Business Today

Growth pangs in techie-land

The IT boom has turned Bangalore, Hyderabad, Pune and Gurgaon into cities of opportunities. But on the flip side, it has turned these cities into urban nightmares.

By T.V. Mahalingam        Print Edition: August 26, 2007

Bangalore, Hyderabad and Pune have a lot in common. Like many well-known brands, these cities love their epithets. Bangalore, for example, has prided itself as being the Garden City and Pub City; Pune is known as the Oxford of the East and the Detroit of India; and Hyderabad as the City of Pearls and Lakes.

 
Bangalore: Economic prosperity has outpaced infrastructure growth in India's Silicon Valley
Each of these cities was once a pensioner's paradise-sleepy towns that were known for their laidback lifestyles. However, over the past decade, the tech boom has resulted in the creation of swank campuses, jobs and more epithets. Bangalore is now the Silicon Valley of India; and Hyderabad's is India's uber-cool Cyberabad. But the dazzling growth of these cities has not just brought in dollars and malls, but also large-scale migration, traffic jams, pollution, creaking infrastructure and discontent.

Silicon Woes

In Bangalore, serpentine traffic jams are a daily feature as thousands of code-jocks make their way to Electronics City-home to Infosys Technologies, Wipro and other tech majors. Almost 18,000-20,000 cars trundle up and down Hosur Road, en route to Electronics City. The metamorphosis of Bangalore into India's it capital, with over 1,600 companies generating exports of over $12 billion (Rs 44,000 crore), has been anything but smooth. The city's infrastructure is decaying across all segments. It faces a chronic power shortage of around 1,000-1,500 mw, and public transportation is erratic and inadequate, to say the least.

Bangalore's roads are like lunar surfaces-cratered and hostile to navigation-and road and traffic planning within the city often defy reason. For example, Bangalore has the dubious distinction of having what is perhaps the world's only traffic signal on a flyover. The rapid deterioration of the infrastructure has miffed the IT industry which is calling for the city's administration to be overhauled. "The city administration needs to be autonomous and should chart and fund its own expansion and growth," says T.V. Mohandas Pai, Director (Human Resources), Infosys Technologies. Ramesh Ramanathan of Janaagraha, a citizen's empowerment movement, says that the city municipality, the Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike (BBMP), suffers from a "chasm of credibility" and needs to drastically change its functioning if it wants its initiatives to be taken seriously.

Bangalore:

Population:
7 million

Rank in 2006:
2

Rank in 2007:
3

Software exports:
Rs 44,000 crore

Major players:
Infosys, Wipro, IBM, Accenture

Advantages:
Talent pool, climate

Disadvantages:
Rising costs, expensive real estate, crumbling infrastructure

Solutions:
Expanding scope of city municipality, expanding public transportation with Bangalore Metro

There is also a growing feeling that the government is refusing to learn from past experiences. For example, a couple of years ago, a day's heavy rains flooded the streets and forced companies to shut shop for two days. "The government seems to have learnt no lessons from that. We continue to have clogged drains and flooded streets," grumbles Biocon CMD Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, who is in the process of moving her manufacturing to Visakhapatnam in Andhra Pradesh to counter poor infrastructure and rising real estate costs in her home town.

Toxic Air and Queues

 
Hyderabad: Flyovers are the only option to decongest Punjagutta, the city's new commercial hub 

Pune's traffic woes are similar to those in Bangalore but it also has its own sets of other problems. Pune's foul air has "Talibanised" its women, who have to wrap dupattas around their faces to escape the smothering pollution. A report tabled by the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) ranks the city as the 13th most polluted in the country. A World Bank report released in 2003, was less kind-it ranked Pune as Asia's fifth-most polluted city. "The rankings of PMC keep changing like the flavour of the season.

But the fact remains that Pune is among the most polluted cities in the country. The main reason for that is auto pollution," says Sujit Patwardhan of Parisar, a respected NGO working in the areas of environmental action in Pune. The number of vehicles registered in Pune is growing at a rate of approximately 9 per cent every year and has crossed the 14-lakh mark. The sound pollution, according to reports by PMC, was 30 per cent higher than the permissible limits of 65 decibels. The city's administration has its hands full tackling these problems in the face of large-scale migration to the city.

But overall, Pune-based CEOs believe that the city is still better off than Bangalore. "People who are born and brought up in this city are far more loyal to the city and do not easily move out. As a result, attrition levels are low," says Ganesh Natarajan, MD, Zensar Technologies. Also, the abundance of educational institutions in Pune makes it a great city for companies to hire talent. Like Srikanth Sundararajan, coo of Pune-based Persistent Systems says: "It's a good place to hire talent."

Meanwhile, Gurgaon's infrastructure belies its position as India's third-largest it hub. Traffic jams, absence of parking spaces and daily power cuts continue to challenge the city's growth. "Who is responsible for the productivity lost because of these daily traffic nightmares?" questions Yogesh Vaidya, Chairman and CEO of the Silicon Valley-based Software Technology Group, which has its primary offshore development and support centre in Gurgaon.

Compared to these cities, Hyderabad seems to be better off- at least for now. B. Ramalinga Raju, Chairman, Satyam Computer Services, which is headquartered in the city, says: "Every city is under pressure when it comes to infrastructure. The contrast becomes all the more glaring when we compare these with cities in other countries, and especially in China. However, if we rank only Indian cities, then Hyderabad will fare quite well." Raju believes that Hyderabad is better off because it does not face problems on the utilities front (like power and water). More importantly, the city is in the process of building infrastructure (like the new international airport, new flyovers, outer ring road and the numerous housing development projects). "Hyderabad's infrastructure and traffic is not bad and we just have to remove a few bottlenecks," says M. Vidyasagar, Executive Vice President, TCS. He is referring to the need to speed up projects, like the flyovers, that are being built along some of the key roads. The only problem in Hyderabad seems to be the increase in commuting time which has been forced by a slight delay in the completion of a couple of flyovers.

Hyderabad:

Population:
7.5 million

Rank in 2006:
5

Rank in 2007:
5

Software exports:
Rs 16,000 crore

Major players:
Satyam, Infosys, Wipro, Infotech Enterprises, Microsoft, Oracle, Nipuna, Dell and Google among others

Advantages:
Availability of talent ,better power and water supply, relatively cheap housing rental, equidistant from major cities

Disadvantages:
Increased commuting time at present resulting from traffic bottlenecks at key locations
Solutions: Timely completion of major projects such as flyovers under-construction, the outer ring road and the proposed metro rail

Urban Angst

Infrastructure constraints are only one half of the problem facing these cities. The increasing alienation of the local populace, who feel swamped by burgeoning migration, is another issue. In Karnataka, the Karnataka Rakshana Vedike, an outspoken advocacy group for the rights of Karnataka and Kannadigas, vociferously protested the undue influence of immigrants in Bangalore. Its activists have attacked shops for not displaying local language signboards and even criticised the government for not protecting the rights of Kannada entrepreneurs. "We want the government to recognise the important role they have played in Karnataka's progress and not give undue attention to outsiders," said Narayana Gowda, President, Karnataka Rakshana Vedike, at a recent protest rally that saw around 5,000 cadres hold up traffic in central Bangalore.

Intellectuals, such as Kannada littérateur U.R. Anantha Murthy, have contended that the government needs to do more to ensure equitable growth across the state. "Karnataka isn't just about it. The government needs to recognise that there is much more to Bangalore and the state and address the concerns of its citizens across the board," he says.

Old Style Solutions

Most of the problems that these cities are facing are typical of urban centres experiencing massive growth. And the solutions for these problems vary from city to city. Pune faced severe power shortages less than a year-and-a-half ago. That was solved thanks to an initiative by corporate houses that used their idle generators to make captive power, and then feed it into the grid.

Pune's Mayor Rajlakshmi Bhosale believes that the large number of flyovers and road widening projects may solve the city's traffic problems soon. "We plan to build several satellite townships around Pune, like Hinjewadi, where the IT Park is located. We also want to strengthen the local public transport system by boosting the Bus Rapid Transit System that we have started implementing in the city," says Bhosale.

Pune:

Population :
34 lakh (approx)

Rank in 2006:
7

Rank in 2007:
8

Software exports:
Rs 15,150 crore

Major players:
Infosys, Wipro, Zensar, TCS, Cognizant

Advantages:
Talent pool, reasonably proactive government, minimal power problems

Disadvantages:
Pollution, bad traffic jams, talent advantage may get eroded as more and more players set up shop
Solutions: Better public transport projects, expanding area of city, and setting up of satellite townships

 
Pune: Hinjewadi township near Pune will ease traffic in the city
In Gurgaon, the Haryana government is taking steps to improve the infrastructure. Says Bhupinder Singh Hooda, Chief Minister of Haryana: "We will take care of any gaps in Gurgaon's infrastructure." V.S. Kundu, Special Secretary and Director, it, Haryana, adds that the state will add more than 5,000 mw of generation capacity at a cost of Rs 15,000 crore.

Hyderabad, meanwhile, continues to boost its existing city road network. Work is in progress on the first phase of the Rs 4,000-crore Outer Ring Road (ORR) project to decongest traffic flow and provide quicker access to several parts of the city. This is expected to be commissioned by March 2008. Equally important is the proposed Rs 8,482-crore elevated metro rail project for Hyderabad that will cover 66 km. "We have just opened the technical bids and will identify the BOT (build, operate and transfer) developer by October. Work on the project is expected to begin by early 2008," says N.V.S. Reddy, Managing Director of Hyderabad Metro Rail and Additional Commissioner, Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC).

Gurgaon:

Population:
1.5 million

Rank in 2006:
Not Applicable

Rank in 2007:
Not Applicable

Software exports:
Rs 10,500 crore

Major players:
TCS, Wipro, IBM, HCL Technologies, Microsoft India

Advantages:
Proximity to Delhi, low pollution

Disadvantages:
Chaotic traffic, lack of parking space

Solutions:
Completion of Delhi-Gurgaon Expressway; multi-level parking; development of Manesar and Bawal as new industrial hubs

Bangalore, however, seems to be ominously leaden-footed for a leading technopolis. Despite the progress made by the state government in kick-starting several infrastructure projects, critics are already up in arms at the delays and the apparent lack of co-ordination between civic agencies that have plagued them. For example, the Bangalore International Airport may begin operations next year, but travellers can expect to spend 90 minutes or more driving across town to the airport, which is located 40 km away from the city centre. The reason? A connecting expressway won't be ready until 12 months after the airport opens and worse, a rail link could take three years more.

So, with second-tier cities improving their infrastructure and attracting investors, Bangalore and the other it hubs may need to smarten up their act if they are to retain their current leading status in India's IT industry.

(With E. Kumar Sharma, Rahul Sachitanand and Saumya Bhattacharya)

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