Once upon a time there was a river that flowed from the city of Pune towards Ahmednagar. After a kilometre or so, the city’s suburbs gave way to a bleak landscape dotted with the occasional factory on one side of the narrow road and the dusty villages of Kharadi and Wagholi on the other side. In a gap of five years, the road has been widened to sixty metres and more than one hundred thousand new jobs are being created in the bustling IT locations of Magarpatta, Kharadi and the upcoming special economic zones (SEZs) in the vicinity. Residential high rises now dot the landscape and retailers and hotel property developers are queuing up to get a piece of the Kharadi action.
We often claim that it was Zensar’s decision to build its campus in this location that started a chain of development in this area. With the continuing growth of IT and business process outsourcing industries in the country and the identification of 50 upcoming locations in the recent NASSCOM-AT Kearney study, all it will need is one or more firms to adopt these locations to build 50 new Kharadis in India, providing direct and indirect employment to millions of people and providing much needed development impetus to “Bharat” that is sorely needed to take the pressure of urban India. And if Aurangabad, Vijayawada, Dehradun and Siliguri become the next engines of growth, the next wave could see even smaller Tier Four towns become providers of talent and low cost shadow BPO units to keep the India story intact for years to come.
All these dreams would have been shattered soon but for a wise move on the part of Finance Minister who has responded to the ardent appeals of NASSCOM and the timely intervention of the IT Ministry by extending the STPI (Software Technology Parks of India) scheme and leaving the door open for firms covered by it towards a favourable decision that would bring a long term equivalence with the SEZ schemes. There are still challenges to be faced by the knowledge industry in the country – such as inflationary pressures, a global slowdown which is now a reality, the war for talent and the imperative to build industry skills across the country. But the pressure has certainly been eased and the silver lining of sustainable success is visible in these clouds of doubt that have assailed us in recent times.
However, one swallow does not make a summer. The mere identification of possible locations for future growth will not guarantee investment and local development. Cities like Pune have blossomed in spite of the snail’s pace at which infrastructure development has progressed because of its intrinsic advantages in the form of world class educational institutions and proximity to the country’s financial capital. But there is no such hidden advantage available to most of the identified locations. Progress will have to be achieved the hard way, by strong partnerships involving governments, academia and industry that will enable innovation clusters to develop and sustain in each location, besides proactive initiatives to build infrastructure that will make both living and working a fruitful experience. Will a strong national mission be undertaken to ensure this happens?