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Rediff.com  » Business » Gurgaon may beat Bangalore

Gurgaon may beat Bangalore

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December 01, 2005 14:49 IST

Karnataka, the epitome of knowledge-based India, is damaging itself through public squabbles. Haryana is an up-and-comer for the knowledge-based mantle, and the state's leadership has identified its objectives and strategy with clarity.

Both need the Centre to formulate a clear policy framework on infrastructure to empower their people, with a high level of enabling facilities at sustainable prices.

The Karnataka conundrum: Karnataka seemed to have it all, with Bangalore, the icon of aspiring India. Chief Minister Dharam Singh is now known for Bangalore's notorious infrastructure.

However, he has considerable administrative experience in his eight consecutive terms. He was minister for public works under S M Krishna, and has been responsible for home, excise, social welfare, urban development and revenue. While his reputation of being "too nice" may not help, he has also to deal with his coalition partner, former PM Deve Gowda.

Mr Deve Gowda was an engineer, and has been minister for public works and for irrigation. He exercises enormous influence as a former PM and JD (S) leader, and has created controversies over IT and knowledge-based services, the new Bangalore airport, and the Bangalore-Mysore expressway.

Karnataka's strategy under the Congress and the JD(S) is difficult to comprehend. Mr Gowda has said that he is against a bias for IT and Bangalore, but not against development. While he may have this view, perhaps he could consider Mr B S Hooda's perspective.

Haryana rising: Chief Minister B S Hooda has taken constructive steps on his appointment, seeking reconciliation with rival Bhajan Lal, also ex-CM, and inducting representatives of various communities (unfortunately, still a necessity in Indian politics).

Getting them to transcend partisanship and work for the public interest would be a major achievement.

He has an exemplary approach to development, with the goal of "prosperity for Haryanvis" (i.e. improve per capita GDP). Having taken stock of the opportunities ("the world is coming to India", so they will come to Delhi, and Haryana is close by), he plans to enable and empower Haryanvis to exploit these opportunities.

How? By improving infrastructure [power supply and roads (and, presumably, communications)], education--so more Haryanvis can get knowledge-based BPO, manufacturing and service jobs, ensuring law and order, and facilitating regulatory clearances.

This is exactly what both farmers and city dwellers everywhere need. There is broad acceptance in India, except for "outliers", self-servers, and the confused, that the essential enabler for people is infrastructure: access to energy, transport, and communications--the "hardware"--together with basic health services (including clean water and sanitation), basic education, law and order, and orderly markets.

Without these means, economic potential and the quality of life are constricted for "poor" farmers and city dwellers alike. This is true for Karnataka, Haryana, or anywhere else: the need is for access to quality infrastructure in our cities, towns, and villages, at reasonable prices.

"Reasonable" does not mean throwaway or unsustainable. For instance, it is in our own interests to get true broadband at somewhat higher prices than "nominal broadband" at very low prices, just as it is better to ensure reliable electricity supply at sustainable prices, than having unreliable supply supposedly for "free".

We have atrocious power supply and roads, with poor communications. By accepting the simple ability to converse on the phone as communications services of good quality, we will never get to broadband access that could greatly enhance capacity and productivity, from education through distance learning to telecommuting for knowledge work, to access to medical care in rural areas from remote service providers.

Karnataka's farmers too have similar needs for energy, roads, and communications. Take roads: they need a good network that serves not just the cities but also the villages (see Morgan Stanley's take on the quality of roads in India at http://www.morganstanley.com/GEFdata/digests/20050608-wed.html).

Imagine what good roads could do for Karnataka's flower- and fruit-growing potential, not to mention its quality of life. Put another way, how does a country like the Netherlands with its minimal sunshine and limited land become a prolific producer of flowers and vegetables? With strategic intent and collaborative hard work, with roads, rail, waterways, air transportation, and communications that are superb, and excellent organisation.

CMs & infrastructure: The question is, can a CM plan for and provide such services? Consider Mr Hooda's plan:

Electricity: States can act to improve power supply, but definitely need central government assistance. In Haryana, e.g. fuel has to be freighted in: coal by rail, or gas/liquid fuel by pipeline; electricity from a remote power plant needs a transmission line--all controlled by central ministries.

This can only be sorted out with close working between central and state agencies in a policy framework (i.e. a system) based on a logical, integrated chain from aims to investment and operations, which we have not had so far. Without new moves by the Centre or a "bypass" strategy, e.g. lots of inefficient but effective captive power, electricity may not be available.

Roads: He may indeed be able to manage the 135-km expressway linking the towns around Delhi with Gurgaon, thanks to his clarity of purpose, quite unlike the Bangalore-Mysore Expressway (111 km) in Karnataka. 

Communications: Broadband communications are a huge enabling platform. The costs of providing equivalent services, whether they are education, logistics, healthcare, or production and sales information, are far higher without it.

Like electricity, broadband requires a central policy framework that is far from satisfactory because of improper ground rules. For a comparison of services (e.g. Malaysia: downloads at 1 mbps at Rs 1,074 per month, uploads at 384 kbps; Sweden: downloads at 2 mbps at Rs 1,674; India, MTNL at 512 kbps for Rs 3,999 with data capped at 5 GB) see the table at http://www.quillem.com/broadband/global-comparison.

Central government's policy role: Both Haryana and Karnataka need urgent policy-oriented action by the Centre to look after farmers and city folk. Mr Deve Gowda could help galvanise action on what it would take to have CMs provide infrastructure for their farmers and city dwellers.

Our leaders need to systematically develop this policy framework on each aspect of infrastructure, ensuring that they mesh, to provide enabling services at sustainable prices.

That is the way for us to ensure that everyone can wipe the tears from their own eyes, instead of hoping that someone else will come along and do so.
Shyam Ponappa
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