Friday, October 27, 2006
The current situation has stemmed from a curious arrangement, where the Kerala State Electricity Board owns, maintains and operates the lights while the Trivandrum Corporation pays for them. Now, when we take two organisations and share a task between them, it is usually the inefficiencies which get multiplied and that's the case here, sadly for us. The KSEB always claims that the bills have not been paid while the Corporation claims the Board is sitting around on its hands rather than install new lights or even repair blown ones.
The result is evident. Large stretches of city roads, cast into darkness once Sol bids us adieu each evening. Eventhough most roads are in good shape, the lack of light makes motoring difficult and dangerous, especially since crossing pedestrians are visible only at the least minute and any pothole or bump only with a jarring crash or unsettling knock.
And if all this was not ludicrous enough, things just keep getting worse. We have all seen and marvelled at the brilliantly lit Kowdiar Avenue, the prototypical road of the Capital City Road Development Programme. But there are several other stretches...mostly along the Palayam Airport and Vellayambalam - Palayam corridors where the median lamps have been erected for months now. And yet, none of them are lighted up. The roads there, in most cases, are still plunged in darkness!
It makes wonder, what kind of organised society we live in and what kind of organised governance we have, when such anarchy prevails! Hope that like the proverbial silver lining, sense finally does prevail and the babus work out the mathematics of the rupees and paise to finally switch on the lights.
Thamasoma Jyothir Gamaya, Asothama Sath Gamaya!
Posted by Ajay Prasad at 2:42:00 PM
Monday, October 23, 2006
Posted by Ajay Prasad at 7:40:00 AM
Yet, while I was driving home on Friday night from a late night movie, I ran into quite solid mist. So what the heck was going on? This night's mist was a born of a combination of the heavy rain over the past few days and the products of a vigorous Deepavali night. Fog or mist happens when water vapour forms into micro-droplets close to the ground, like a low lying cloud. This is catalysed by the presence of suspended matter, like smoke, which acts as the nuclei around which water precipitates.
I would guess that the cool temperature and high humidity from the rains and the smoke from the tonnes of burst crackers combined to form the unusually heavy mist. The overall effect is quite surreal with objects appearing out of and disappearing back into the coils of the fog, as one drove through it. This gives even mundane objects like a street lamp pole or a tree an aura of mystery. Driving down Kerala's best road - the brilliantly lit Kowdiar Avenue - doubly highlighted this effect. At the Kowdiar Palace Junction, now awash in the glare of a newly erected highmast light tower, the moving coils of the mist were visible like some brooding force wrapping itself over the sleeping city.
With all those crackers going off, and the local crackers being notorious for the noxious fumes they emit, one would have thought the atmosphere would have been pretty unhealthy and reeking of gunpowder...! Yet, when I dropped the window to check, I found the air fresh. Probably because our city has green lungs that any metropolis would be jealous about. The trees would help to mitigate the emissions, be it from the city's exploding population of vehicles or from the toil of a cracker-happy populace! Hats off to that......one of the reasons I think Trivandrum's a great place to live in.
In fact, as my flight took off today morning, that view was reinforced by the vista unfolding outside my window. With its nearly unbroken green carpet, the city looked like virgin forest. Only the dozens of highrises poking out reminds the observer that there is a city of a million-plus people beneath that beautiful canopy. Add coils of mist to the panorama and the image is picture perfect.
Posted by Ajay Prasad at 2:51:00 AM
Thursday, October 19, 2006
It has Kerala's most famous and oldest arts college - The University College, Kerala's best University - Kerala Univ., the State's best engineering college - The College of Engineering Trivandrum (Yeeeeah...CET!!!), the most preferred Medical College, the first International School and many more.
Lol, that's quite a collection ain't it? Set up in the 1800s, the University College has been equally famous for its illustrious alumni as for its firebrand politics. The Late President Narayan and many a top State politician have passed through its portals, and many more will in the years to come at this rate..lol!
The Kerala University or KU, is by far the best known of the Universities in the State. It is considered as a top quality centre of education even by institutes and universities abroad. KU has embarked on ambitious modernisation programmed including total IT enabling which ranks it among the best in India.
Another of k's gems, perhaps the Kohinoor in its crown, is the 67 year old College of Engineering Trivandrum (CET). One of the oldest engineering colleges in India, it stands head and shoulders above the rest in the State. Along with its closest competitor, NIT - Calicut, CET was ranked among the top 20 institutions in India by the World Bank and made eligible for over a hundred crores of funding to raise it to world class standards. In terms of placements, for example, CET ranks right up there with the best, getting the best of recruiters like Google, Microsoft, Cypress and so on to pick up its students, not mention the usual band of Infys, TCS, CTS, Wipro, IBM, Accenture et al who now make offers in their hundreds. CET is the first choice of the top rankers in the State. This doesn't mean that it's a nerdy campus. No way! It has perhaps one of the politically most aware campuses in Kerala and is ever buzzing with extracurricular events like the annual cul-fest, Dhwani, which is the biggest in Kerala.
CET was all set to be upgraded to an IIT, as per the recommendations of a high level committee set up by the NDA Govt. in the 1999-2003 period, taking into account the fact that in all parameters, it was the best in the State. However, the next UPA Govt. abruptly changed the decision, as it did many other cases, and chose to upgrade a rather more recently setup "technical university" in Central Kerala now more famous for admitting literally illiterate students into its technical courses...lol! Anyways, soon afterwards the Central Govt. made it clear there was to be no upgradation to "IIT" status as much trumpted in the local dishrag media. The whole scheme is in limbo these days as the University authorities try to swallow their pride and get back to work on some sort of upgradation plan.
Meanwhile, the Union and State Govt.s have agreed to set up a new centre of the IIT - Madras in a 250-acre plot of land near the picturesque hill station of Ponmudi, 80 Kms from Trivandrum. This will become Kerala's first "Eye Eye Tee" in the next 5-6 years.
Trivandrum Medical College and Hospital, the oldest in the State, is being upgraded to the status of an All India Institute of Medical Sciences, under a Rs 100 crore plan funded by the Union Govt. Together with the apex Sree Chitra Thirunal Institute of Medical Science & Technology, the Regional Cancer Centre and a multitude of superspecialty hospitals around it, this makes Trivandrum a medical treatment, research and education hub, almost unmatched in India.
The prestigious Asian School of Business, currently functioning inside Technopark, counts the bosses of TCS - Mr. Ramadorai - and Infosys - Mr. Gopalakrishnan - in its illustrious Board of Governors and has a student body and faculty drawn from across the country and the world. Seventeen engineering colleges and five medical colleges add to the awesome collection of Higher Education institutes in and around the city, as do some of the best arts, science and commerce colleges in Kerala such as the Govt. Arts College, All Saints College, Mar Ivanios College and so on. The Rajiv Gandhi Centre for Bio-Technology, Indian Institute of Information Technology and Management, Centre for Development Studies and C-DAC are some of the national-level, advanced research institutes located around the city. A National Institute of Fashion Technology and a Molecular Science Institute are all set to join this repetoire soon.
All this has been traditionally backed up by an excellent public and private school system. Some of the top schools in the State are in the city. Trivandrum International School located about 10 Kms from Technopark is the State's first International School. The city's famous public schools like Cotton Hill Girl's school, have been producing top rankers every year.
All this has positioned Trivandrum in the right spot to ride the coming IT/ITES wave. This latest wave(tsunami, rather) is based on Knowledge and thus summons all available graduates, post-graduates , near-graduates and barely graduates to its portals. Already the IT hub of the State, and the fourth in the quatret of State Capitals/IT hubs in South India, it will generate thousands of jobs a year as IT companies set up shop and expand.
Once berated as a "service" city, which had little industrial infrastructure, Trivandrum has turned that on its head. The Knowledge economy is clean and tidy, and demands smart people and high tech working environments, which suits our green city just fine. After all, the industrial hub of the State has just been declared as one of the most polluted places in the country and its citizens are choking on assorted PCBs, metallic toxins and the like while trying in vain to escape the bites of the ever vigilant mosquitoes. The age of the polluting factory is past, this is the age of Eye-Tee, atleast in God's Own Country!
Posted by Ajay Prasad at 7:04:00 AM
Sunday, October 15, 2006
The protest, one which I wanted to join but could not as I had to fly out to attend a meeting, was against the denial of security clearance to the Vizhinjam International Transshipment Terminal. This $ 1 billion project, the biggest FDI ever in Kerala, has been making the news lately. Sadly, mostly for the wrong reasons.
The Central Govt. denied security clearance to the consortium of Chinese firms which had bagged the tender floated by the Kerala Govt. last year. The reason?? The Big Bad Reds posed a major threat to that end-to-all term - National Security - by getting involved in India's ports. Another Chinese (Hong Kong) firm - one of the world's biggest Port operators - Hutchinson Whampoa - had been unceremoniously booted out of bidding for new terminals in Mumbai and Chennai. So what's it all about?
Of course, the Chinese have had quite a love-hate relationship with us. They came over the border and snatched quite a swathe of land while Pundit Nehru was still saying "Indi Chini bhai bhai!", lol! And now of course, they are our biggest competitors for the title of regional superpower and economic powerhouse. Well that war was all of 40 years ago and this current one is fought on the global trade battleground, by no means a shooting war.
The Centre believes that China is spreading its influence into the Indian Ocean area by tying up with Pakistan and Myanmar. In fact, China is building a deep water port at Gwador in Pakistan. Wierd coincidence, but I was read a reference to Gwador in Forsythe's latest novel - The Afghan. There, it is mentioned as a hot-bed for smuggling, opium running and radical Islamic. Apparently, now the Chinese are working to turn it into a deep water port right next to the main shipping channels out of the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea - Suez Canal. It could turn into a massive transshipment hub, and a strategic naval base for Pakistan, and maybe for China.
Okay, so the Chinese are not exactly the friendly and trustworthy neighbours. But building a port in an allied country (Pakistan and China have active military cooperation) is not the same as executing a construction contract in a wary nation like India.
To understand why the Centre's decision has caused such an uproar, we should also understand what the Chinese consortium will do. The China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC) and the Kaidi Electric Company, with their Indian partner - Zoom Developers - will execute a Build-Operate-and Transfer (BOT) to build the Vizhinjam project over 3 phases and operate it for a concession period before handing it over to the Kerala Govt.
CHEC, a $ 5 billion engineering giant, is a world leader in port building, having constructed large parts of ports like Hong Kong, Shanghai and Singapore which have become world leaders. What we need to understand is that CHEC will be interested in the construction part of the project, where its competency lies. The consortium will most likely find a leading port operator like PSA, Hutchinson, CGM-CM, Maersk or so to run the port itself. And equally likely, most of the actual work will be done by local firms like L&T, Gammon or HCC which will be subcontractors to CHEC. The latter will only bring in a project management team and some special equipment. This is the trend with large construction firms now, like US-giant Bechtel at the Reliance Jamnagar refinery, for example (L&T is one of the subcontractors at the $ 6 billion project).
There is no question of the Chinese setting up a permanent presence in Vizhinjam, just of building it. Companies from many nations - American, Russian, European, Malaysian and even Chinese - are already engaged in building up India's infrastructure. The same CHEC is building the prestigious Bandra-Worli Sealink in Mumbai, right under the nose of the Navy's all important Western Command!!
Trivandrum has a lot of strategic assets, that is true. Southern Air Command, VSSC, Technopark, many top R&D institutions like CDAC and so on. But, if the Chinese wanted to spy on all this, there would be easier ways than building a $ 1 billion port. The port, when under construction and in operation, will be totally under the jurisdiction of India. It will be the local police, Customs and Coast Guard who control the site and access to it. Lol, the Red Chinese Navy is not steaming in nor is the flag of the People's Republic of China going to be flying over it. And if this kinda logic was true, the Chinese should be kicking out Infosys and TCS who are bringing in thousands of people into their new Centres in China.
In fact, something of this sort was once proposed in Kerala. The initial agreement with Dubai Internet City (DIC), which the UDF led Govt. fell over itself trying to push through, had some conditions which would have raised many an eyebrow. DIC asked for such conditions as customs clearances, seperate immigration channels, control over surrounding which would have made the much touted "Smart" City. Thankfully, smarter heads prevailed and such ideas have now been trashed.
On on the subject of Dubai. Much of the initial funding for the Islamic extremist movement which has later metamorphosised into Al-Queda and its terror web flowed from the oil rich Gulf states like Saudi Arabia and the Emirates. Considering this, the fact a Gulf based company is setting up a port facility smack bang opposite the Southern Naval Command's main base should have raised a few security concerns. Yeah, I am taking of Dubai Ports World (DPW) and its much vaunted Vallarpadam project. The fact that DPW has now built a stranglehold on India's container trade by acquiring terminals at almost all Indian ports as well as in Colombo and Singapore is another worry matter altogether.
So why oppose just Vizhinjam? Well, the theories abound. One concerns a certain Central Minister who happens to hold a portfolio concerned with Ports. This gentleman has a pet project planned at Kolachel, near Vizhinjam but on the other side of the state line. This is currently on the rocks, literally! The area is rocky and shallow, and would never even attract a fishing trawler if Vizhinjam came up. This is not all, other commercial interests would be upset if the new port came up at Vizhinjam. For example, our friends DPW would find their near monopoly on the container trade smashed by the new deep water port. Their prized asset, the transshipment terminal at Colombo, would be put out of business when the much deeper port at Vizhinjam becomes operational. Upto 75% of Colombo's traffic is transshipment for India, much of which would migrate to Vizhinjam. The previous UDF Govt. in no small measure, supported this interest. I was personally involved in some of the public awareness and pressure campaigns in support of the Vizhinjam project, and during the course of that a lot of this political intrigue, mostly from conversations with insiders, including top officials. While loudly proclaiming support, the rulers of Kerala were denying their people thousands of jobs and thousands of crores of revenue.
One sometimes that the age of the lynch mob wasn't past us. Else.....!!! It's sad to see that a project so profound it could change the face of the whole State if not that of the whole Nation has taken over half a century to get going. And even now, it is facing obstacle after obstacle. Wonder how India will overtake China at this rate.......we are falling over ourselves to stop vital projects, we don't need the Chinese or the Americans or the Russians to help us with that!!!
Well, candle light vigils have toppled dictatorships and ended wars....let's hope this one can help accomplish a much simpler task - to get a Port off the rocks!
Posted by Ajay Prasad at 1:19:00 PM
Wednesday, October 11, 2006
The land appreciation along the IT Corridor has been making the news and no wonder. There has been 1000% appreciation in six months in a lot of areas. Undeveloped plots which no one would touch with a stick even at 5 lakh rupees an acre a few years ago, are now selling at 5 lakhs a cent! And it is not just along the IT Corridor, the prices are zooming all over. Large plots in Kowdiar are selling for over 35 lakhs a cent! Recently, I heard that a large textile retailer was refused land even at 30 lakhs a cent in a not-too posh part of the city!! These days, even the Govt. is shelling out 12 lakhs a cent when it is acquiring land for road widening in some areas!!
Some would call it a "bubble" or something. Real estate bubbles happen when too much money chases after scarce resources. Case in point is South Mumbai or the erstwhile Asian Tigers in the 90s. However, there has been no money influx due to interest cuts or due to the arrival of a bunch of incredibly overpaid people in town, has there? No one's struck gold...or oil.
The one area where some remittance hike would be occuring could be IT. Lol, with the number of people working onsite with Indian IT majors, the flow of dollars, euros, yens and the like must have swollen quite a bit. These days, the locations of my friends on Orkut looks like a world atlas! Moreover, the exploding IT sector right in Trivandrum would be contributing too.
Whereas there were some 5500 techies in the city a couple of years ago, there are 12,500 today and as many as 25,000 by the end of 2007. That number is set to reach 50,000 by 2009-10. That sounds like a lot of high-end customers who would want flats, expensive shops, restaurants, multiplexes and what not to satisfy their newly-developed First World preferences. It would look like the real estate ecosystem in Trivandrum is adjusting to this upcoming demand. A anticipatory expansion, not very common in the knee jerk world we are used to in India.
But, surprisingly, one sees the same story reflected in other upcoming IT hubs like Vizag, Kovai, Pune, Chandigarh or even Kochi. The real estate business seems to have learnt the hard lessons being learnt at the Tier I cities like Bangalore and Mumbai, where infra plays a constant catch-up game to demand, and always remains way behind. Some of these lessons have already been put to use in developing Hyderabad and Chennai, to an extent.
This steep learning curve will stand new destinations like Trivandrum in good stead. For example, Trivandrum is developing an impressive set of infra:
- Inner, Intermediate and Outer Ring Roads: The Inner Ring roads and high density corridors will be ready by 2007 under TRIP.
- A 4/6 lane IT Corridor connecting the main IT zone, Airport, Railway station and Seaport with adequate connections to the City road system.
- Expansion of the International Airport to cater to 2.3 million passengers by 2008 and 4 million by 2009-10. Phase I work is starting on Nov 1 and is expected to be complete in 18 months.
- New Railway terminal just off the IT Corridor with 10 platforms by 2009. Work is already underway and 2 platforms are already operational.
- Satellite townships and hybrid IT-residential parks by private developers like L&T and Raheja Group. The latter are expected to be located within Technopark Phase III. More are planned along the IT Corridor including the massive 500 acre Technocity.
- A new250-acre campus of IIT Madras near Ponmudi which will eventually become Kerala's first IIT.
It is good to see Govt. and industry coming together in such a proactive move. I guess this explosion in land prices and the number of new residential & commercial projects is a sure sign of this. If so, I can rest a lil' bit easier over the missing Merc in my garage!
Posted by Ajay Prasad at 9:02:00 AM
Sunday, October 08, 2006
The war between man and mosquito has been waged since time immemorial with the tide of battle turning now and then. This is just another chapter and will not be the last, it is sad to say.
Trivandrum has had the best of it so far, with low infection rates. Rated as one of the cleanest cities in India, the State capital has primarily faced fevers racking its coastal areas where back waters and congested tenements have promoted the proliferation of the relentless mosquito. However, compared to the marshy terrain, poor sewerage and unhygenic conditions in the State's second city - Cochin - this is nothing. Although, the current epidemic has been concentrated on Allapuzha and Cherthala, the consquences of a full scale outbreak among the million-odd population of Cochin are too disastrous to contemplate. The first cases have alreay been reported and let's hope things don't get too bad.
Concerns have already been raised about the potential impact on the upcoming tourist season. While international arrivals to the State's tourist hub of Kovalam are unaffected so far, a drop has been seen in domestic traffic to the backwaters.
Forget political embezzlers, letter bombers, communal murderers and so on, the State's Number One Villain has become the humble Aedes mosquito! Watch out!!!
Posted by Ajay Prasad at 5:48:00 AM
Thursday, October 05, 2006
Posted by Ajay Prasad at 2:56:00 PM
Tuesday, October 03, 2006
"Ginger" as the brightly adorned hotel is called is one of the first of the "no frills, business hotel" chain that IHC is setting up. In this age of "no-frills", IHC is also jumping on the bandwagon. Like its inaugration, the Ginger brand is also unassuming. According to the website, "The guiding principle behind Ginger™’s concept is the focus on key facilities that meet the key needs of the traveler. Ginger™ provides consistent, clean, convenient, quality accommodation with friendly service at affordable prices."
A typical Ginger hotel features minimal staff and lets the guest serve himself at the restaurant (appropriately called "Square Meal"), iron his own clothes and use vending machines for most beverages. It is targeted at the single, business traveller and features hi-tech features like LCD TVs and Wi-fi.
Interesting concept. They claim that most hassled business travellers don't have either the time nor the inclinations to enjoy the finer points of luxury at a top-end hotel. Being a very hassled and frequent business traveller, I tend to agree. I get into the room and then crash, not much time to spare to enjoy the jacuzzi or the plush curtains. :-) For all those who just require a roof over their heads, a good bed and a well appointed bathroom, Ginger looks like the right choice.
The IHC guys have got their location right , for sure. Right outside India's biggest IT park! Technopark, the State's IT hub, has about 13,000 techies and 120 companies in it, right now. That number is all set to double in the next 18 months. This alone promises full occupancy and add to it the proximity of the International Airport and the Kinfra Apparel and Film & Video Parks.
Ginger is only the first of a wave of new hotels opening up in Trivandrum. Other include the luxury Dodla International project at Vazhuthacaud, a five-star called "Capital Retreat" at Chacka, couple of five stars along the IT Corridor (projects by the Tamara Group and entrepreneurBiju Ramesh), a four star at Thirumala and so on. Ramesh is planning to set up a 5-star hotel and a 2000-seater International Convention Centre. The Tamara Group, floated by Infosys directors "Kris" Gopalakrishnan and Shibulal, has similar plans. The hospitality industry in Trivandrum is gearing up to meet the demand of the fast expanding IT, Tourism and Medical Tourism industry.
Looks like the number of watering holes in town is gonna go up, ladies and gentlemen!
Posted by Ajay Prasad at 9:25:00 AM
Sunday, October 01, 2006
Peepul Park is the Global Training Centre of India's top s/w company, TCS. TCS has always had its training centre in Trivandrum (seen in the foreground). The new 400,000 sft Peepul Park will cater to the current training needs of the 73,000 strong company. 1,500 recruits can be trained here in each batch. People recruited from all over India and the world will be passing through Trivandrum soon. Work is all set to begin on a Development Centre next to Peepul Park.TCS has 40 acres of space in Technopark Phase I, which is
already a SEZ.
The 460,000 sft Leela Infopark is coming up next to Technopark's own Nila, which itself is another 450,000 sft. Nila was Technopark's first big building. The Leela building will be ready in another 12 months. This is Leela's biggest single investment in the IT sector in Kerala.
The Leela Group also has major investments in the Kinfra International Apparel Park nearby, and at Kovalam - the super luxury Leela Kempinski, Kovalam Beach.
A few hundred feet from Nila, work is progressing on the sprawling 400,000 sft campus of IBS.
Posted by Ajay Prasad at 5:57:00 AM
After all, when the itsy-bitsiest of players take up space in the muchh smaller IT park of another city in Kerala, there is much fanfare in the press. Take, for instance, the news items about various sundry BPOs setting up shop there. Now, Office Tiger - one of the world's largest and most famous Outsourcing players is setting up shop in Technopark. One of the top exec.s of the company talked about this in an interview with a biz daily or portal. Seen any of this in our ever-vigilant local media which is ever ready to devote columns and columns to issues of "national importance" like sex scandals, the indigestion suffered by some religious leader or the car troubles of some neta? I wouldn't think so.
This is the Thejaswini MTF, Technopark's latest addition. This 600,000 sft giant is the largest IT building in Kerala. To give everyone a comparison, it is bigger than the whole of Infopark, Kochi. Office Tiger, Digitella, Infosys, US Tech are among the long list of co.s which have taken up space here. This massive building was booked out even before construction started.
"Booked out before construction started" is the state of affairs at Technopark which is suffering from an acute shortage of space, despite having 2.1 million sft of space available. More space is under construction, but that is sure to be gone long before it is ready.
Contrast this with what is happening elsewhere in Kerala. Quite a bit of space, notably in a couple of ventures of the Muthoot Group are standing idle, looking for buyers. I attended a IT Park B2B exhibition in Chennai on Friday and saw a national construction player trying to sell off the space in its venture at Infopark. No takers so far!! The same construction company is trying hard to get about 30 acres in Technopark Phase III in contrast to its 4 acres in Infopark. So what's all this hype about?
Seems to be the keyword - "HYPE"!! What's it? I guess, we can define it as a concerted effort to create a falsehood by a campaign of disinformation, selective information and modified info. Let's take an example, a common sensical one. Let's say there two cities A and B, in the same state. City A has 75% of the IT employees in the State, 80% of the export revenues and 60-70% of the builtup space. Yet, B is said to be the "IT hub of that state". Howzzat? Well, no prizes for guessing where A and B are, lol! One just needs to take up a copy of a malayalam paper, preferably the one which claims the largest circulation, and the hype is evident. If Mysore was called the IT hub of Karnataka, Coimbatore the hub of TN and Vizag that of AP, instead of Bangalore, Chennai and Hyderabad respectively, would any of us believe that? Any paper which dared to say that would have been rubbished instantly. Yet, in Kerala, where the readers are supposed to be the smartest and most discerning, such ludicrous claims are daily in nature. I don't see anyone questioning the veracity of such idiotic reports.
In short, next time we hear a similar proclaimation of greatness, better have a lot of salt handy, a pinch wouldn't suffice!!!
Here, we can see the two biggies of Technopark side by side. Thejawsini on the left,and the reigning champ, the 500,000 sft Bhavani, on the right.
Posted by Ajay Prasad at 2:02:00 AM