Cyber Myths and the rest of those who also live in Silicon valley

By Clifton Rozario

Any election result is necessarily a product of various immediately local and broadly regional factors with the possibility of neither having any national significance whatsoever. This being so, there have also been instances where a nation voted almost en bloc expressing its opinion on a particular issue such as the post emergency elections. However, the emergence of regional political outfits on caste, ethnicity and religious lines have been instrumental in institutionalizing a particular local-national political dynamics that posits locally relevant issues, as relevant as national level issues. This is the background against which one can understand the loss of the Congress in Karnataka.

Election analysts have stated that the main reasons for the Congress loss in Karnataka were the neglect of backwards, minorities, adivasis and dalits, poor drought management and the indecisive and callous approach to the consequent farmer suicides (more than 1000). Another important reason put forth for the Congress debacle is the disproportionate emphasis on IT and Bangalore, in contrast to the abject disregard of issues pertaining to rural and urban poor.However one needs to get beyond just merely asserting that the Congress lost because of disproportionate empshasis on IT and look into the reasons why IT became the proverbial jewel in Karnataka’s crown. This paper seeks to embark on a preliminary engagement with this aspect.

… the mythical vision of ‘information technology’ [i]

Policies have always been unfolding within the larger fabric of models of development, mirroring transitions in social, cultural and economic relations. And in the era of globalization and rapid urbanization, an obviously believer – the Krishna government, saw that it is not the nation (read State) but the city which is to be seen as the circuit through which flows of capital and service occur. There can be little doubt in such an assertion considering that in the past few years, Bangalore, while becoming the focal point, has attained almost a mythical status as the silicon valley, besides emerging as one of the important nodes for the global flow of services, serving as the back end service provider of many corporations across the world. In fact, during this time, one has seen a significant transformation of Bangalore, with it becoming a global city working in virtual time providing IT enabled services with the active participation of the State government. To the globalizing elite, developments in Bangalore, erase the image of India as a land of poverty, and reconstruct India as an IT superpower. IT then becomes the carrier of multiple social and developmental visions with promises of large-scale employment generation besides contributing to GDP. However, even beyond this the vision was of IT as the apparent instrument of intervention in governance and administration, to propel larger ideals of social equality and eradication of poverty and unemployment.

If dams were the most important symbols of post colonial India’s entry into the modern, the IT industry has emerged as the most important symbol of India’s entry into the global or into the new modernity marked by the pre-eminent position given to knowledge based services.

… however

Co-existing parallel with this vision of Bangalore as “Singapore” and the trajectory to this vision, is a city mirroring the silent but steady growth of local economies and ignored rural agrarain economcies, lacking the infrastructural provisions and state backing which IT enjoys. This city has at its core the “unorganized” and “unplanned” growth of the city, both economically and spatially. It is here that the urban poor comprising a quarter of the city reside and carry out trade in conditions that make a decent living standard unattainable. Further away from the centrality of Bangalore are the smaller towns and villages of Karnataka which just slipped out of focus as the Government embarked on its IT – Bangalore – centric policies and practices.

It is in this larger context of globalization that one needs to evaluate the results of the recent elections. A further point to note would be the present emphasis and great stress by the State government to promote Bangalore as the desired destination for IT companies. One of the biggest carrots being dangled is the availability of land, subsidies and guaranteed infrastructural services.

… divided city

On assuming office, one of the initial decisions made by the Krishna government was to make the ‘development’ of Bangalore a priority issue. With this in mind the Bangalore Agenda task Force (BATF)[ii] was set up. It’s formation is seen as one of the most symbolic gestures of the government indicating that IT was the way forward and moreover, that the IT corporate houses would have more than a passive influence on policy decisions by actively participating as policy formulators. Again when located in the era of globalization, this “private – public” partnership that was nurtured represented a shift away from direct societal interventions (the welfare state with social obligations) to notions of governance (administrative state with market compulsions). In fact the proposal of the IT Corridor in Bangalore only symbolizes the seriousness of the thrust being given to the IT industry and the role it played. Stretching from Electronic city in the south to Old Madras road to the ITPL in the North east, covering a curvilinear stretch of 25 km in length and 7.5 km in width and covering an area of about 138.6 sq. km, the IT Corridor is envisaged to become “self-contained” with work, living, shopping, civic amenities, educational institutions, healthcare and leisure. To quote from the report: “The vision for the IT Corridor is to provide a showcase environment for IT professionals to live, work, play and strike business deals”.[iii]

However, this vision of the new global city (situated unlike the rest of Karnataka) has to jostle, economically, culturally, legally and most importantly electorally, with the older networks of interests and claims upon the city and the State. Therefore, without doubt, any attempt at formalizing the new vision of Bangalore necessarily had to contend with the various contestations and contradictions that competing models of development and interests raise.

BATF and clean bangalore campaign…

The Bangalore Summit in 2000 represented a new stage in the public life of the city, bringing the private sector to the foreground in a city which has long been envisaged and promoted as the public sector city par excellence. Shedding its more timid presence in a city, where the state has long been the prime mover, the new corporate culture attributes the city’s problems to inefficient management while envisaging realizable plans that made a Singapore possible. This is a fresh attempt at moving to center stage the economic and technological aspects of planning which may be at odds with social, community and ecological uses of city land.

In its words, BATF was formed in 2000 with the “desire to showcase Bangalore as the gate way to class one cities of the country and strengthen its position as an engine for Karnataka’s robust growth”. Without doubt it was S M Krishna who was the visionary behind the formation of the BATF “as he believed that corporates did have a responsibility and a larger role to play in urban governance through a more proactive approach, through intellectual sharing and a best practices and efficient, transparent management approach, bringing in shared accountability”. Thus, with Nandan Nilenkani (Managing Director and CEO of Infosys) as Chairman, BATF was formed.[iv]The Bangalore Agenda is meant to be a partnership between the citizens, corporates and the administrative agencies – the Bangalore Mahanagara Palike (city corporation), Bangalore Development Authority (urban development), Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation (transport), Bangalore Water Supply & Sewerage Board (water and sewerage), Bangalore Electric Ssupply Company (power), Bangalore Sanchar Nigam Limited (telecommunications), and Police. BATF has tried to bring together the key players comprising a “Private Public Partnership” (PPP) to enable synergy of effort and visibility of result.

Though the claim of the BATF was to cater to the needs of all classes of society, its work has proven otherwise. The gap between the lip-service paid to the upholding interests of urban poor and its projects are way too wide to bridge. For the sake of the article we choose to focus on one such project called “Swachha Bangalore” (Clean Bangalore), an initiative in the area of Solid Waste Management (SWM). While the BATF concerned itself with municipal solid waste collection, its transportation, disposal and processing it did not bother itself with the concerns of the “pourakarmikas” (contract street sweepers).

There are about 10,000 pourakarmikas sweeping the streets and cleaning the garbage dumps in Bangalore receving a meager pay of between Rs 1000 and 1500. They are not assured any guaranteed wages though the minimum wage is fixed at Rs. 1800, no job security and horrible working conditions. In a recent survey carried out by the Bangalore Municipal Corporation and Jayadeva Institute of Cardiology, more than 80% pourakarmikas have been diagnosed with some ailment or the other – primarily diabetes, high blood pressure and heart related illnesses. According to reports their unhygienic working conditions is the root cause of their deteriorating health. However, the BATF is only interested in a “Clean Bangalore” notwithstanding the adverse poverty and deteriorating health conditions of the pourakarmikas.

The role of the BATF in ensuring IT’s hegemony in Bangalore is also exemplified by the IT Corridor. Even though the project in its entirety is yet to be implemented the Karnataka Industrial Areas Development Board (KIADB)[v] placed with the responsibility of acquiring land for the project formed a “Think Tank” of which BATF member Ravichander is a part. Not surprisingly not a single elected member finds place in these decision making bodies. More importantly, the villages whose agricultural lands are acquired for the IT Corridor have no say whatsover in this process and their stiff opposition to the arbitrary acquisitions have been ignored by all concerned authorities.

IT and slums…

The emphasis that the government bestowed on the IT sector almost blinded it to the other compelling crisis of urban poverty. In fact while the government concentrated on IT a major part of the city was ignored despite their repeated demands for tenure security and access to basic amenities and services. There are 778 slums in Bangalore providing housing to more than 18.5 lakhs of people. Just about half of these slums have been recognized by the Karnataka Slum Clearance Board (KSCB) while the rest, according to the KSCB, do not exist. The provision of even basic services like drinking water, latrines, roads, schools, public health facilities, etc is desperately lacking resulting in sub-standard living conditions of varying degrees in most slums.

According to STEM, a research organization, who conducted a survey of 985 slums across Karnataka[vi]:

· 30% of the slums do not have access to drinking water

· 66.3% of the slums do not have latrine facilities

· 37.3% of the slums do not have drainage facilities

· 54.5% of the slums do not have proper roads

· 63.6% of the slums have insufficient street lighting

· 70.5% of the slums do not have proper garbage disposal facilities

· 75.4% of the slums have no PHC (public health centers) facilities

· 34.2% of the slums do not have anganwadis (crèches)

Contrast this with the response of the Krishna government to the acrimonious remarks made by Azim Premji about the conditions of roads leading up to Wipro and the sorry state of power infrastructure. Initially reacting strongly to Premji’s remarks, SM Krishna is report to have stated that “It is not only the IT sector that has a 24/7/365 schedule”, however, after three days Krishna formed a task force chief secretary B S Patil to improve infrastructure on Bangalore-Sarjapur road where the company is located to initiate remedial measures to improve the infrastructure, including easy flow of traffic and supply of regular power in the area!

beyond bangalore…

One of the chief objectives of the Millennium IT Policy of 2002 is “to utilize the power of Information Technology in the overall goal of the Government of Karnataka in eradicating poverty and empowering women”. In rural areas a concern with land reforms has given way to visions of a vague idea of social empowerment facilitated through technological revolution.

One such project of the government geared towards showcasing this noble intention is the Bhoomi project. Through this project the government has completed computerizing 20 million records of land ownership of 6.7 million farmers in the state. The apparent reason for this project was to overcome the delays and harassment faced by farmers from the Village Accountants to get a copy of the Record of Rights, Tenancy and Crops (RTC). Today, for a fee of Rs.15, a printed copy of the RTC can be obtained online at computerized land record kiosks (Bhoomi centers) in taluk offices.

There are several contentitious issues that emerge in the context of Bhoomi pertaining to the rationale behind its formulation, appropriateness and sustainability. However, that is not the focus of this article so we will let it rest. The point to be noted is the influence and role of IT in facilitating the ideological shift in the name of governance and transparency. While the earlier policies of the State around land focused on land reforms and attempts at land redistribution and rural reconstruction as a means of ensuring social justice, the focus over the past few years, paralleling the movement of Karnataka to the forefront of the IT, has been on technological transformations and governance. This is a manifestation of a deep ideological shift from the social relevance of land reforms to the more administrative technological “revolution” of land records. That the land reforms process faced stiff opposition from the landed classes and castes for obvious reasons is a known fact but the government saw no need to pursue this policy instead opted to substitute it.

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Another important issue that did not receive the adequate necessary intervention from the State was drought management, despite there being a drought for three long years. This along with falling prices in agricultural commodities owing to imports, lifting of agricultural and power subsidies, withdrawal of public distribution system, procurement support, and crop compensation schemes only compounded the agrarian crisis. These shifts in policy need to be located within the realm of globalisation, where on the one hand the agriculture sector is being subject to minimal State support, while on the other numerous sops and tax cuts offered to the IT industry besides the easy availability of infrastructure.

So while the government was busy pandering to the whims and fancies of the IT sector, more than 1000 farmers across all regions of Karnataka (except the coastal parts) – the economically backward, drought-prone regions to the relatively advanced agricultural regions – spurred by agrarian distress of one kind or the other, committed suicide this year, just like other farmers since 1998. These suicides can be understood as symptomatic of widespread agrarian distress and indicate towards the sorry realities of larger agrarian communities living in constant state of insecurity and poverty. Sadly, these suicides were not enough to force the government to take serious note and implement policies to prevent its recurrence. As has been the past practice, except for the formation of committees (like the Veeresh Committee formed this year to look into the reasons behind farmer suicides. Incidentally it’s report has come in for severe critism from farmer organisations including Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha (KRRS)), and by writing-off the outstanding loans, the government has noit done much to address this issue.

people/speak…

One of the critical flaws of this modernist “Project IT” was its imagination as being a mega project of social engineering and cohesion, creating economic and social equality and administrative efficiency. It unfortunately assumes for itself a set of stable references such as ‘development’, ‘equality’, ‘efficiency’, etc. without realizing that these are the very terms of contestation and conflict. The associated ideological shift from a welfare state to an administrative one catering to only to small sections of the population resulted in deeper schisms in society. While the government promised “clean Bangalore” and an 100% slum free city, majority were asking for tenure security and access to basic amenities. While the government went into villages with Bhoomi and kiosks to tackle the village accountant the communities were asking for land reforms towards reorganizing agrarian relations besides ensuring water, electricity, seeds, crop insurance and social nets such as PDS. The obvious dissonance between the expectations of the people and what was being forced down their throats was obviously hard to swallow.

The question around the impacts of this dissonace on election is an extremely crucial one to ask. It would be useful to compare the situation in Andhra Pradesh with that of Karnataka here due to the striking similarities in the policies of the States, urban-IT- centric. The trashing of Chandrababu Naidu[vii], the best-known patron of the World Bank in the implementation of its reform agenda and an icon in the world of Information Technology, demonstrates the devastating impacts of the dissonance besides other factors.

Coming back to Karnataka, various local and regional factors affected these elections. For instance the growth of the BJP (44 seats in 1999 to 79) has been largely confined to the coastal belt where sustained campaigns of the Sangh Parivar appear to have paid off dividends and in regions where the JD (U) still has considerable base. However, the resurgence of the JD (S) (10 seats in 1999 to 58) is an indicator of the rejection of the urban-based, IT-centric and globalization influenced policies of the State government. Although not as emphatic as the debacle of Chandrababu Naidu, the election results in Karnataka can be seen as a rejection of the pro-urban IT-centric image and World Bank-driven economic reforms agenda of the Congress government.

All said and done, these results only prove that, “You can fool some people some times, but you cannot fool all the people all the time”!

Note: Though this article does not offer a critique the IT industry in Bangalore it must be noted that the industry has come under fire for its low-value status. According to G V Dasarathi, director of a software products development company, Bangalore is not Silicon Valley but actually ‘Coolie Valley’. According to him most of Bangalore’s software development companies (including TCS, Wipro, Infosys, etc.) provide end-to-end solutions for e-commerce, banking, telecom, etc i.e. software coding. These companies provide development services and do not develop any technologies or products. Their chief resource is the huge mass of low-cost labour force of engineers specializing in programming languages rather than in technologies. He goes on to state that the basic difference between Silicon Valley and Bangalore being that Silicon Valley companies are based on ‘know what.’ i.e. they know the market, they know the technology and they know what products to make to earn money. Bangalore companies are based on ‘know how.’, doing software coding for other companies that have the ‘know what.’

[i] Most of the 1.85 lakh people employed in in IT services and outsourcing in Karnataka are in Bangalore, the city where largest number of jobs were lost in the industrial sector (more than 3 lakhs). While the average earnings are pretty high, compare this with the earnings of “pourakarmikas”, those who keep the city clean, earn between 1000 and 1500 per month, or the lakhs of migrants streaming into cities and working for anything between Rs. 20 to Rs 80 / day. The low value ITES (call centres, medical transcription, BPOs) are growing at twice the speed of software exports.

[ii] The author wishes to state that the existence of the BATF has no constitutional basis whatsoever. In fact one serious issue is its power, thanks to S.M. Krishna, to ride roughshod over the elected bodies such as the Municipal Corporation.

[iii] According to the report titled “IT Corridor Bangalore – Structure Plan Final Report” prepared for and submitted to the Government of Karnataka in January 2003 by Jurong Consultants (Singapore).

[iv] The other members of BATF are, Naresh Malhotra (Senior Partner at KPMG’s Bangalore office), Samuel Paul (Public Affairs Centre), Raja Ramanna (one of India’s foremost scientists and Chairman of the Governing Council of the Indian Institute of Science), H. Narasimhaiah (President National College Hostel), Naresh Venkataraman (Partner and Design Principal in Venkataraman Associates), Ashok Dalwai (IAS officer), V. Ravichandar (Feedback Marketing Services), M. K. Ramachandra (President, The Greater Mysore Chamber of Industry), Ramesh Ramanathan (Ramanathan Capital and Janaagraha), Bijoy Kumar Das (IAS), I. Zachariah ( Principal Architect Zachariah Consultants) and Kalpana Kar (former Tata Administrative Services executive).

[v] The Karnataka Industrial Areas development Board (KIADB) was set up under the Karnataka Industrial Areas Development Act (KIAD ACT ) of 1966 for the speedy development of Industry in Karnataka by acquiring land and forming industrial areas complete with all infrastructure facilities like roads, water, power, communication etc.

[vi] It is said that there are more than 4500 slums in Karnataka.

[vii] Assembly: Of a total 294 seats, Congress and its allies won 226 seats while TDP and its allies won 47 (compared to 191 seats won in 1999). Lok Sabha: Of a total of 42 seats, TDP and its allies won 5 (compared to 36 seats won in 1999), rest going to Congress and its allies.