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April 28, 1998


Silicon shift

Email this story to a friend. It's apathy and excessive growth, not degeneration, that is at work in Bangalore. The evolution of Hyderabad into an IT base doesn't mean Bangalore is no more India's silicon capital. Or so locals say.

Madhuri Velegar in Bangalore

So what if there are no sparrows in Bangalore, the squirrels are still here. So
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what if everyone does not get 24 hours water supply and 24 hours electricity, palmtops, smart cards and e-commerce are making visible waves in offices of the IT giants of this Silicon Valley.

So what if Ratan Tata was heard saying, "Bangalore no longer attracts investment as Hyderabad does; the city's infrastructure does not keep pace with the growth of industries, especially information technology companies of world repute.'' He probably had good reason to say so, considering the inordinate bureaucratic delay involved in setting up his pet world class software park, a first of its kind in India.

Despite local newspaper reports screaming that Bangalore has gone bust with MNCs rushing to a Hyderabad rendered salubrious to the IT industry by Chief Minister Nara Chandrababu Naidu who is providing excellent roads, power, water, transport, housing, state-of-the-art communication network etc to attract overseas and domestic investors, all is not lost for Bangalore -- yet. No matter even that Microsoft has set up its new centre in the Andhra Pradesh capital.

It is even said, and hats off to Naidu here, that he lobbied and secured the introduction of direct flights between Hyderabad and Singapore with the belief that the Far East provides many answers for his state.

In stark contrast, Karnataka's dormant Chief Minister J H Patel of the Janata Dal -- the party that proved such a loser at the recent general election -- and former industries minister R V Deshpande are yet to come to terms with the increasing load on Bangalore caused by an increasing immigrant population.

Nor did they take adequate measures to redress industry problems and protect the city's IT industry, an exporter of between 26 to 28 per cent of software worth more than Rs 1.8 billion.

Dr Sridhar Mitta, president, technology division and chief technology officer, Wipro Infotech Group, one of the Indian companies with a base in Hyderabad, says: "The Confederation of Indian Industry had met Deshpande with a list of problems and possible suggestions last year. He promised to take action but when we met again six months later, nothing was done." And the result?

"There are further plans to set up offices in Madras and Mysore to tackle different domains of Wipro's business to expand and broad base ourselves.''

Others expected to move to Hyderabad are Oracle, BaaN, D E Shaw, Citicorp, Satyam Computers, Boeing, Motorola etc. As R Ravikumar, director, Intel Development Centre, puts it: "Hyderabad has been able to communicate a vision because of Chandrababu Naidu. And the city seems to be putting it all together. And while the concept sounds good, it all depends on how well it will shape up.''

Sure, many businessmen in Bangalore are disappointed with the indifferent state government and a bunch of politicians more interested in "petty, intra-state politics than the welfare of the state and its denizens.''

But is that why they are heading for Hyderabad, Madras and Pune, fast growing cities promising better infrastructure, transport, amenities and sops like reduced taxes?

Not really, if you go by what IT guru N R Narayana Murthy, chairman and managing director, Infosys, has to say.

"People are making a mountain out of a molehill. Companies anywhere in the world always explore untapped, new terrain; they look for growth opportunities outside their home. So what if some of them are moving to Hyderabad, Pune or Bhubaneshwar? Aren't these places Indian? Why the uproar? Just because of one or two stray incidents, you can't make a blatant generalisation that Hyderabad is better than Bangalore.''

M D Rao, vice-president business development, Software Services Support and Education Centre, explains the shift thus, "Software development centres need one overwhelmingly important resource: stable, cost-effective and highly competent professionals. In India, competent software professionals are found everywhere in our major cities, even in smaller towns.''

He goes on to explain that with the primary resource independent of geographic location, the choice of a city is increasingly influenced by secondary factors: cost operations, power and telecom facilities, housing, transportation, climate and social considerations. It would be surprising under these circumstances to have one city dominate the industry over an extended period of time.

Some of these considerations are directly within a state government's control, he says. Andhra Pradesh has succeeded by leveraging on what it had -- manpower -- and demonstrating its commitment to addressing shortcomings such as infrastructure.

Bangalore is metamorphosing rapidly. From a small mud fort town built by Kempe Gowda to becoming a hip, cosmopolitan city with multiple sobriquets -- Garden City, Silicon Valley, Pub City -- in the 1990s, the transformation is not yet complete.

As a couple from Bombay who set up house in Bangalore put it: "We've come here at a transitional stage, when the climate's not as salubrious, the sambar-chutney is not as tasty, the petrol not as cheap and the people not as friendly.''

Municipal Commissioner A Ravindra, popularly known as the demolition man-cum-do-gooder admits, "Bangalore's municipal corporation is responsible for the haphazard growth of this city. It has grown rapidly in the last three decades; in fact, its sudden growth took everyone by surprise. That's why problems of urbanisation, which is natural for any city that is growing, has been precipitated. Had the growth been planned (for instance like the residential areas like Jayanagar, Indira Nagar, Koramangala, J P Nagar) the situation would not have been so bad.''

So just how bad is bad?

Quite bad, if you remember the tall claims and short promises made by J H Patel regarding several projects to ameliorate existing standards of living and working in Bangalore by the mid-1990s:

a. A $ 250 million hi-tech information technology park with integrated facilities in association with a Singapore consortium and the Tatas.

Not ready.

b,. The first private sector airport of international standards at Devanhalli, 30 km from Bangalore, on build-own-operate basis, being set up in association with the Tatas-Raytheon-Singapore consortium.

Not ready.

c. A hardware technology park to provide high quality infrastructural facilities required by export-oriented electronic and computer industries.

Not ready.

d. An export promotion industrial park with comprehensive infrastructural facilities to house high tech export units at Bangalore.

Not ready.

e. A light rail transit system for Bangalore to meet the needs of the growing metropolis on build-own-operate-transfer basis through private sector participation.

Not a brick laid.

f. A coast-based 1000 MW capacity thermal power plant by Cogentrix, USA.

Not ready.

g. Two major integrated steel plants of three million tonnes per annum capacity to exploit rich iron-ore resources.

Not ready.

h. The 3SE -- a joint venture between the European Commission and the Government of India -- to start work in the field of computer software, services, support and education.

Not ready.

i. Proposed development of the southern gas grid.

You guessed right. Not ready.

Narayana Murthy affirms, "We will get investments in the future, and there will be more MNCs coming into Bangalore (we already have more than 20-odd now). We have not lost all our potential but the J H Patel government should wake up and do something concrete.''

The optimism is charming but also a little pitiful. An old resident T P Issar says, "Bangalore is going through a natural, cyclical phenomenon. All the pollution, congestion that is happening is a good sign of this growth. A proactive civic body and a responsible able commissioner like A Ravindra can set the city in motion once again.

According to Issar, "Bangalore has a decided edge over the other cites with its planned layouts and climate and institutes of science, space, learning and research and pool of human resources. It's only a matter of time, I think even less than three years, that you will notice a massive change for the better.''

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