Monday, December 31, 2007

Goodies and instability for IT hub in New Year

Goodies and instability for IT hub in New Year
Monday, 31 December , 2007, 12:45
Last Updated: Monday, 31 December , 2007, 12:58

Bangalore: Improved infrastructure, including a new international airport, is something people in India's IT hub can look forward to in the new year. But the prospect of renewed political instability also stares them in the face.

A new international airport is to start functioning next year, seven new underpasses as well as a high-speed rail link project have been planned in the next few years. A swish new superstore has opened recently.

The international airport, 35 km from the city centre, will start from April 2, bringing curtains down on the present HAL (Hindustan Aircraft Ltd) airport.

However, the HAL airport, about 11 km from the city centre, will continue to serve defence and official needs.

The state-run Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation (BMTC) is planning to introduce brand new Volvo buses to ferry passengers to and from the airport as many travellers may find taxi fares exorbitant.

One-way taxi fare to the new airport at Devanahalli is likely to be around Rs 1,000 as it is outside the city limits. For those who can afford it, the BMTC is also planning a luxury cab service.

Road connectivity to the new airport is still a major problem. A 'trumpet' expressway interchange that passes over National Highway No 7 (Kanyakumari-Bangalore-Hyderabad up to Agra) to facilitate smooth traffic flow from the city to the airport is yet to be built. Land acquisition for the expressway is caught in legal wrangles.

The civic authorities are planning to build seven underpasses on Bellary Road, one of the busiest roads between the city centre and the periphery and leading to Devanahalli airport.

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S. Subramanya, commissioner of Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike (Greater Bangalore City Corporation), claims these underpasses can be built in three days, as pre-cast materials will be used.

"The pre-cast materials can bear up to 120 tonnes weight and are faster to implement besides bringing down the cost considerably," he told reporters recently. Denmark, Germany and some other countries have used pre-cast technology and built underpasses, he says.

The state administration headed by Governor Rameshwar Thakur, (Karnataka is under President's Rule now) also approved in the last week of December a Rs 37 billion high-speed rail link project to Devanahalli from the city centre.

The rail link, when completed by 2011, will mean just a 25-minute journey to the airport from the city centre.

The Delhi Metro Rail Corporation Ltd (DMRC) has prepared a detailed project report, which was approved by the Thakur-led administration. Tenders for the Build-Operate-Transfer (BOT) project will be called before the end of 2008 and construction is expected to be over sometime in 2011.

The first phase of the new airport costs around Rs.19 billion. It is coming up more than eight years after the Karnataka State Industrial Investment and Development Corporation (KSIIDC) and Airports Authority of India (AAI) signed a Memorandum of Understanding on the project.

A consortium of Siemens Project Ventures, Larsen & Toubro, and Unique Zurich Airport is building the new airport. KSIIDC and AAI also have stakes in the Bangalore International Airport Ltd.

Meanwhile, the Tata group opened their first supermarket, Star Bazaar, in the city, at the fag end of 2007. Another business group is also planning to open a supermarket soon.

The Star Bazaar, spread over 75,000 sq ft in three floors, sells apparel, fast moving consumer goods, food products, footwear, kitchen and other home products.

"Bangalore is witnessing an unprecedented retail boom. This is our first supermarket here and we intend to expand its presence at a fast pace," Neeti Chopra, marketing head of Trent Ltd, under which arm Tatas run the retail business, said at the opening of Star Bazaar.

However, the New Year will not bring unmixed blessings to Bangalore.

The biggest worry remains political instability as polls to the 224-member assembly are expected in April-May. The last assembly polls in 2004 led to a fractured verdict and then to collapse of two coalition governments in less than three years.

The Bharatiya Janata Party had emerged as the single largest party with 79 seats followed by Congress with 65 and the Janata Dal-Secular (JD-S) with 58. The rest were independents and small parties.

All three parties are battling dissidence and suffer from lack of a leader with all-Karnataka appeal.

Though the BJP's confidence has been boosted by the party's victories in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh assembly polls, political analysts in Karnataka are not betting on the party coming to power on its own in the state.

Neither the Congress nor JD-S is in a position to come to power on its own.

Infrastructure development and governance may continue to suffer as a result of this political uncertainty, though business and economy will probably continue to thrive.


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