50 percent in some cases — during the ongoing festive sales.
Reuters reviewed emails and internal training material from Flipkart showing the company is in some cases offering to reduce, or forfeit, its sales commission from sellers that offer discounts.
The commerce ministry official said the government was reviewing complaints and evidence filed by the Confederation of All India Traders (CAIT), a group representing some 70 million brick-and-mortar retailers, alleging Amazon and Flipkart were violating the foreign investment rules.
The official declined to comment on possible action, but executives from Amazon and Flipkart were summoned to meet commerce ministry officials last week to discuss the matter.
Flipkart in a statement said it had a “good meeting” with government officials and it was “deeply committed to doing business the right way in India.”
Amazon said it had an “open & transparent discussion” with officials and has a high bar for compliance.
Seeking to attract shoppers around the key Hindu festival of Diwali, both retailers have placed full-page advertisements in top national daily the Times of India to showcase discount offerings stretching from Samsung and Apple phones to clothing and diapers.
“Customers are going online because of the unbelievable discounts. Because of this sales at offline businesses are down 30 percent to 40 percent this month,” CAIT’s secretary general Praveen Khandelwal said.
Two emails received by Flipkart sellers in September, just days ahead of the inaugural phase of the festive sales, showed it offering to partly fund discounts.
The company would “burn” 3 percent of the discount if a seller lowered a product price by 15 percent, or 9 percent if the seller discounted by 30 percent, said one of the emails.
In training material posted on Flipkart’s restricted website for its sellers, seen by Reuters, the company asks them to prepare for the festive season by saying “nothing is bigger than this” and explaining how they can benefit by discounting products for Flipkart’s premium customers.
“We want to ensure that you fetch as much profit from it as possible ... whatever the discount you are offering, half of that will be reimbursed to you by Flipkart,” a post said.
A Flipkart source said the incentives were compliant with Indian regulations and were aimed at promoting sellers’ earnings by effectively reducing the commission they pay.
All India Online Vendors Association, whose 3,500 members sell products on various online platforms including Flipkart, in a statement said fewer than 100 of its members benefitted from Flipkart’s partial discount funding, giving some sellers an unfair advantage.