Wednesday, October 27, 2004

City under seige

City Under Seige
Bangalore's story shows how politicos can wreak havoc with the best laid plans of evolved corporates and concerned citizens.
Business Today

Just last year, Bangalore was the central player in the best-known urban fairy-tale in India. The state government was responsive to the city's needs (and cognisant of its importance); citizens were more satisfied (according to a poll conducted by research firm TNS) with the state of urban infrastructure than they had been anytime in the previous five years; and a citizen movement Janaagraha was creating a new paradigm in participative governance.

Circa 2004, it is evident this fairy-tale isn't a happily-ever-after story. Roads have become unmotorable, traffic unnavigable, and the state government, unresponsive. The citizen movement continues to thrive, although things would have been a whole lot smoother for it had the government been a trifle more concerned about the city. Much of this has to do with the perception that the Congress' relatively dismal showing in the elections to the Karnataka assembly held in May 2004 (it is back in power, but as part of a coalition now) had to do with its urban-centric focus, exemplified, the proponents of this theory say, by the Bangalore Agenda Task Force (BATF), a public-private partnership created by the previous government and chaired by Infosys CEO Nandan Nilekani. At the core of batf's success was the fact that it had the blessings of the then Chief Minister S.M. Krishna; ergo, progressive bureaucrats set out, helped and aided by BATF, to do their best, and retrograde ones made a show of being interested. Today, at least one progressive bureaucrat (former Bangalore Development Authority head Jayakar Jerome) is in the doghouse and while the BATF hasn't been disbanded, it is evident it no longer has the clout it once had.

Protests abound: students of the Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore staged one recently to highlight the sorry state of the road that leads up to the school. "How do you expect (executives from) major corporations to travel down this non-existent road?" asks one student. And a group of some 15 technology firms including Philips Software, hp, IBM and Motorola have come under the banner of Bangalore Forum for Information Technology and threatened to boycott, a government sponsored industry jamboree. "The government is not even attempting to solve basic issues," says Bob Hoekstra, CEO, Philips Software. The state's it Secretary M.K. Shankar Linge Gowda is unfazed. "There might be certain issues that will be sorted out," he says sanguinely. Still, given that Wipro head Azim Premji has articulated his desire to look at states that are better off "in terms of manpower and infrastructure" and Infosys Chair N.R. Narayana Murthy his to have India's largest cities directly ruled by the Union Government, the government either doesn't know the extent of the malaise or couldn't care less.

The economic aspect should wake it up soon: Bangalore accounts for almost $4 billion (Rs 18,000 crore) of India's software exports of $12.5 billion (Rs 56,250 crore); it is that $4 billion that is under threat.


Post a Comment

<< Home