Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Recap of 2008

As we have been doing for the past couple of years, let's quickly take stock of what transpired in Trivandrum in 2008 AD. We had focused on five developments when we looked ahead at the year on February 6th. Let's see how they have fared:

1. Vizhinjam - In February, we had predicted that the bid would be completed by the end of the year and indeed it has. The tender to develop the $ 2 Billion port was awarded to a Lanco-led consortium on May 13th. The project then swiftly achieved all Central clearances. However, a legal challenge by a disqualified bidder, Zoom Developers, has led to a protracted legal battle which has currently reached the Supreme Court. It is expected that the legal hassles will be cleared up in the next few weeks and that development of the project can go ahead. Lanco expects construction to start in late-2009/early-2010.

2. Technocity - The Government of Kerala formed KSITIL, a SPV to implement Technocity and other, smaller IT projects. The RFQ for Technocity and Technopark Phase III was released shortly thereafter and 9 major developers including majors like Forest City, Emaar MGF, K.Raheja Corp and L&T were qualified to bid. However, the financial tsunami of September 16 has put the developer community on the back-foot across the world and the bids have been postponed by the Govt. in order to get better results. In parallel, the Govt. may also try to tie up with investors through the MoU route as many international firms have expressed a keen interest in the Technocity project. It now looks like mid-2009 before the first investor can be tied up even as land acquisition for the 450 acre project proceeds.

In parallel, Technopark has started development of the Phase III campus with 2.1 million sq.ft of space due to be constructed in a Hafeez Contractor-designed futuristic campus.

GoK is also planning to develop an Information Technology Investment Region (ITIR) around Technopark-Technocity and the studies on the project are already underway.

3. Airport Development - This is well on track as structural work on the Phase I of the New International Terminal (T3) and the Air India MRO nears completion. Phase I is expected to be operational by April 2009 and Phase II by October, while the MRO will be commissioned in June.

4. IIST and IISER - Full marks here - both institutions are already operational, the IIST at the VSSC campus and the IISER at the CET campus. Their own sprawling campuses are already under development.

5. Road and Rail Development - Work has restarted on the Trivandrum City Road Improvement Project (TCRIP) with Punj-Lloyd deploying subcontractors for the initial work. Meanwhile, tendering of the 4/6-laning of NH-47 from Trivandrum to Cherthalai has been completed and work is expected to start soon. Work on the MEMU services on the Trivandrum - Kollam route have commenced while the development of Kochuveli Satellite Terminus is ongoing. The upgradation of Trivandrum Central to world-class standards is on hold as the PPP model for the entire 16-station project is under discussion in Delhi.

Work has also started on the K.Raheja - Marriott International Convention Center Complex at Aakulam while the first Phase of the 10,000-seater Infosys campus is under construction and is due to be operational in April 2009. The 460,000 Sq.ft. Leela Infopark is also near completion while work is on at Phase II of the IBS Campus and the NEST Development Center.

While the global economic crisis has impacted the city's economy, the residential sector continues to power when the rest of Kerala is flagging with leading players including DLF slashing prices elsewhere. The 36-floor iPark project by Nikunjam is the signature of the ongoing development in Trivandrum's housing market. Malls by Nikunjam, Condor and Kshitij are under development.

The retail market is also doing well with outlets from Big Bazaar to Sunny Diamonds opening during the year, with many more expected in 2009.

And last, but not the least, Trivandrum was chosen to be the host city for the 2010-11 National Games. Preliminary work is already in progress to develop a 50,000 seater main stadium, an Athletes' Village and associated facilities with a total outlay of over Rs 1000 Crores.

On the whole 2008 has ended better than 2007, although on a slightly glum note due to the world-wide financial melt-down. The devil has been in the details for projects like Vizhinjam and Technocity which have made significant progress in the year but are still a little short of the finishing post. Let's hope that they, along with a host of new developments will make 2009 a year of resurgence for Trivandrum. Stay tuned for a perspective of 2009.

Enjoy your New Year's Eve, party on folks and stay safe!

Monday, December 29, 2008

Terminal 3 nears completion

The structure of the New International Terminal (Terminal 3) at the Trivandrum International Airport is almost complete. Work on the 1st Phase is over and the steel-work of the 2nd Phase is on.

The state-of-the-art terminal building, designed by the world-famous firm of W.S. Atkins, will be commissioned by April 2009. At 350,000 Sq.ft., the giant terminal will be the most modern in Kerala and one of the most advanced designs in India.

It will be a refreshing change from the staid architecture found elsewhere in Kerala's airports. Kozhikode's new terminal has made a start at a new design style, but T3 will be the first real step change with its all-steel-and-glass design which follows the trend set by iconic airports like Hong Kong's Chep Lap Kok.

Friday, December 26, 2008

IFFK - Curtain Falls

My last movie at IFFK 2008 was one of my most eagerly awaited ones, "Dreams of Dust". Eagerly awaited because it had received good reviews in its first outing, it had an intriguing plot and it was from Burkina Faso, a country few of us can locate on the map and whose cinema was probably not likely to be high on the download list of the Torrent universe. What is a film festival for, if not to experience the really exotic among films and genres?

Dreams of Dust was well shot, it captured the oppressive and dehumanised nature of the life in many parts of Africa where a few dollars are a fortune, for which people have no qualms killing each other.

The story of the lead character doesn't fail to strike a chord with anyone who has been to a strange new place or in a strange new role, despite the remoteness of its demographic and geographic context from any of us. The stories of the miners scratching out a living digging out near-barren gold ore with their bare hands doesn't fail to tug at the heart-strings either.

The subtle twist in the plot towards the end left me and BVN wondering whether right and wrong blend into each other in such extreme conditions of human existance. Perhaps, the end was a bit too abrupt but the movie left plenty of food for thought.

IFFK Day Three

IFFK may long be over, but let me finish my reports about it a week late due to a short trip to Delhi and Lucknow over the last few days.

My only film on Tuesday was "The Class", a film which portrays the dynamics between and amongst students and teachers of a multi-racial classroom in Paris.

The winner of this year's Palme d' Or at Cannes, the film was distinctive for the long shots in the classroom scenes which immerses or rather forces the viewer to be part of the environment in the class itself. All the more relevant in view of the racial tensions gripping Paris and many European cities, including London and Madrid in recent times, the film is an interesting insight into the contrasts within a pronouncedly multi-racial society.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

IFFK Day Two

My second day was on Monday, as Sunday had been spent checking out wifey's cooking at home. Having assured myself that the rest of my life was suitably provisioned with tasty cuisine for the rest of life, I tried out Kedma.

The Second World War and all things associated with it have been the center of focus of my military history interest and the formation of Israel, immediately after the War - the setting for the film - has never failed to get my admiration.  Ever since I read "90 minutes at Entebbe" - the story of one of the most heroic and audacious commando raids in history - I have admired the tenacity, courage and resourcefulness of the people of Israel. Kedma paints a vivid picture of the early days of the creation of Israel when the Jews fought not just the Arabs but the retreating British as well. The ultra-long, uninterruped camera shots employed by Amos Gitai, especially the introduction and climax, were the highlights of the movie.

BVN, ever the true friend, apparently refused a seat to Kamal, which made the screening extra special!  

Saturday, December 13, 2008

IFFK Day One

December 13th found me and BVN in front of Kripa theatre for our first film at IFFK 2008. Uncannily we had turned up in the same combination of light blue kurta and blue jeans, it would have taken only a couple of scraggly beards and a few beedis to turn us into stereotypical movie critics. That didn't happen, but our first movie did - albeit after a ten minute delay.

Hiroshima, My Love is a 1959 classic about the tryst between a Japanese architect and a French actress. It explores the personal tragedy that she experienced during the Second World War, juxtaposed with the collective tragedy of Hiroshima. Altogether an interesting if slightly slow movie, still relevant today fifty years on.

On to Ajantha, for the next movie - Half Moon (Niwemang) - is a tale of a bunch of Kurdish musicians who make a tortuous trip from Iran to post-Saddam Iraq to perform at a music contest. A bitter-sweet movie, it takes a few metaphysical turns, with a few laughs on the way, before reaching a tragic conclusion. We recognised Golshifteh Farahani who plays the title role, from the recent Ridley Scott movie, Body of Lies.

Good crowds in all the theatres and the arrangements seem to be even better than last time's. Stay tuned for more!

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Let's Market Trivandrum

We often say that refrigerators can be sold to Eskimos with the right marketing pitch. While that might be an extreme interpretation of how well a good marketing campaign can work, it is undeniable that a well thought out and laid out strategy can work wonders. Indeed, even if a product is excellent, it may never sell without potential buyers becoming aware of it. A well kept secret is the last thing you want in the sales game. The case of an investment destination is no different. Just as the world's most beautiful beach may as well not exist if it is not on the tourist map, a city needs to be "discovered" by investors before its true potential can be realised. So what can be done to put Trivandrum, one of India's most exciting investment destinations, on the world map of the investor community?

Kotler and co have made the science and art of marketing a lot simpler to understand but a city is a complex product indeed. It is huge and very dynamic, and composed of a multitude of components which often synergise or conflict with each other. A city changes over time and its attractions change even faster. And finally a city has a set of very diverse stakeholders, whose interests are even more diverse.

Investment Promotion

Cities are promoted formally and informally. The former strategy has been practised in many major cities, especially in the developed world for decades yet it is often impractical for smaller cities, especially in the developing world due to lack of coordination among various stakeholders and lack of resources. Dedicated "City Promotion" agencies are usually the best way to ensure a focused, powerful and balanced campaign and usually funded by civic bodies and private enterprise in conjunction. Interesting examples include "Invest in America" and "Visit Singapore". Promotion agencies identify the key attractions of a destination to various potential stakeholders, zero in on the USPs and make them as well known as possible through a mixture of online, print-media and direct marketing. Of course, such agencies need a clear mandate and an even clearer budget, which of course means that the results of the destination promotion have to be demonstrable. The initial outlay and the effort entailed in coordinating the efforts and inputs of so many agencies is a major obstacle in setting these organisations up in Indian Tier II cities like Trivandrum.


One form of aggressive destination marketing is to conduct roadshows and to attend key investor events. This enables direct contact with potential investors. The usual channels used to create awareness among investors - print media, the web and electronic media - are examples of carpet bombing, in marketing terms, and it can be considered lucky if even 0.01% of the audience are the actual targets - investors. Setting up meetings with them or participating in pre-arranged events ensures that all the effort expended reaches the target. The key requirements for success in such ventures is a good sales pitch and an equally good team. The Kerala Govt. has conducted quite a few roadshows (such as this one in Chennai or this much more ambitious but even less successful one in the US) and made annual visits to key industry events like CEBIT and GITEX, not to mention homegrown versions like BanglaoreIT.In The results have been uniformly disappointing, other than a few free trips for all concerned and even fewer expressions of interests from this firm and that, nothing concrete has ever come out of it all. Guess that says much about the effectiveness of the sales pitch and team, when investors are still flocking to Technopark without being wooed.

The Media

Another avenue of marketing is indirectly through the media. After all, much of the news in the media revolves around locations. Why not ensure that the right messages go out through the media? In the absence of direct information, organisations often take whatever is written in the popular press to be the gospel truth. Even in an industry as sensitive to the investment climate as real estate, major developers often invest based on little more than hearsay! Of course that lands them in very hot waters later, which is part of the reason that the honeymoon with real estate has ended in India. Being a part of the realty sector, one often gets to hear anecdotes of this nature, once I remember a doyen of the industry in Kerala trying to convince me that Wipro was planning to employ 70,000 people in its Kochi center, till I told him that was more than the company's total strength at the time! The poor gentlemen had been led to believe otherwise. But just as consistent media reporting can mislead, it can also help form and reinforce reality. In fact, the recent change in the reporting styles of a lot of the media with respect to Trivandrum has been noticeable, reports about major projects and their positive impacts have become more common. And the effect is already visible, names like "Vizhinjam" and "Technocity" are now far more familiar than they were just a year or so ago. Sadly, the vast majority of city news items continues to be about the machinations of State politics or the need to fix this pothole or that broken window than about the ways and means to take Trivandrum to the global stage. Personally, I have been able to make a couple of contributions in this regard as a guest columnist for The Hindu. (Two recent articles were about Integrated Townships and The Realty Hotspots of Trivandrum) I hope a lot of us can make similar contributions by writing for papers, after all who knows better about our city than we do. I am glad to note that of late, the content has become very positive and forward looking with a bunch of young writers and editors coming forward to see Trivandrum as a vibrant city and not as "sarkar-town" as a lot of the old foggies still do.

What We can do.

Finally, we can all do a little bit ourselves. I have heard many of our brothers and sisters deride Trivandrum when someone from outside the city asks about it. "infrastructure is bad" or "not enough shopping" are amoung the variety of poor opinions that I have heard being aired. Surely, many of you would have heard someone or the other say similar things. Not to say that Trivandrum is a modern Indian vision of Utopia, but I daresay, it is very decently placed. In terms of quality of life, costs, beauty, urban infrastructure, security and many other parameters, we are well above the average for a developing country like ours. Don't take my word for it, but the consistently high rankings our city as scored in many professional city comparison studies is proof enough. And as has been said ad infinitum if we don't speak up for ourselves, who will? So the next time, someone asks you, "How's IT doing in Trivandrum?", tell them "It's doing good, Technopark's growing fast and we already have Infosys and TCS setting up campuses here." Don't tell them, "Naaah, we are nowhere near Bangalore." Tell the right answer, the truthful answer. There is nothing to fear about telling the truth. (Apologies for sounding like a Washingtonian grandpa!)

There is much to be done in getting the message across. Everybody has to play their parts - Government, industry, civic organisations, NGOs, you and me! It is high time that a coherent destination branding and marketing strategy is put in place, because it is critical not just to stay ahead of the pack but even to stay afloat.

A First Step - TRIBIZ

Fortunately, there are a few initiatives in progress. One of them is by the NGO Trivandrum Development Front, which is a organisations composed mostly of young professionals that aims to promote developmental activities in and around Trivandrum. They have developed a website, TRIBIZ, the aim of which is to create awareness about Trivandrum's potential among the investor community and to provide an interface with them. Their latest initiative is a concise and comprehensive Investor Presentation, which outlines crisply Trivandrum's strategic advantages as an investment destination and potential focus areas for investment (It can be downloaded from a link on the home-page.) The website also talks about facets of the city like its key advantages, quality of life, tourist spots and provides an interesting list of studies on Trivandrum down by TDF and other agencies.

The website and its Investor tool could become the starting point for our own personal campaigns for our city. Passing the information, especially the presentation (s), on to interested people we know will help to create wider awareness about how attractive our city is to investment as to the tourists who flock here from across the world. And perhaps, considering how wide our networks are these days, it is quite likely that the information will sooner rather than later reach investors looking for the next hot place in India to put their money in. Get started, folks! Thanks!

(I am putting a permanent link to the Investor Tool on the sidebar, here so that anyone can easily navigate to it at any time.)

Friday, November 28, 2008

En Garde Trivandrum!

While it may be just a little bit hasty to call the happenings of the last 48 hours in Mumbai as the "9/11" of India, it certainly has grabbed the world's attention and spawned a tidal wave of shock and anger across the nation. The audaciousness of the attack - to fight it out with the security forces in the most famous district of Mumbai in full public view - and the duration of the whole episode is perhaps the most worrying part of it, with all due respect to the tragic casualty list.

We may think we are far removed from it all, after all the terrorists want to hit Mumbai, Delhi and the other metro cities, we are safe in Tier - II bliss. Aren't we?Well, consider this, terrorists choose their targets on their value, military, political or propaganda-wise. Wouldn't a city which is a political nerve-centre, the seat of India's space (and missile) programme, base of an Air Force Command, home to India's largest single IT park, one of India's tourist hot-spots and home to over a million people sound like a juicy target? If anybody is still wondering which city I am talking about, it is Trivandrum. Add to that equation the fact that the State where it is located has been keeping their eyes wide shut to the possibility of terrorism, to the extent where it as just thought of forming an Anti-Terrorist Squad! A city where an armed policeman is about as common as an ice cube in the Sahara, and armed at best with an antique Enfield .303 rifle twice his age! If this is not enough to paint a nice bullseye on Kerala and Trivandrum, throw in 900 Km of unpatrolled coastline, straight from the wish-list of any terrorist.

So what do we do about stopping trigger happy gunmen from running lose in the city? Three things mostly, it isn't rocket science but no harm in reminding everyone for the 3457th time.

Understand the threat - Sooner or later the bad guys will work out the fact that it will be easier to hit undefended, unprepared targets. It is a no-brainer. The Government needs to understand that a target as strategic as Trivandrum may appear on terror's crosshairs soon. And it needs to respond with significant action and soon. A policy has to be defined to put in place the resources to detect, preempt and tackle terrorist activity, not just the manpower and firepower but also the policies and the legal backing. The first one being that terrorist outfits need to be taken head-on, irrespective of their denomination or ideology.

Plan for the threat - Knowing what to look out for is just the first step. Planning in advance for what hopefully will never happen is critical. Making plans to tackle a crisis after it has occured usually guarantees chaos. Such knee-jerk responses are almost always sub-optimal because the same resources who have to execute the response spend a lot of their time thinking it up, under pressure. Often, such responses end up making the situation worse.

For example, if contingency plans are in place for various scenarios and adequate training has been carried for each of them, then the execution during the time of an actual crisis becomes a routine reaction and not a panic attack. The response to an attack on an IT park in another state cannot be the same as that to a specific intelligence alert of an impending terrorist attack in Kerala. The scope and intensity of the response has to be customised to the type of threat. Similarly, a sort of triage as to be performed on the list of potential targets to identify those most at risk from each type of security threat. This prioritisation has to be combined with the existing security arrangements at each target to decide on the appropriate response. While the International Airport and ISRO are high-risk targets, they are already well-secured by the Central Industrial Security Force and may not need as many additional forces in an emergency as, say, Technopark or the Secretariat.

Such plans may already be afoot, but they need to refined and drilled in. The usual response to a major terrorist attack somewhere is to post a couple of lathi-wielding constables and, occasionally, a lone metal detector. Hardly confidence inspiring.

Prepare for the assault - All the best laid plans of men and mice cannot be executed without the right resources. When dealing with terror, that means efficient intelligence gathering, command and control, manpower, firepower and logistics.

Trivandrum has the advantage of having the intelligence gathering and command & control apparatus of the State and Central Governments concentrated in and around the city. The new system of 18 surveillance cameras won't hurt either, but it may need to be expanded to cover areas like Technopark, the Airport, Kovalam and Vizhinjam. A mobile command & control facility could also be very useful.

The city also benefits from having a mechanised infantry brigade, a CRPF Group HQ, a very significant CISF presence, a Coast Guard Station and the Southern Air Command. This means that several thousand heavily armed troops are available in case of an emergency. Also, many of the strategic installations in Trivandrum are already heavily guarded.

But it is always the City Police which is the first responder to such threats. Today, the only force that can be mustered for the duty is the Kerala Police Commando unit. Yes, we have commandoes, trained by the National Security Guard (NSG), similarly clad in black and armed to the teeth with automatic weapons.

Kerala Police Commando

The problem is that there are only about 35 of these crack cops right now and they are usually deployed all over the place, guarding Lord Ayyappan and the CM being two of the most high visibility deployments. Behind them are eight armed police battalions equipped mostly with the good ol' World War II vintage .303 rifle which is better employed as a club against AK-47 wielding miscreants. Finally, the local police lack even these and have to make do with that most basic of weapons, the lathi. All fine against petty goons and the odd mob but pointing straight to a massacre against any kinsmen of the lot who shot up Mumbai. Evidently, the number of commandos need to be beefed up quickly and modern weapons issued to the armed police as well as the local constabulary. SLRs are already being slowly introduced into the armed police, the transition needs to be completed in the coming year and automatic side-arms issued to all police stations. We are better off than most of India in terms of the ratio of policemen to population, so we need to build on that. And while the Police is equipped with bomb detection gear and crack K-9s, X-ray machines, explosives detectors and robots to help defuse bombs need to be added at the earliest.

Logistics is the last requirement to ensure that the law enforcers are there at the right time, in the right place to protect us. The police vehicle fleet needs to be supplemented to enter two new dimensions - air and sea. A dedicated police helicopter, which can also work as a disaster rescue unit, is a dire need. With a longer coast than Maharashtra, Kerala needs to keep vigilant eyes out to sea. When smuggled goods and contraband were popular in the days of Sagar alias Jacky or Vincent Gomas, these days clandestine shipments are of a far more sinister nature - the kind which go bang in spectacular fashion. With thousands of ships from 30 ton trawlers to 350,000 ton supertankers sailing close to the coast of Trivandrum and a very large population of fisherfolk, infiltration by sea is not just possible, it is very probable. The Coast Guard will be keeping their eyes wide open based out of Vizhinjam and further out to sea, the Navy is already present. They have asked for a presence at the upcoming deep-water port at Vizhinjam and they are here to stay. But we need more pairs of eyes closer in, because the Coast Guard operates only from 12 nautical miles from the coast and the Navy much further out. Kerala already has a Marine Enforcement division, what they need are high-tech, fast patrol boats capable of running down any suspicious craft as well as the firepower to deal with any terror boats once they catch them.

And finally it is down to all of us to be vigilant, and to stop living in peaceful bliss. Once the wrong kind of people decide to check out the place where India's space triumphs start or where its biggest container terminal is located, we could all be wishing that the action stayed on screen. After all, there is always a war going on around us, it is only a question of how aware we are of it.

Jai Hind!

Friday, November 21, 2008

Nulltarif Rocks Trivandrum

Germany's top band, Nulltarif, played a gig yesterday at Nishagandhi and they were awesome. Great stage, lights and sound setup and a rocking crowd, who braved a rainy evening to come out and embrace German rock, all that made for an electrifying combination.

The first major Western rock band to perform in Kerala, Nulltarif's Asia tour is in connection with the opening of Goethe Zentrum, Trivandrum - Germany's cultural mission in the city which now joins the ranks of those from France, Russia and Japan. Trivandrum's cosmopolitan culture is truely going international!

An amazing crowd and a brilliant performance by the young, energetic rock band. In their words, "Trivandrum Rocks!!"

Govt. proposes PPP model for the deep-water shipyard at Poovar

The Kerala Government has decided to proceed with the proposed deepwater ship repair and construction facility at Poovar on a Public Private Partnership model. Ports Minister M. Vijayakumar announced that GoK is already scouting for prospective partners to develop the massive facility for which over 1000 acres of land have already been identified.

Since Poovar is located just 12 nautical miles from the Gulf-Malacca shipping route, the shipyard could easily tap the maintenance work of thousands of ships which pass along the route that accounts for almost one-third of traffic in the world.

Poovar has more than 13 m of depth near the coast which allows large ships like super tankers and container ships to call at the facility. The proximity of the upcoming container hub and deepwater port at Vizhinjam will allow the import of the thousands of tons of materials which will be needed for building and repairing ships.

India's abundant human resources will be another advantage as are the presence of a wide variety of engineering industries, especially in South India.

The PPP model has worked well for Vizhinjam and it will surely help Poovar develop into a world-class marine engineering hub.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Technopark Phase III looks stunning

The design for the 42 acre parcel of Technopark Phase III which is to be developed by Technopark itself, has been released. The stunning design was developed by India's top architect Hafeez Contractor working with Kerala's leading design firm, Iyer and Mahesh. Over 2.1 million sq.ft of business space and nearly 1 million sq.ft. of space just for parking.

The design is futuristic, breaking away from the traditional designs of Technopark buildings till date and creating a campus which would compare very favorably with any in the world. In fact, it just might give the Infosys, Trivandrum campus - also designed by Hafeez - a run for its money!

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Talking about Hotspots

We have talked about the "happening" places in Trivandrum often here, and I thought an article on the topic would be useful for people, both as a "FYI" tidbit to be filed away and as a guide for that all-important choice in life, buying a house. The article appeared in today's Property Plus.

The hitch was that it got published in the name of Mr. Nandakumar, the City Editor, by mistake! Well, all's well as long as the aim of getting information out is achieved. Stay tuned for the next article, which will be an in-depth look at the rapidly evolving
IT Corridor.

Friday, November 07, 2008

IFFK comes round again

India's top rated and biggest film extravaganza is coming around again, the International Film Festival of Kerala (IFFK) is scheduled from the 12th to the 19th of December.

Last year, I had a treat watching a load of top-class movies. And that includes watching "Naalu Pennungal" standing the whole time! I will be there once more, with my ol' buddy and fellow movie buff, BVN.

And I hope lots of you will join in as well, you can register online here.

See you there folks!

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, TRIVANDRUM

November 1, State Formation Day, usually leaves me wondering whether we are better off as a State or as we were before Independence? I am not a secessionist (not yet, lol!) but one can't help wondering what we gained in the bargain.

On a much brighter note, I happened upon the website of one of India's newest brain factories, the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, a sort of clone of the world-famous IISc., Bangalore.

The point is that the IISER is in Trivandrum and it has already started functioning! I wonder why not even a single member of our ever-voluble media community has bothered to do an article on this prestigious institution, which is already being incubated on the sprawling campus of our resident brain bank, the College of Engineering Trivandrum? Doesn't the establishment of a world-class institute, which may soon take over the mantle held by the IITs, have any news value at all?

I remember the hulla-bloo when there was talk of upgrading another institution in the State, CUSAT, to national-standards. Although that seems to have gone nowhere till date, the proposal got front page coverage for a few months. Now that there is a bonafide IISER operating in Trivandrum, everyone seems to have misplaced their tom-toms.

Perhaps, it is the Govt.'s fault that they didn't trumpet the handover of the 200-acre land parcel at Vithura properly. Just as they didn't burst any crackers when the campus of the Indian Institute of Space Science and Technology was handed over to ISRO, after months of controversy.

But developments in Trivandrum happen quietly, which seems the best strategy in Kerala where publicity seems only to lead to controversy and downfall. Better action than mere words!

But, how long can our media keep ignoring Vizhinjam, Technocity, IISST, IISER and their ilk ? Not for long, I am sure!

Friday, October 31, 2008

Books Galore

The 6th DC Books International Book Fair got underway yesterday at the Chandrashekhar Nair Stadium. DC has over 100 publishers and a whopping one million-plus books on offer. So it is a must-visit for any bibliophile in town!

Today is also the release of the book "Gujarat: Irakalkku Vendiyulla Porattam" by former DGP of Gujarat, Sri. R.B. Sreekumar - the only senior police officer who stood up to Modi & Co and blew the whistle on State-sponsored Genocide during the communal riots there. This book should make interesting reading if one wants to learn the other side of Gujarat.

And today is the Pre-Bid Meeting for the Technocity project, which is expected to be attended by top officials of the qualified developers. Stay tuned!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Technocity @ Wikipedia

In case you want some info on the Technocity project, do check out its new page on Wikipedia. Please feel free to expand and improve the article. Guess it is high time that Kerala's biggest IT project ramped up its web presence.

Extensive information. updates and discussions on Technocity can be found on its dedicated page at


Wednesday, October 22, 2008

From Trivandrum to the Moon!

Today morning, Chandrayaan I was
launched from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota, marking yet another step, albeit a giant one, for India's space programme which started from Trivandrum decades ago.

The PSLV which launched Chandrayaan I was built at our own Vikram Sarabhai Space Center, as was most of the spacecraft itself including the crucial Moon Impactor Probe.

Hats off to all the scientists and engineers who made this possible and a great day for all of us, a day for us to hold our heads a little higher because we belong to Space City, India!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Technocity RFP issued

KSITIL has announced the Request for Proposal (RfP) for Parcel A of Technocity (60 Acres) and for the whole of Technopark Phase III (40 Acres). The key dates for the bid are:

Issue of RfP - October 16th, 2008

Pre-bid Conference - October 31st, 2008

Last date for Submission of Bids - November 16th , 2008

As you would all recall, the bidders are:

1. Emaar MGF Land Ltd.
2. Forest City - Sun Capital
3. K. Raheja Corporation
4. L&T Urban Infrastructure
5. Maytas Infra
6. Suzlon
7. SREI Group
8. Brigade Group
9. Ramky Group

Stay tuned for more news of Kerala's largest IT project as the bid process progresses to completion in the next month or so!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

2010 National Games in Trivandrum

After months of speculation, it is official.....the National Games are coming to Trivandrum!

Indian Olympic Committee formally announced a few days ago that the 35th National Games will be held in Kerala. With Trivandrum being the capital, it will host most if not all the events, as is customary.

With extensive sports facilities already in place, including football and athletic stadiums, Kerala's largest indoor stadium, two olympic size swimming pools and the top tennis club in the state, Trivandrum's a natural choice.

But the Government is planning a
games village which will have sporting facilities such as a brand new main stadium as well as residential and social facilities for the athletes.

Stay tuned for more on this in the days to come!

Saturday, October 11, 2008

One for the Paper

Some of you may recall that I had been toying with the idea of contributing some of the ideas that we discuss here in a prominent daily or magazine so to reach a wider audience. There is a bit of good news on that front, thanks to the interest and support shown by the team of The Hindu. My first contribution on Integrated Townships and Technocity has appeared in today's Property Plus supplement.

I hope all of you will go through it when you get time and let me know what you think. Thanks, folks!

Monday, October 06, 2008

How about a few good words....?

The other day, I got yet another of those pesky forward mails, which are the best testament to the fact that there are lots of completely jobless and ,at least, mildly sadistic people in this world. This one expounded why Kerala gets it all wrong, on the alcohol propensity of the populace, the ineptitude of its Government and the supposed lack of education among its State Cabinet. The most appalling bit about this libel was that it was being proliferated by malayalis, as evidenced by the mail trail!

Disgusted as I was at this self-deprecation, I was not amazed because it was not the first time I was witnessing this penchant for shooting ourselves in the foot. In a conversation about hartals and trade unionisation in Kerala, the voice that is usually the loudest in berating the unfriendliness of Kerala to investment is that of a malayali. Or even when he or she secretly yearns for home, many Keralites tend to sing praises of the lands where they are working and usually look down on home-sweet-home for not being "cosmopolitan".

This kind of behaviour is hard to find amongst the citizens of any other State in India, even those less fortunate than ours. Perhaps it is the congenital leanings towards a holier-than-thou attitude that make it easy to blame all the woes of the State on somebody else. When we find others praising their states, many of us are busy painting a poor picture indeed. And if Keralites don't think Kerala is a good place, who will?

Well, some people do. The October 6, 2008 edition of the Outlook magazine carries a ranking of Indian States on various parameters. Kerala ranks numero uno, finishing first not just in the usual strong points of
Education, Healthcare and Womens' Empowerment, but in the economically vital paramter of Basic Infrastructure as well.

Our State ranks high in almost all the parameters, except characteristically in Employment Generation and Poverty reduction and uncharacteristically in Security & Justice. The study also points out that Kerala's drained coffers are inhibiting further growth. The verdict is clear, Kerala is a great place to live and has the potential for growth, but it needs private investment to expand and to maintain its standard of living.

So our State and the systems that we oft berate have given us the best standard of living in India, given us a healthy, well-educated start to life. The kind of start which helps many of us to go elsewhere, look back and criticise. Which is not what a state in urgent need of private investment needs. It needs its diaspora to build a positive image which will attract investment, if not to actually invest themselves.

So next time, you are tempted to talk about "rampant trade unions" in Kerala, do remember that no one has been lynched in any labour protest in Kerala. And when you talk about hartals, that we don't shut shop when a thespian kicks the bucket. A few good words about Kerala will do us no harm, but may do our State a lot of good.

After all, if we don't speak well of Kerala, who else will?

Tuesday, September 30, 2008


What characterises life? How do we distinguish a coral – a living but immobile creature – from the rock that it dwells on? The untrained eye could see the former as a intricate rock formation, akin to stalagmites found in caves. But the crucial differences are the coral’s urge to survive, grow and reproduce. This is common from the smallest bacterium to the biggest tree, distinguishing features of that most complex of all processes – life.

What is the biggest living thing on Earth? Most would answer that it is the blue whale, an answer drilled into us in junior school. By the book, the answer is the redwood or sequoia tree found in the western United States. But are there bigger organisms, so big that we fail to recognise them? Ecosystems, such as the rainforest could be thought of as loosely linked organisms, with thousands of inter-linked species. Amazingly, the extinction of a variety of tiny fly may cause the end of an entire species of tree that it pollinates and of countless creatures dependent on trees. Just like the failure of small bunch of cells which pace our heart can bring us crashing down. The idea of organisms living in such harmony need not be so alien, because all multi-cellular organisms including us, could have been created by the co-existance of different types of single-celled creatures. Indeed, this communal existance is still visible in the oddity of nature called the Portugese man-of-war.

Even stranger is the thought that we may all be part of an immense organism, whose body stretches over nearly 200 million square meters, whose arteries and veins are metres thick and who is constantly growing. If I lost you along the way, as I may have, I am talking about the city that we live in.

Think about it. The city has millions of nearly identical building blocks – buildings and people. It has a circulatory system which distributes power and water and takes away sewage and garbage. It has an immune system, clad in khaki. It has a nervous system, albeit a slow responding one, in its many institutions of governance. It learns through institutions of education and research and remembers in its libraries and hard drives. And it is growing, steadily across the years. The city competes with others to survive, to become the fittest. And it has begun spawning offspring – satellite cities like Technocity – and has started adopting children – outlying towns like Attingal, Nedumangad and Neyyatinkara. So if it strives to survive, grow and reproduce, isn’t Trivandrum a living thing?

While you mull this over, let’s take a look at how our city is growing and will grow. To gauge its growth, we will look just at a few key parameters – population, area and urban structure. While the first two are self-explanatory, the last refers to how the city is made up – its central and secondary business districts, density, transportation network, presence of satellite townships etc.

While Trivandrum has a history of over 2000 years, we will restrict ourselves to the last 60 years.


Population: 300,000 – 600,000

Area: 75 Sq. Km.

Urban structure: Major town

Always the largest city in Kerala and by far its most developed one before the formation of the State, Trivandrum continued its stately progress in the decades after 1950. The Maharajas had bequeathed it power, water, sewerage and public transportation networks and these continued to service the population, albeit under increasing strain from the growth of the city. The Central Business District (CBD) stretched from the Secretariat to the East Fort, where the major market was located. Residential expansion happened to the north, north-east and east of the CBD. The coastal belt showed little activity except for the airport and VSSC. The city had a well-developed network of educational and research institutions. Trivandrum was loosely linked to its surrounding towns.


Population: 800,000 – 1000,000 (Based on 2005 election data)

Area: 150 Sq. Km.

Urban structure: Nascent Tier II City

While the focus continued to be on the Government, small-scale and services industries, the arrival of IT and the privatisation wave started making changes in Trivandrum. The CBD expanded to include areas like Vazhuthacaud and Vellayambalam. Residential activity moved outwards, to areas like Medical College, Nalanchira, Poojapura and so on, as the City Corporation itself was expanded. The city’s status as a knowledge hub continued to expand. The opening of the NH-47 Bypass opened a new avenue for development and it became a focus for development. A small Secondary Business District started to form around Technopark and the city’s links with surrounding towns started to grow stronger.

Present Day

Population: 1,100,000 – 1,300,000

Area: 200 Sq. Km.

Urban structure: Emergent Tier II City

Today, IT/ITES has become the single largest employer in the city, followed by the tourism and financial services sectors. The core urban area stretches from Kazhakkoottam to Vizhinjam and from Nedumangad to the sea. The CBD is now expanding till areas like Pattom and Kesavadasapuram while the SBD around Technopark now has about 4 million sq.ft of commercial space and about 20 million sq.ft. under development, including Technocity.

The NH-47 Bypass has become the centre of both commercial and residential development, spurred on not just by the IT/ITES industry but by tourism and medical services. The city has engulfed Neyyatinkara and Nedumangad and is steadily creeping towards Attingal.

It is undergoing its most hectic period of infrastructure growth through the expansion of Trivandrum International Airport, development of Trivandrum Central and Kochuveli railway terminals, road expansion, upgradation of power, water and sewage networks etc, making up nearly Rs 3000 Crores of investment. A massive Rs 20,000 Crores of private investment has been tied up through mega-projects like the Vizhinjam transhipment hub, Technocity, Technopark expansion and so on, between 2006 and 2008. This has fuelled ever-accelerating growth in the city, its population and its economy.

2009 - 2014

Population: 1,400,000 – 1,600,000

Area: 250 Sq. Km.

Urban structure: Developed Tier II City

By 2014, Trivandrum will have about 60,000 IT professionals working in Technopark and Technocity. The first phase of the Vizhinjam project will be operational and handling 2 million containers every year, and the city would have changed for ever. The new Business District in the Mangalapuram – Aakulam area would have definitively overtaken the old one and become the new centre of the city, which would now stretch continuously from Attingal to Neyyatinkara and from Nedumangad and Venjaramoodu to the Sea.

The city's road network will be complemented by sub-urban train services and the first phase of the Trivandrum Integrated Mass Transport System (TIMTS), which is being developed with World Bank assistance and which will use BRTS or monorail technology. The NHAI-developed Outer Ring Road

(ORR) gets completed, enabling the swift expansion of the metropolitan area. The development of satellite townships commence along the ORR as the city adds another 100 Sq. Km. of suburban land to its limits.

To manage the expansion of the city, a Trivandrum Metropolitan Development Authority (TMDA) is created with nearly 400 Sq. Km. of the district under its purview. The rapid growth of the city now affects cities and towns as far away as Kollam and Punalur.

2015 - 2025

Population: 1,600,000 – 2,500,000

Area: 400 - 500 Sq. Km.

Urban structure: Mini-Metro

This will be the real decade of growth for Trivandrum as Technopark, Technocity and private IT parks employ over 150,000 professionals and Vizhinjam grows to be the premier container port in India handling over 6.5 million containers each year. Trivandrum grows to be one of the biggest cities in India, shedding its "Tier II" status to become one of the many cities vying for the status of the 10th metro, Pune, Ahmedabad and Vizag having attained the status already.

As a true high-technology, commercial and logistics hub, the importance of the Government sector has shrunk to a side-show. The city now stretches from the Kerala-TN border in the South to the borders of Kollam in the North and from Sea to the Western Ghats, occupying the entire coastal plain at its broadest. The merger of Kollam into the metropolitan area is well advanced as the margins of the smaller city merge into that of its larger neighbour. Varkala, Punalur, Attingal and other outlying towns are completely within the boundaries of the metropolitan area as the city moves outside the district borders.

The Central Business District has built-up around Technocity with over 30 million sq.ft. of space spread across various industry sectors including IT/ITES, research, electronics, biotechnology and medical sciences. Peripheral Business Districts (PBDs) have sprung up in different areas like Vizhinjam, Kundara, Vithura and so on as development branches out from the hub.

A high-capacity MRTS runs from Attingal till Vizhinjam, through the current and old CBDs. Based on either heavy-rail or high-capacity monorail technology, it moves 200,000 people a day in either direction. Branching out from the MRTS and on other radial routes run BRTS or monorail corridors. The Kollam-Neyyatinkara suburban rail is now complemented by a ring railway which runs from Attingal to Neyyatinkara. Water taxis are plying the channel between Kovalam and Kollam. A satellite port for Vizhinjam have come up at Thankasseri, which now handles bunkering traffic and some feeder activity. Trivandrum's two railway terminals, Central and Kochuveli, together handle over 100 trains a day and 100,000 passengers while Trivandrum International Airport handles close to 8 million passegers annually and is connected to over 30 international destinations by direct flights.

An IIM has been added to the IISER, IIIT, IIITM and IIST that Trivandrum had by 2010, and the city now has over 40 engineering colleges and 8 medical colleges within its limits while over 50,000 students study in its colleges. R&D institutes on genetic sciences, molecular biology, nanotechnology and quantum computing number the two dozen world-class centers in the city as it continues to be one of India's knowledge hubs.

500,000 foreign tourists and over 2 million domestic tourists visit Trivandrum to savour its unique ability to deliver a myriad of experiences from pristine beaches to breathtaking hill stations. The Attukal temple had developed into a world-famous pilgrimage center with its own sprawling township. Trivandrum is one of the 10 Special Tourism Zones across India and is continually adding destinations like the Film City and the Kadinamkulam Lake City to its portfolio of delights.

The direction of our city's growth is already clear and while many of the developments that I have envisioned in the later sections may sound fantastic, most of them are already in motion from Vizhinjam to Technocity to Film City, while others are on the drawing boards like the TIMTS or the IIIT. And surely, twenty years ago, Technopark, Vizhinjam, Technocity or even our futuristic International Terminal may have seemed even more fantastic. Yet, they are here today.

The mega-organism that we call Trivandrum will continue to grow for eternity that awaits, in ways that we cannot comprehend or even imagine today. Perhaps Trivandrum will evolve into one of the tower cities on Coruscant.

But I am sure it will be a damn sight prettier...the most beautiful city in the ecumenopolis.

The journey will be fantastic, but the first steps need to be taken today, by you and me. So, let's get to it, partners!

Friday, September 19, 2008

For whom the Ganeshas drown......?

The annual Onam Celebrations concluded in Trivandrum on September 16th with a carnival of floats and cultural performances which flowed down M.G. Road from Kowdiar to East Fort, a spectacular sight not seen for many a year.

While the people were out in force to witness the cultural extravaganza, the attendance at a procession the very previous day was dismal in comparison. This was when a tradition of Maharastra was grotesquely replicated in Kerala for what can be at best called mysterious reasons. I am referring to the most recent fad in the religious calendar of Trivandrum and Kerala - the Ganeshotsav, the puja of and later immersion of idols of the Hindu God Ganesh.

One can question the basis of this new "tradition" on the very fact it is an alien tradition which has no precedent in the culture of Kerala or the sheer nuisance it creates to life in a major city. I am sure if someone proposed that we start celebrating Pongal with the vigour of our neighbours or the Festival of the Great Kahuna with the reverence shown by the inhabitants on some remote Polynesian island, it would be rejected with a laugh. Why then, a replication of a thoroughly Maharastrian custom all of a sudden? And it does create a nuisance to everyone, with idols ranging from medium to jumbo size, pardon the pun, taking up scarce space on the sidewalks and roads of the bustling city. The fact that there was hardly ever a soul at any of these idols is a sure sign of the fabricated nature of this so-called festival, as opposed to the throngs one usually finds around Durga Puja pandals in Kolkata or even Ganeshas of the same ilk in Mumbai. Add to this the mess created at the beach when the idols emulate the mythical lemmings.

However the main reason that this mass hara-kiri of the Ganeshas is a disturbing trend for the city lies in its organiser. If the Nazi Party started functioning in today's Jerusalem, I am sure there would be more than a minor stir among the local populace. However, an organisation born on an anti-Madrasi plank, which cut its teeth through violence against South Indians, including Keralites, and their establishments in Mumbai has been functioning in our midst for years and not many eyelids have been batted over it. The Shiv-Sena has been in Trivandrum and Kerala for many years now, best known for their fleet of ambulances plying in the city. The Sena began as a regionalist organisation which promised to throw out migrants including our brethren from the hard-earned jobs and to give them to Marathis. How ironic that they are proliferating in Kerala, and not many seem to be bothered by it. Even more ironic is that they have chosen to use Lord Ganesh as their brand ambassador and propogation medium, "Ganesha is also a secular god as other faiths have no misgivings about him!", is what one worthy of the party has to say. Somehow, the words "Trojan Horse" keep ringing in the background on hearing that.

Some of you might be wondering why I have embarked on a sudden vendetta against Lord Ganesh? Lol, I have nothing against everyone's favorite transgenic God. In fact, he and I share the same star or something but as I usually write about steps we take forward in the long road of progress, I think I should also mention once in while those steps which are taken in the reverse direction. And there is no better example for the latter than the invasion we recently witnessed.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Vizhinjam gets Union Cabinet Clearance

Kerala's largest and most important infrastructure project has cleared its final hurdle with the Union Cabinet giving the go-ahead at its special session today. With this, the project is all set to roll, and the Govt. will be shortly signing the agreement to develop the Rs 8000 Crore port with the Lanco-led international consortium. (Read the news here and here.)

India's deepest port is due to start construction in a year's time and the first phase is to be completed in 2012-13. Meanwhile, the CM is convening a high-level meeting to resolve issues with the acquisition of the 1088 hectares which will form the Port Zone, supporting the 6.5 million TEU container transshipment terminal.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

A New Beginning for Trivandrum - TRIBIZ.In

Today's the first day of Onam, so let me start off by wishing all of you a Very Happy and Prosperous Onam!

I am deeply thankful to all of you for following my blog through its ride through the development of Trivandrum city. Today, we are starting an initiative to promote our beautiful capital city and its development, which is many ways is a continuation of the work done through this website.

The Trivandrum Development Front (TDF), a voluntary body of young professionals, has been working behind the scenes for several years in promoting developmental projects in and around Trivandrum. While changing things overnight may be a pipe-dream, TDF is striving to engage with a variety of key stakeholders such as the Government and its agencies, other NGOs, industry associations and the public to support developmental projects. TDF has led and supported public campaigns and discussions, conducted market and feasibility studies and other related work for a variety of projects including the Vizhinjam port, Technopark & Technocity, JNNURM, city transport projects and so on.

Although TDF has been active for over five years, it is now embarking on a vigorous drive to increase awareness among the general public and key stakeholders about developmental issues. The key focus of this drive will be the launch of TDF’s own website and newsletter. By creating a mass interface, TDF plans to increase its influence on shaping public opinion to encourage policy makers to focus on the growth of the Trivandrum Capital Region.

The TDF website "TRIBIZ.In" will be up from 11 AM today at

The TDF newsletter will be available on the website. We will shortly start a
discussion forum where we can discuss and debate on Trivandrum, its life, culture and development.

I request all of you to visit the site and review both it and the newsletter and let us know, through the feedback form, how you feel about them. And to keep visiting the site regularly and subscribe to the newsletter so that you are always updated about key developmental issues and can extend a helping hand whenever possible. Thanks in advance!