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Kochi: A Change of Image

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DQI Bureau
New Update

Azim Premji is not only one of the richest Indians, but also the

toughest Indian to convince," says Girish Babu. He must know well because

as the former CEO of Infopark, and COO of IT parks, Kerala, Babu was trying hard

to convince Wipro to set up base in Gods own country. The sprawling Infopark

had been operational in Kochi for a year or two, and a few entrepreneurs had

taken space. But there could not be a better endorsement than Wipro, and Babu

was well aware of it. Meanwhile, Wipro had also checked out Coimbatore, and the

company officials were more interested in the investor-friendly Tamil Nadu over

labor issues-ridden Kerala.

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After much hard lobbying, Wipro set a condition; the state that

gives the company the SEZ status first, will get the investment. Babu got

cracking and within a day or two was ready with the letter, and sent it across

to the company. It was in September 2004 when Wipro acquired some 25 acres of

land and set up operations in the Infopark. "With Wipro, much of the

perception problems associated with Kerala were solved to a great extent, and

the gates were opened for fresh investments," says Babu.

Chinese Fishing Nets

Post 2004, Kochi has literally donned new robes. A trip down the

port city, and one will be amazed at the frenetic activity all around; big

billboards featuring Malayalam stars lord over the cityscape. Newspapers are

full of adverts of upcoming luxurious residential projects all over. There is

not a single global brand that would be missed at the malls lining the Marine

Drive.

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A Case of Infrastructure



Since the Middle Ages, Kochi had been the center for trade and commerce. The
port city had traders flocking in from Manchuria to Persia and beyond. When the

Portuguese under the leadership of Vasco Da Gama were shunted out of Kozhikode (Calicut),

they landed up in Kochi and set up the first European factory or trading post.

Post independence, Kochi lost the race for industrialization,

and the economy, more or less, stagnated even though big companies were present.

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Yet, Kochi maintains its lead in terms of physical

infrastructure and can give any tier-2 city a run for its money in terms of

infrastructure. The city has a very reliable power supply, with close to seven

power stations in the vicinity feeding power to the city. There is also no

shortage of water supply, thanks to the Kadambariar River. And, the best of all

is the international airport at Nedumbasserry, the first privately built airport

in India.

Strengths

  • Major IT parks coming up

    at the outskirts of the city

  • Availability of high

    bandwidth

Weaknesses

  • Un-planned development

    in Ernakulam

  • Inflationary real estate

    prices

Little wonder then that TCS has also set up shop in the city.

Infosys has agreed on investing in Technopark in Kerala, and is considering some

sort of investment for Kochi as well. According to a Nasscom report, Kochi is

best suited for BPO, both voice and non-voice. Currently, ACS and Sutherland

have big investments in the Infopark, and the way they are expanding, the

investment seems to be working.

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Doubly Connected



Kochi is the only city in the country that is the landing point for both
SEA-ME-ME3 (it lands in Mumbai) and SAFE undersea cables that connect the

country to the rest of the globe. Also, the gigabyte router of VSNL gateway lies

in the vicinity. Because of which Kochi is the most suited for voice-based

services.

"Kochi is the best city in terms of bandwidth connection,

as around 80% of the Indian traffic is routed through the VSNL gateway. We are

very bullish about the prospects of the city and keen to develop IT across the

state through the hub and spoke model, where small centers will mushroom around

bigger ones like Kochi and Trivandrum," says KR Jyothilal, special

secretary, Department of IT, Kerala.

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The Polite Malayalee



If that was not good enough to convince people, there is, of course, the
amazing manpower story from Kerala, the first state that became cent percent

literate. Kerala also has the distinction of having the largest pool of English

speaking manpower and the highest density of IT professionals. The world may

have painted a sordid picture of a Malayalee that is constantly waving the red

flag of protest, but the reality is quite different. The modern Malayalee has a

more global outlook than any of his up-country cousins.

As Kochi is just a few hours away from Bangalore, much of the

Malayalee professionals who had shifted to the city due to lack of opportunity

are quite willing to head back home. Babu talks of how companies in Kochi

realized that they had more walk-ins when they advertised the job openings in

Bangalore and Hyderabad rather than in Kochi itself.

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Red Fears



While all may seem outwardly fine, there is indeed a lurking fear in the
minds of players in Kochi about the future potential of the city, especially the

flip-flop between the Congress and the Communists. Take the case of the

SmartCity project; it was riled in controversy in Kerala while both Karnataka

and Andhra Pradesh were ready to offer concessions for the project to shift.

"Kochi has as much potential as Hyderabad or Chennai. We

have suffered because of the lack of political will. Kerala had a head start

over the others when we started with Technopark, and yet we have lagged behind.

It is a matter of leadership not ideology as even West Bengal is doing well,

even though Communists have ruled it for decades. We are really praying for a

good leader," says Benley Noronha, managing director, Nortech Infonet.

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For Ajith Brahmanandan, state information officer, NIC (Lakshwadweep),

it is a matter of infrastructure and bad planning. "If one travels through

the city of Kochi, especially through Ernakulam, what strikes one is the woeful

planning. In fact, there is no plan at all for the city, even though it

continues to burst at the seams with people. The government really needs to pay

attention to the basic infrastructure," he says.

Jyothilal dismisses these concerns and terms them as teething

troubles. "It is all perception. Even though the governments have kept

changing, the policies have not deviated. Today, the investment climate is

independent of politics, and everyone understands the value of IT. That is one

of the reasons why the CM himself handles the IT portfolio. Even his son and

many other politicians children are working in the IT industry," he

says.

With all this, one thing is certain; Kochi is surely the place

to be. From the time Monsieur Da Gama landed in Kochi, the city has had a whole

lot of firsts, be it the first territory to be colonized, the first state to

join the Indian dominion, the first to have a private airport etc. The idyllic

backwaters, the scenic sea front, and of course, the innumerable getaways in the

vicinity, make Kochi a tempting place to be. After all, if one of the richest

men in India endorses the city, there is little that can really go wrong. Can

it?

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