Garden city revisited ...

In retrospect, I cannot find any overwhelming reason behind IT industries of all descriptions converging to Bangalore. I thought of raising this question but held back lest somebody should call me na´ve, ignorant and totally negative. The city did not have facilities to produce IT professionals in large numbers. The elite Indian Institute of Science turns out post graduates and doctorates who deserve higher placements in the value chain, and just not for coding only. Some Indian companies which initially dabbled only in hardware has set up their shops here, they do not have any significant software development activities. However, the city was known for public and defence establishments on electronics and communication equipment; but, their operations have not been anywhere near the state-of-the-art. Then what? The clean environment, greenery and mild climate for which Bangalore was much loved, might not have lured the hard-core commercial enterprises. Not even a little bit of infrastructure by way of software technology park could be cited as possible bait for the reputed companies to land in hordes.

Over the years, the trickle turned into a flood and then a deluge largely owing to a chance coincidence or quirk of fortune; but, this is definitely not attributable to any systematic marketing effort. Now, that they are all there _ all by themselves, fortunately for Bangalore and also for India, what are we doing to retain them? A good case for relationship management. Nothing significant is visible.

The infrastructure is under severe stress _ perhaps this is an understatement. The same roads carry traffic several times over. Jams are common. Pollution has compounded the pollen problem causing widespread occurrence of allergy and asthma. Water is now scarce. Electric supply is erratic. Opulent edifices have mushroomed as island of prosperity, with squalor around the perimeter. The "garden" is gone and only the "city" remains _ like an any other Indian habitat bereft of basic necessities of life.

The impact of the insurging IT on the society is equally stupendous. The monthly take home salary of the IT workers at the beginning of the career is sometimes more than the salary of their parents at the fag end of their life. The value of their stockholdings through ESOPs is perhaps ten times of the retirement benefits of their parents. It is all but natural that colourful spending places, shopping complexes and eating houses have sprung up to bleed the neo-rich of their surpluses.

That is also fine _ after all, money is for spending only (wisely or unwisely). But, would it not be interesting to understand the overall impact of this phenomenon on the life style of average Bangaloreans all of whom may not have income from the IT sector.

The old locals are known for their austere living and wise spending. Today, the most happening city that is Bangalore, is not the Bangalore they once lived in. This city alien to them. They may find it difficult to sustain the minimum standards of living with overall rise in prices of commodities that is an inevitable consequence of increased money flows.

For those young ones who are not a part of the IT game, life is tougher. The IT boom has not created employment at all levels. A brick and mortar enterprise perhaps provide greater opportunities for employment of the locals. High paying jobs are held by few thousand people mostly from outside Bangalore. No doubt that greater demand for services like trading and hospitality has grown and therefore created some employment. But, is that any compensation _ valeting for a few. Whereas, the goodies that young ones yearn for all around _ designer clothes, shiny cars and mobiles. Uttapams are replaced by Pizzas, and Rasam by Tom Yam soup. Perhaps, it is also difficult for local non-IT boys to find girls to court. The converse may also be true. In short, the happening things are beyond the reach of non-IT young locals. It is all but natural that the moral and ethical values might have transformed radically much to the consternation of the peace-loving, god fearing, austere and conservative society of Bangalore.

The question therefore is, how far and how long the local population is to carry the overhead/burden of the IT revolution?

At least, the infrastructure and the city environs could be improved. If the state government does it, it would be at the expense of developments in other parts of the state. The IT industries should come forward to share part of the burden. At least, they could go the western way _ the owner is responsible for upkeep of the part of pavement in front of his shop. More IT-enabled low-end activities could be promoted to create more employment. Education and training facilities could be redesigned to prepare locals to effectively participate in the ongoing revolution. By opening computer science departments in a large number of private engineering colleges without caring for the quality of education, the purpose will not be served. The government machinery may be tuned to play a proactive promotional role than a reactive and regulatory role.

The Bangaloreans do not seem to be perturbed by the state-of-the-affairs. They seem to be under some kind of stupor. Social activists have not taken up the cause of arresting the progressive deterioration of the garden city. Nobody has cared to demand that a part of the IT income in the form of cess should be ploughed back to create facilities which would help to sustain the IT revolution as well as make life easier for the Bangaloreans. At present, all seem to be basking in glory. After all who am I and what business do I have talking all these?

On behalf of all of us in NISSAT, I wish you all a very happy, fruitful and prosperous New Year 2001

— A. Lahiri

Information Today & Tomorrow, Vol. 19, No. 4, December 2000, p.1-p.2