A few years ago, when India was rising on the global BPO map, we used to get
reader queries on the vulnerability of some of our cities in case of an India
Pakistan conflict, which was hot at that time. "How far is Gugaon from
Delhi, in case Delhi is attacked?" or "How far is Chandigarh from the
Pakistan border?" or "How safe are the sea-side cities like Mumbai and
Chennai in case of a naval attack?" We all know the story after that. The
political situation got stable, and then there was no end to international
companies coming to India to set up BPO units, call centers, and datacenters.
And we are growing from strength to strength.
Unfortunately, the excessive rains and the consequent flooding of Mumbai, the
financial capital of India and a major IT and BPO hub, was a big dampener. For
almost a week Mumbai was cut-off, and shut down. Enterprise networks as well as
public telecom networks were down, internet was down, there was no landline or
cellular phone connectivity for a long time. The entire city had come to a halt.
The Mumbai story was about flooding due to very poor and inadequate city
drainage systems. But I am sure we have many such scary stories in the pipeline-collapse
of entire cities or regions due to power outages, epidemics, riots and civil
unrest, poor transportation and roads, and so on. I am sure now that
international consultants and industry decision makers working on location,
short-listing projects, will soon start asking us questions like "How is
the drainage system in Delhi?" or "Will Kolkata be able to cope with a
chicken pox epidemic?" While India is beating some very advanced parts of
the world with the many business advantages that it offers, it is still
grappling with basic issues like a drainage system. This is very sad. What we
are effectively doing is that all the great competitive advantage that we are
creating, we are more than off-setting with Mumbai type happenings.
There are a few things that will need to be done on an urgent basis. First
and foremost, BATF (Bangalore Agenda Task Force) type of mission plans will have
to be taken up in all major locations-Delhi, Chennai, Mumbai, Hyderabad,
Gurgaon, Pune, and so on. Today we have only a few names like Premji and
Narayanmurthy who are taking up cudgels for their city’s civic amenities. The
rest of the industry leaders in other cities or regions don’t seem interested
at all. Or, they are not heard. They have to get more vocal and build pressure.
Second, our companies should look at assigning special funds for creating
seed money, or specialized people for helping out with starting some
initiatives. I would even go to the extent of saying that companies should
include such funding in their corporate social responsibility.
Third, a lot of these actually fall under various e-gov projects. I would
advise that the industry sit down with the Government and work out a policy on
the role it can play in e-gov plans of the respective cities or states. I am
sure mutually beneficial models can be worked out, including tax incentives.
Finally, the industry professionals in emerging locations like Gurgaon or
Kolkata, should stop being silent spectators. The politicians and the
administrators seem to be taking the biggest wealth creators of India for
granted. And the wealth creators have also sort of washed their hands off these
responsibilities. The industry should raise its voice, take out demonstrations,
send memorandums to the PM and the President, and express their anguish through
What we saw in Mumbai was not a natural calamity. It was shear negligence on
our part. If we do not wake up to this call, I am afraid international investors
will have second, and third, thoughts about coming to India.
The author is Editor of Dataquest Ibrahim