Sunday, December 19, 2010

Back to Trivandrum

I am headed back to Trivandrum, flying out from JFK tomorrow evening and landing up at Trivandrum International Airport (sadly, still at T2 and not T3) early on Wednesday morning. The highlight of course if that I will be winging my way out of New York on the world's biggest passenger jet! Yipeee! Stay tuned, folks, there is a lot of catching up to do on the blog!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

IFFK 2010

Trivandrum's standard bearer on the world cinema scene, IFFK, has rolled in for yet another edition. For the first time since 2001, I will be missing it, sigh! For the last couple of years, IFFK's been hailed as India's pre-eminent film event, outdoing the official national film festival, now held permanently in Goa, in any and all parameters - the number and quality of films, the size of the audience and the intensity of the experience - that matter to an avid movie buff or professional alike.

For starters, here is the brand new signature film, a bright and colorful cartoon, from Trivandrum's home-grown global animation giant, Toonz.

Stay tuned for more!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

RFQ floated for Kerala's mega-port!

The Request for Qualification (RFQ) for prospective developers of the Rs 6000 Crore Vizhinjam Deep-sea Port project has been floated, setting in motion the development process for the biggest greenfield infrastructure project in Kerala's history.

You can read more about the history of the project and every latest development here. Stay tuned, folks!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Sting and Bod Geldof at Trivandrum

Here's the video of Sting and Bob Geldof at the Nishagandhi open-air theater in Trivandrum, at the closing concert of the Hay Festival.

Make sure you pass it on to everyone you know. Let the world know about the latest exciting international addition to Trivandrum's cultural calendar. And try to be next time, I know I will do my best to be!

Video Courtesy: The Telegraph, UK and Youtube

Monday, November 15, 2010

Awesome conclusion to the Trivandrum Edition of the Hay Festival!

The first edition of the Hay Festival in Trivandrum was wildly successful with enthusiastic and involved audiences at all the sessions. The organizers now plan it to be an annual event at Trivandrum. Not very surprising for a city which puts a different spin on the words "intellectual capital". Long the heart and soul of Malayalam cinema and the permanent home of the International Film Festival of Kerala, not to mention the preferred haunt of many of Kerala's literary greats, it looks like the capital city has yet another internationally-acclaimed addition to its annual cultural calendar.

And as if this was not awesome news in itself, get a load of how the finale to the event panned out, a packed concert at Nishagandhi with Irish music legend Bob better believe it, Sting!

Image Courtesy:

While the event garnered a lot of publicity in the National print and visual media, as well as in select international media, I wonder how well it was covered in the so-called "local" media. I wouldn't be surprised if many of the worthies who "report" for them haven't heard the word "sting" in any other connotation that the wrong end of a bee or, at best, the wrong end of Tehelka. Plus, I am sure there will soon be a bunch of loyal citizens calling for the Hay Festival to be parceled out across various towns and villages of Kerala. After all, we managed that with the IT revolution and the National Games, didn't we? I hope someone does the right thing and say "No" in this case at least!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Hay Festival in Trivandrum!

No, I am not talking about an orgy of making cattle fodder here, but of the world-famous literary event that is currently being held in Trivandrum.

Some of the world's who's-who in the literary, arts and cultural spheres. Some of the attendees include Mani Shankar Aiyar, Rosie Boycott, Gillian Clarke, William Dalrymple, Tishani Doshi, Sonia Faleiro, Sebastian Faulks, Bama Faustina, Bob Geldof, Namita Gokhale, Nik Gowing, Sister Jesme, Manu Joseph, NS Madhavan, Jaishree Mishra, Anita Nair, Vivek Narayanan, Michelle Paver, Basharat Peer, Hannah Rothschild, K Satchidanandan, Marcus du Sautoy, Simon Schama, Vikram Seth, CP Surendran, Miguel Syjuco, Tarun Tejpal, Shashi Tharoor, Amrita Tripathi, Pavan Varma, Jorge Volpi and Paul Zacharia.

Impressive, eh?! Oh yes! Too bad that I am on the other side of the world but I hope those of you lucky enough to be in Trivandrum right now would spend some time listening to some really interesting people interact with each other and with the enlightened citizens of our city.

Trivandrum has had no peers in terms of cultural and intellectual achievement in Kerala, be it the printed word or the silver screen (IFFK is now widely considered as India's premier film event). The fact that the Capital City has been chosen to host such a prestigious event on an annual basis is yet another testimonial to how cosmopolitan the city has become, with its packed calendar of cultural events which have been drawing people from across the world.

The only thing I hope that the organizers mull about and modify next time is to brand the event as the Hay Festival, Trivandrum instead of Kerala. The folks in Trivandrum are happy to let their State benefit from the branding of most of the city's achievements. Sadly, not many other places are so broad-minded and it is high-time we learned how valuable geographic branding can be on a global scale.

Friday, October 22, 2010

@ ULI Fall Conference 2010

Ever since I first heard the iconic exchange between Mohanlal and Sreenivasan that concerned the distance between two American cities, I had wanted to visit the Capital of the US (and the World, as many DC-ers claim). After a couple of decades, the opportunity to visit the quintessential capital city came last week when I attended the Fall Conference of the Urban Land Institute,  the world's top real estate and urban development forum.

Other than a whistle stop tour of the city and listening to a bunch of interesting presentations, I also got the opportunity of interacting with the leadership of some of the top real estate developers in the world including Forest City, Tishman Speyer and Boston Properties. Of course, what I wanted to understand most is their approach to international expansion, which seemed to be getting back on track after a spell of suspended animation during the worst of the Recession. And India is pretty much right on top of the priority, and there could even be some good news specifically for Trivandrum. Stay tuned on that!

I also had a chance to meet up with representatives of a leading urban planning and development organization, the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy, which works with Governments and advocacy groups, like TDF, to promote sustainable transportation and urban design paradigms. I hope to have some interaction with them on getting a mass transit plan for Trivandrum rolling. On the same lines, MIT has recently tied up with Volvo for a new Center of Excellence on Bus Rapid Transit, and this is a resource that I hope to leverage for Trivandrum in the near future. More on these and other discoveries from the first six weeks at MIT soon!

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Reporting Back!

This is probably the longest time that I have been off the grid since I started writing this blog. Due apologies for being offline so long but getting used to the grind of the world's best institution of higher learning has taken its toll on my creative time. However, proverbially, I am back!

In the meantime, I have been having a lot of conversations about a bunch of topics of interest to this blog, and hopefully, to you, its readers. Some of the areas that MIT has been giving me a crash course on include Urban Design and Development, City Planning theory and the various aspects of Real Estate Development. Not only is the time spent here an opportunity to interact with some of the world's leading thinkers in urban design and development, but also to make elevator pitches about Trivandrum to some of the world's leading real estate firms. For example, at the 25th Anniversary of my current alma mater, the Center for Real Estate at MIT, some of the speakers included the owners of two multi-billion dollar real estate giants - Hines and Boston Properties. Next week,  I am off to the Fall Meeting of the Urban Land Institute in Washington D.C., where the Whos-Who of the US real estate industry congregate. Opportunity beckons! In the meantime, I am hoping to get at least one new article out, stay tuned!

Monday, September 13, 2010

TCS to develop Mega-campus at Technocity

Kerala's most ambitious IT infrastructure project, the 450 acre, $ 1.5 Billion Technocity has officially taken off with its first technology tenant being allotted a massive 82 acre parcel at today's Cabinet meeting.

India's biggest IT firm, Tata Consultancy Services, plans to develop a gigantic Global Training Center, or rather a University, which can churn out 10-15,000 techies in each batch! To be developed along the lines of the 1.5 million sq.ft Infosys Mysore facility, the Technocity facility would probably be even bigger and incorporates accommodation for the 15,000 trainees in each batch. Looking at the numbers that TCS is talking about, about Rs 1500 Crores on the training campus alone, we could be looking at close to 5 million sq.ft of space!

Infosys Mysore
Image Courtesy: Genial.Soul @ Forum.Xcitefun

This is probably the best vote of confidence that Trivandrum could receive as a Knowledge Destination. TCS is one of the oldest technology investors in Trivandrum with a presence here for the past 15 years or so, including its massive 500,000 sq.ft Peepul Park. By choosing Trivandrum for its biggest facility in the world, TCS has reaffirmed the city's ability to sustain massive development in the knowledge sector. What is more, TCS has promised to convert the entire campus - 40 acres - at Technopark Phase I, into a massive Development Center. Work on this project, for which the company has received all approvals, would commence as soon as the land parcel at Technocity is allotted to it. With 26 acres of SEZ space, TCS would probably bring in 15,000 IT professionals to work at this facility.

And, with the competition between the desi IT giants - TCS, Infosys, HCL and UST Global - to set up campuses in Trivandrum hotting up, the global majors are not far behind! Just as this deal has been brewing over the last few weeks, there are at least a couple of even more significant developments due to be announced over the coming weeks, which could see two of the world's biggest technology giants pick Trivandrum for their first investment in India outside the metros! Looks like the tipping point for Trivandrum is approaching.

Needless to say, stay tuned! (Any bets on how much coverage this news will get in the local media? No?!!)

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Greetings from Boston!

After what has probably been my longest period of absence from the blog over the past couple of years, I am back. And for the next year or so, this blog about Trivandrum  will be written from Boston. Or rather, Cambridge, Massachusetts to be exact.

The last couple of weeks were so hectic, desperately trying to settle in here at MIT before classes start tomorrow, that there has been little time even for email, let alone long blog posts. But now that that's over, we will be back up to speed soon, I have a couple of topics lined up already!

In the meantime, we have made it to 100,000 visits by all of you. As always, a big thanks to all my readers for being patient and attentive with me. With any worries about me vanishing in the Bermuda Triangle put to rest, let's get back to business as usual, folks. Stay tuned!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Off to MIT - On a Bright Note!

I have been literally running around feverishly to finish all the requirements of my MIT sojourn over the last few days and there has been no time even to post the momentous development of the powers-that-be in our State agreeing that the National Highways should be developed to 45 m width as they were supposed to be. The same "All-Party" gang that sabotaged the Highway development of Kerala has now cheered it on, after wasting several months and hundreds of lives and Crores in the process.

Perhaps, it hints at a new beginning for Kerala just as the 18 hour journey that I am about to embark on signals a major, hopefully positive change, for me. Let's hope for the best!

Talk to you from Boston next time! Stay tuned, folks!

Saturday, August 07, 2010

RIP NH-47 Development - Back to Square One!

From Good to Not-so-Good, to Bad, Worse and finally....Dead! That has been the story of the development of the NH-47 which links Kerala's two biggest cities and acts as a lifeline for half of the State and over 20 million people all told, including a portion of Southern Tamilnadu. A long deadlocked project got moving finally when it was tendered out successfully last year before it was embroiled in a politically motivated drama about the width of the proposed road. And now, the sword has finally fallen. Frustrated by the months of unnecessary delay, the Central Government has axed the project in its current form, effectively annulling the contract which was all set to be awarded to a leading construction firm. It has called for the preparation of a fresh Detailed Project Report (DPR) for the widening of NH-47 from Cherthala to Trivandrum.

 Image Courtesy: Szykana

What does this mean? Simple, between one and two years of nothing! It will take a minimum of a year to prepare a new DPR. Next the cost estimates will have to be prepared and approved by NHAI, before the tender process starts all over again. Even if the tenders are awarded smoothly, the minimum time that will elapse till we see any sort of work start is two years. Two years where the congestion on the NH-47 will increase at an ever increasing rate, two years where thousands of Crores will be wasted because of slow moving traffic, millions of tons of extra pollutants generated by idling vehicles and hundreds of people killed or maimed on unsafe roads.

Will someone step and claim responsibility for this? I would guess not, apart from the political game of exchanging blame, just to keep the electorate fooled.

Bad news indeed, especially when massive projects like Technopark Phase III, the UST Global campus, Technocity, IBM and Vizhinjam are finally getting a move on. Bad news for all of us, who actually have to use the highways and cannot afford either the luxury of escorted State cars or to sit back and complain from armchairs at home or abroad.

The only sliver of hope in the midst of all this gloom is that when a new DPR is prepared, the massive increase in traffic from 2004, when the last one was completed, would be taken into account and the design would be for a 6-lane highway! A worrying aspect is that NHAI seems to be looking to cut corners in view of the opposition to tolls in Kerala, and one are they are targeting is the construction of grade separators which is the costliest component of any highway. (1 Km of 4-lane surface road costs Rs 10 Crores or so, 1 Km of 4-lane elevated road costs Rs 45 Crores or more) However, the emphasis should be one more elevated stretches not less so as to avoid small towns like Varkala, Kottiyam, Chathanoor, Karunagapally, Haripad and Ambalapuzha along the NH-47. I hope someone sees the logic in not deleting flyovers.

Bad news, indeed, but let's hope for the best, folks!

Thursday, August 05, 2010

The UST Global mega-campus! Amazing pics!

Trivandrum's own home-grown tech giant, UST Global, has been teasing everyone with the prospect of a massive campus of its own for a few years now, ever since it was allocated 36 acres of land in Technopark Phase II, along with Infosys. Quite a few design options were considered over the past couple of years, some were even posted on this and other blogs. But now, finally, the real deal is here!

And it is awesome, if even that is not an understatement! UST Global has gone and unveiled one of the single biggest technology campuses in India, if not the world, and it's quite the looker too!


Total land area = 36 Acres
Overall Built-up Area = 3.6 Million Sq.ft
Overall capacity = 30,000

Phase I Built-up Area = 800,000 Sq.ft of technology space
Phase I capacity = 8,000
Number of Floors = 16
Height = 80 m

- LEED certified Green Buildings

- Mixed-use Developments incorporating non-processing areas as well such as food courts, retail, sports facilities and MLCP
- Super-tall atrium
- To be developed in 3 Phases
- Includes features such as helipads and corporate suites
- Massive waterbody to also act as rainwater collector

Campus Master Plan

The Phase I block (in the first image) is seen on the extreme left of this layout, with the NH-47 running diagonally down the left-side border. The Infosys campus would be below the bottom boundary.

Now that UST Global has unveiled its giant campus and signature buildings to go on up on next door neighbour, Infosys, it is to be seen how TCS responds with its own SEZ campus in Technopark Phase I. 

Stay tuned, IT's raining campuses in Trivandrum!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Symphony in glass and steel - More Views of T3

The Hindu has put together an interesting slide-show of the exteriors and interiors of the New International Terminal at the Trivandrum International Airport. Do check it out!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

The Birth of Kerala's First Metro City!

It's official! Kerala's largest city has just gotten even bigger.

With the Kerala High Court giving the green signal to merge five suburban panchayats with the Trivandrum Corporation, it has grown to over 100 wards with an estimated population of over 1.5 million. This means that Trivandrum has become the first official "metropolitan" corporation in Kerala, with a population of over 1 million. It has taken a long time for Kerala to have a real metro city, but we are here now and Trivandrum is set to scale more peaks in terms of its growth into a true world city over the coming years.

While pressing commitments towards my admission to MIT and a new idea that I am working on (stay tuned for updates on that, if it works out, it would lead to a major development for Trivandrum) have kept me from posting over the last couple of weeks, I plan to put one or more articles talking about how to plan for the world city of tomorrow, today. The bit of news above puts this subject in a more urgent perspective, I would say!

For the time being, welcome to a Metro!

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

T3 - Pre-inauguration Images - Awesome!

Another set of awesome images from my friend and co-forumer at Skyscrapercity, Vivek.

Looking forward to flying out through T3!

Friday, July 02, 2010

Sojourn to MIT

A couple of months ago, I had popped the idea of a new blog to focus exclusively on real estate. The response had been mixed, some of you felt that it would just dilute my writing efforts. A point well taken, and that idea had been consigned to the cold storage for some time. However, the time has now come to dust it off and also to reveal the original inspiration behind.

Many of my friends and many of you will wonder whether I have not had my fill of classrooms yet, but I am off to do yet another degree. Atleast, that's the plan, if the powers-that-be at assorted banks and the US Consulate smile on me.

The institution of choice is the Massachusetts Institute of Technology at Boston, the school is the Center for Real Estate and the program is the 11 month long Master of Science in Real Estate Development.

The plan is to get an in-depth understanding of the real estate industry in a more mature industry setting, the US real estate industry being the biggest and most developed in the world. MIT's CRE, since its inception 25 years ago, sort of wrote the book on management education in the real estate industry. Next would be working for two or three years in the US, partly to experience how a more established industry works, especially in terms of crucial areas like fund raising and strategy planning, and partly to take care of that huge hole in my pocket drilled by the costs of the program. The eventual plan is to come back to India and set my a real estate development venture (the long-awaited shift from employee to employer), based out of my favorite city, of course!

The first reaction of many fans and blog readers was whether this means a temporary or permanent demise for Trivandrum Rising. Not a chance! Obviously, the frequency of posts could decline and the percentage of on-the-ground content would also come down, but this blog will continue to talk about Trivandrum's development, even when few others do. Together we will continue to chronicle and discuss the pros and cons, what happened and what didn't and share our aspirations for our wonderful city!

49 days and counting!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

From Tipping Point to Talking Point

When I wrote a despairing note on Kerala's IT strategy last week, I was hoping that it would earn some attention and indeed, I was very encouraged by the sort of feedback that I received from a lot of you. Today I found out that it had reached out further than I thought.

Rosebowl channel's popular talk-show about contemporary subjects, Talking Point, was at Technopark today to discuss the development of the IT/ITES industry in Kerala and the potential that it holds for our youth. After my first appearance on the show , I had put in a word with the show's producer to look me up in case any discussions about development or IT, and it seems that she remembered, looking me up yesterday to tell about this new episode.

The panelists included Technopark CEO Mervin Alexander, former CEOs - G. Vijayaraghavan and Radhakrishnan Nair, UST Global Center head Murali Gopalan, Toonz Animations' CEO and the HR heads of TCS and NEST. Plus me as an impromptu addition. The pleasant surprise was that some of the background to the show had come from last week's blog post and the anchor, Dhanya Varma, pointed this out in the course of the discussion. Looks like the Blog-FB-Twitter nexus buzz works well!

A lot of the discussion did focus on my pet peeve - Kerala's IT strategy - and it was quite gratifying to note that the overwhelming majority of the panelists had opinions along similar lines as mine - about the need to build up a critical mass and for aggressive marketing, for example. Other familiar themes included the idea of integrated development and the business ecosystem, as well as the need to develop  infrastructure on a PPP basis. As one would expect, most of the audience was made up of techies from Kerala and elsewhere. And it was great to see that these young people understood more about what the State should be doing than most of the powers-that-be. The anchor seemed to be quite skeptical of the holy cows - such as assorted "Technolodges" and such-like - that much of the establishment and a section of the media seemed to be obsessed with. And she took out time to ask pointed questions about how certain IT firms were shooed away from Trivandrum for reasons, not logical in the least.Lol, it seems like the con-job about hubs-and-spokes is finally starting to wash away. Two or three of the CEOs even wondered where such brilliant stratagems had been thought up and why no one had bothered to consult the IT/ITES industry about how its future should be charted, an echo of the views aired by IT industry CEOs at a seminar organised by CII in Trivandrum in September 2009.

All in all, my respect for the ability of the common man, especially young people, to think beyond the printed text of the so-called "mass" media and to understand concepts that seem to elude our rulers, has gone up a couple of notches. And it is heartening to see that a few people, opinion makers in their own right, who once sang praises of the nonsense that passes for an "IT strategy" have now done a full volte face! Better late than never, eh?

A couple of days ago, a friend of mine who had an active part in the original report that was used by the Government to launch the hub-and-spokes strategy was chatting with me about how things have come to pass in the 3 years since the original report. As I related how disastrously wrong his recommendations had gone, he simply said -"the idea was to move to the spokes only in the long term, AFTER the hub was well developed. Someone seems to have forgotten that minor detail. Well, anyways, we have put in a standard caveat clause, so we are safe!" Well........

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Kerala's IT Strategy - A Last Chance to Introspect?

Ordinarily, I am not a man given to saying "I told you so" in a not too subtle manner, but there are times when one has to be candid, especially if it's for a good cause. And in recent days, the question of how Kerala's IT infrastructure strategy has been formulated has found a lot of mention in the informed section of the press (no, don't expect to find anything in the so-called "mass media", they have no clue about the subject!) In light of the recovery in the IT/ITES industry, evidenced by bullish numbers linked to growth and recruitment from most major firms, and the launch of two of Kerala's most massive IT infrastructure projects - Technopark Phase III and Technocity, it's perhaps time to take another hard look at what we are doing to attract technology firms and infrastructure developers.

Critical Mass

Critical Mass can be defined as  "the smallest amount of something you need before a major change occurs" (a more comprehensive explanation can be found here.) From the point of investment promotion, it is the minimum quantum of investment and development which starts to attract more investors. Not very clear? I agree.

Let's look at the case of Trivandrum itself in terms of the technology industry. For an employee, one of the key things he or she looks at before a change of geography is the kind of variety in employment options the prospective destination can offer. Once you have a large number of companies to choose from, the city becomes more attractive to shift to, and the employee becomes more comfortable investing there. Similarly, companies looking at a prospective city also find it more attractive if the existing talent pool is large and diverse. If the city has a large portfolio of IT and social infrastructure, it again gets high marks. A city where a significant number of major companies have already invested in makes it an easier choice for new firms as the earlier ones would have done sufficient diligence already. Add all of this up, and the concept of critical mass - the number of employees, companies, IT parks etc - becomes very clear.

Critical Mass = Talent Pool Size + Number of Companies + Availability of IT infrastructure + Availability of Social Infrastructure

The way in which the growth of cities such as Hyderabad and Pune have taken off once they attained this critical mass in the mid-2000s is evident. Even in the case of the NCR, the take-off of Gurgaon was critical in enabling the region to emerge as a top IT/ITES hub with the ability to challenge the likes of even Bangalore.

Today, fortunately, there is a lot of evidence that Trivandrum has achieved or is on the verge of achieving this critical mass, possibly the first among the leading bunch of Tier II cities, which also include Chandigarh, Jaipur, Ahmedabad, Mangalore, Bhubaneshwar, Vizag and Coimbatore. This is evidenced by the fact that major firms like India's #4 - HCL Technologies - and the world # 1 - IBM - seem to be making a beeline for Kerala's Capital and IT hub. Major developers, including Mahindra, have also evinced interest in partnering with the Government of Kerala in developing IT infrastructure. Adding to the bevy of national and international majors already present at Trivandrum are home-grown firms like UST Global, IBS, Suntech, Accentia and Toonz which have achieved business success across the globe. In fact, the State's IT Secretary himself highlighted Trivandrum's success in an article in The Business Line. "he said visitors to Technopark here, the showpiece of State's IT infrastructure, are all enamoured by the settings and facilities available."

A good thing, right? Well, it's not that simple.......
Eyes Wide Shut

While TDF has been talking about focusing on one hub before diversifying into a State-wide roll-out, and we have discussed it many a time on this blog, the idea still does not seem to have dawned upon the powers-that-be. In the same article in the BL as above, it is mentioned that "
Technopark used to embody all that Kerala IT stood for. But, the State of Kerala was not seen as enjoying these benefits as cited by visitors and employees alike. A second issue related to ‘brand diffusion' arising from the hub-and-spoke model expansion into Infopark and the Cyberpark. These were seen as individually scuttling each others' prospects."

TDF had warned about this "brand diffusion" in its presentation to the Kerala Government in 2009 and I had talked about in a post dated March, 2009. We had also spoken about the risk of internal competition and cannibalization among the various IT parks in Kerala. It seems to have taken over a year for it to dawn on the decision makers.
The true irony of this is that Kerala should have been able to realize the risk of internal competition quite early on, given that it has played host to one of the worst instances of  the adage "too much of a good thing can be bad" in the infrastructure sector. Kerala today has a population of about 30 million, over 15 million of its citizens living elsewhere in India or the World and about 10 million air travelers annually. With such hefty air traffic numbers, very near to those of the Delhi or Mumbai hub airports, one would expect Kerala to have similar air connectivity - domestic  and international - as those airports. However, reality is far from this. In fact, Keralites are not able to enjoy even decent domestic connectivity (except to Bangalore, Chennai and Mumbai) or to cities across the world (with the notable exception of the Gulf). The reason for this is simple, Kerala has not one but three (and soon, five!) airports. The State's air traffic is split up among these airports and hence the critical mass of passengers needed to justify long-haul connectivity has never built up. This is easy enough to understand. Take the case of Calcutta, no individual airport in Kerala has enough traffic to justify a direct flight to Calcutta but the cumulative traffic could be more than enough. The same holds true for, say, direct flights to Europe or North America. Moreover, concentration of air traffic to achieve critical mass could have achieved economies of scale and delivered cheaper air fares. Today, Emirates operates two Airbus A-330/Boeing B-777 flights from each of Kerala's 3 airports. Had we had just one airport, the same airline could have deployed two Boeing B-747s or Airbus A-380s each day. The bigger planes are up to 20% more economical and thus, tickets could have been much less expensive.

So, why did we have 3 airports in one of India's smallest States? The argument was that people did not need to travel too far to reach an airport. The maximum that anyone in Kerala would have had to travel to reach Trivandrum International Airport, Kerala's first and India's fifth global gateway, is about 600 Km or about 11 hours by road on decent highways. This is less than the maximum distance traveled to reach any of India's major airports or major international hubs, even in most developed nations. Take the US as an example. The country with the greatest air traffic volume, has no more than a handful of true international hubs - JFK, Newark, Washington, Chicago, Miami, Houston, LAX and San Fransisco. Kerala will soon have four! At first glance, it seems that we are doing even better than the Yanks, but then we have to take non-direct flights to reach almost any major destination across the world and even in India. Kerala also sees some of the highest air fares to and from any given destination (I often pay more to travel to Delhi than from Delhi to London!) Thus, at a deeper level we have lost out by not developing an airport with a critical mass of traffic.

The same applies to the development of IT/ITES infrastructure. By creating another IT park when Technopark had just begun to mature, and forcing companies to move to the new park citing a number of, often dubious, reasons including lack of space at Technopark. I know this is a rather controversial claim to make, that the Government deliberately sabotaged the development of one of its own projects but there is ample evidence for this. In fact, a member of the senior management of erstwhile IT major Satyam, spoke out about the prevailing pressure to divert away from Technopark. He put this on record by re-affirming that the firm was interested only in Trivandrum. Equally mystifying is how a top Indian IT firm was told that since "Trivandrum already had TCS and Infosys, you should set up your center in another location." The company eventually set up elsewhere in Kerala where it has made painfully slow progress. I was there when the Chairman of the firm came to Trivandrum to scout for a location and the rest of the story was pieced together from a friend within the Government setup and another who was a member of the senior management of the firm at the center in question. Why such incidents occur is anyone's guess but it is certainly not one would expect as the outcome of a coherent strategy. One wouldn't certainly see companies coming to Bangalore being shooed away just because IBM, Accenture, Oracle, Infosys, Wipro et al are already there!

The outcome of a incoherent and often self-conflicting IT infrastructure strategy has cost Kerala dear. Not only have we delayed the development of Trivandrum into a Tier I hub by as much as half a decade or more, but the other hubs and spokes have not done particularly brilliantly either. None of the new hubs have managed to attract any major names, with the usual suspects - UST Global, Accentia, IBS, NEST and so - from Technopark forming the list of prospective tenants read out at each inauguration ceremony. Even Infopark, the second oldest IT park in Kerala, has recorded an occupancy of about 30% - about 10,000 professionals working in close to 4 million sq.ft. of built-up space as per latest reports. And despite the loud noises made in recent days about the "Kerala IT" brand, the State's brand as an IT destination is far weaker than desired.

Tipping Point

In some of the earlier posts as well as in the IT Strategy presentation (Slides 13 and 20), I had talked about two critical conditions for Trivandrum's development into a Tier 1.5 IT/ITES destination (a level currently occupied by Kolkata and from where Pune recently moved to Tier 1): 1) A top 10 multinational IT firm should establish operations in Trivandrum and 2) a top IT infrastructure developer has to commence work in the city. The former would help a great deal in differentiating Trivandrum from the bunch of Tier II cities, such as Chandigarh, Jaipur, Bhubaneshwar, Mysore and Coimbatore, which are nipping at its heels. Most of these cities have the ubiquitous presence of one or more of Infosys/TCS/Wipro/CTS/HCL. So that is no longer a differentiating factor. However, the arrival of an IBM, HP, Accenture, Microsoft or Oracle would be a very clear differentiator between the leader and the followers in terms of destinations. Correspondingly, a large developer commencing a project in Trivandrum would signal the shift from publicly funded infrastructure to the PPP mode.

Fortunately, the portents seem to be good for both the above conditions to be achieved in the coming few weeks. It is understood that at least one top 5 IT MNC has decided to open its development center in Trivandrum and that a couple of leading IT infrastructure developers are also on their way to set up shop in Kerala's IT hub. Representatives of all the companies have been in Trivandrum over the last few weeks and discussions are at a very advanced stage by now. If these developments do come to pass, then Trivandrum would have taken one more step to reprise its long-delayed role as the 4th IT hub in South India.

South India's Fourth IT hub - Are we there?

We are nearly there, and hopefully May - July 2010 will be a landmark period in the development of the IT/ITES industry in Trivandrum and Kerala. But to make sure that the changes in store really do transpire and that their effects are made best use of, it is essential for all stakeholders - the Government, the industry and the media - to extricate their collective heads from the current policy sandbox and to introspect deeply, so that a new and more pragmatic IT strategy can be evolved and operationalised without any further delays. We cannot afford any more since opportunities like these are fleeting at best and scarcely can ever be recreated.

The Old and the New!

Saturday, June 19, 2010


The tech portal,, is carrying a re-print....or rather, re-post, of my article on the media's collective "eyes wide shut" gimmick on the inauguration of Technocity. It's nice to see that the message is reaching out to a wider audience. Alternate media and blogs can definitely offer a less biased alternative to conventional media organisations and, hopefully, force them to be less biased themselves. Thanks to the Editor!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Bakery Junction Flyover Inaugurated! (Photos)

The Inauguration site at the Palayam End

Looking towards Bakery Junction

The descent to Panjapura Junction (Underpass)

The Center Span (Over Bakery Junction)

The View from the Top: Road towards Vanross Junction

Road up to Vazhuthacaud (and then to DPI Junction)

Commencing the descent to Panavila Junction

Approaching the Panavila Junction

The view back up from the Panavila Junction

Lovely curves on this baby!

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, she is finally ready and already carrying traffic. After long last, Kerala's first true grade separator is operational in the State Capital. And after a few walk-abouts and drive-overs, I would say the wait has definitely been worth it! The flyover looks awesome, especially at night! Do pass on the pics to everyone who's been curious about "when that flyover will get built?" Well, all you doubting Thomases out there, it is all ready and waiting for you.

Blog Updates

Rainy days, not much to do....and here come a few tweaks for the blog. First, a signature at the bottom of each post, courtesy and Next, a convenient "Share This" button below each post, enabling you to share anything of interest with your friends on Facebook, Twitter, Google and a number of other apps. An finally, to enable all of you to seek out related content on this blog to any post that you read and liked, a new widget courtesy of Aneesh at, that will display related posts by going through the labels attached to each post. It gets most of its content spot-on, although a few not-too-related posts do pop up in between.

Do let me know what you think of these upgrades, and if you like 'em, do use them on your blogs and sites.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Shame on the Media!

A Rs 6000 Crore project which could generate over 100,000 direct employment opportunities and 400,000 indirect ones. The nation's 4th largest IT/ITES firm, a $ 4 Billion company. Ordinarily, one would expect the inauguration of the former and the announcement that the latter is being allotted land to set up operations to have made the headlines and to have been carried in the TV news. Right? Correct?


Apparently, the media in Kerala has decided that such mere tid-bits of news do not deserve to be reported. Of course not, especially not when there are earth-shaking items such as the cow elephant which fell into a well, or the latest casualty list from the ongoing slaughter on our ever so wide National Highways or some juicy lil' scandal or the other. News of events which could have a significant bearing on the economic future of the State, of each one of us does not deserve more than passing mention on the news or a couple of columns in some inside page right next to the Obituaries!

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, the media of Kerala made a total no-show out of the launch of Technocity. Except for the notable exception of The Hindu, Business Line and ET , no other newspaper carried any significant report of the inauguration of Kerala's largest IT infrastructure project. One needn't compare this to the "Live" broadcast of the foundation stone laying of a bus terminal in another city a couple of days later to realize that there are some very vested interests at work here.

Not that the media brigade was not present at the inauguration function. Yours truely was there, and could not fail to notice the proliferation of cameras - TV and still - and the ubiquitous OB vans. Yet, mysteriously, all that footage and all those snaps seems to have vanished!

A lot of us have felt the same thing, that the media which cries itself hoarse about the "lack of development" in Kerala has shot itself in the jewels by choosing to ignore this bit of real development news. TDF has registered its protest strongly by sending an open letter of protest to all the concerned media houses. Request all of you to join this chorus of protest, to tell the powers-that-be who imagine they can control our perception of reality by screening out inconvenient truths and feeding us the hype that the desire to perpetrate. Together, let's tell them......

Friday, June 04, 2010

Technocity Inauguration Today

Kerala's largest IT infrastructure project, Technocity, will be inaugurated at 5 PM today. The Hindu Businessline carried this in-depth article about Technocity and the emergence of Trivandrum as a premier IT/ITES business destination.It's based on a recent study conducted by TDF. Do check it out.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Cowabungaa! Surf's Up at Kovalam

Surf? Kovalam? Good question...and here is the answer! Be amazed and spread the word! Kerala's best beach gets even better!!!

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Technocity Inauguration on June 4

Kerala's biggest IT infrastructure project, the Rs 6000 Crores ($ 1.5 Billion), is set to get its official inauguration on June 4th. This marks the completion of the land acquisition stage of the project and the commencement of actual development, which will see the creation of basic infrastructure such as power and water supply, along with moves to tie up with leading infrastructure developers to kick-start actual work on the 450 acre IT/ITES-based integrated township.

From The Hindu

"Technocity, Kerala's biggest IT/ITES project, will be launched by Chief Minister V.S. Achuthanandan on June 4. The 450-acre facility will come up at Pallippuram, near here, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Technopark Mervin Alexander has said.
On completion, the latest IT Park would generate one lakh direct and four lakh indirect employment opportunities. Technocity will be developed as an integrated township encompassing IT/ITES infrastructure, residential apartments, shopping malls, hospitals, hotels, educational institutions and other support facilities.
Acquisition of land for the project was completed earlier this year at a cost of Rs.340 crore. "An investment of over Rs.6,000 crore is expected in the mega-project which will be developed on public private partnership (PPP) basis,” Mr. Alexander said. ‘‘Considering the vast area, the project will be developed in a phased manner over a period of seven years of which the first major phase will be completed in a period of three years, to enable the parks to commence functioning by July 2012. 
Kerala State IT Infrastructure Ltd. (KSITIL) is the developer of the project. The master plan for Technocity has identified the most suitable way—to break down the entire area into smaller land parcels and develop through PPP basis—to develop the IT city at the maximum possible speed."

It's understood that several major developers are interested in this mammoth project which is expected to result in the creation of between 10 to 15 million sq.ft. of business space! Together with the announcement that HCL Technologies is setting up operations in Technopark while IBM is also on the verge of setting up shop at Kerala's IT hub, this week has seen a slew of positive news for Trivandrum.

This also sets up the stage for my next article on Kerala's IT strategy which will be up in the next few days. Stay tuned for some pragmatic discussion!

Saturday, May 29, 2010

A Detour Ahead for Kerala?

About a week ago, I had the occasion to attend, on behalf of TDF, a briefing with Mr R.P.N. Singh - the Union Minister of State for Road Transport and Highways about the ongoing debate about highway width in Kerala. The young (by Indian political standards, of course!) and suave Minister waxed eloquent to the assembled team of industry captains (and one development activist) about how the Union Government would try and evolve a formula (a face saving one, for all concerned) to find a solution to the blocked development of the State's Highways. He appeared perplexed by the successive demands to reduce the width of the Highway, especially in view of the fact that other densely populated States like Goa and West Bengal had agreed to develop their highway stretches along the standard 60 m Right of Way (RoW). Mr Singh seemed even more disappointed that his own Congress party colleagues were on the war path as well.
The Ministry of Highways has made it clear that they are not willing to compromise on the 45 m RoW. Instead, their offer is to ensure that a fair Compensation & Rehabilitation package is provided to everyone affected by the project. About Rs 1100 Crores has already been set apart for this purpose for the 600-plus Km of roads to be widened. However, it is up to the State Government to facilitate the implementation of the package.

This view of the Union Government, protests among industry organisations - who have realized what kind of damage the hiatus in highway development can cause to the economic growth of the State - and perhaps a belated realization that the vast majority of the State's population don't want to spend the rest of their lives using narrow, congested and downright dangerous National Highways, seem to have persuaded the political leadership of the various parties in the State to have a change of heart. It started with Ministers Jose Thettayil, Elamaram Kareem and Paloli Mohammedkutty and then spread to the Opposition starting with the KPCC President as well. However, the official stand continues to be pretty obstinate with gems of wisdom such as denying widening to 45 m even in areas where the land is already available (for example, along the IT Corridor, between Kazhakkoottam and Vizhinjam) just because 30 m is the "official all-party" position and also to withdraw from an agreement to facilitate NH development.

However, all things considered, my guess is that there will be a soft detour back to the 45 m RoW, possibly with a few concessions in the most densely developed areas such as providing flyovers. The State's political leadership would claim any such changes and increases in the compensation package as a resounding victory. We will have to wait till the LSG elections are complete in September to be sure how soon the work on the Rs 10,000 Crore project can restart. A few dozen lakh pairs of fingers and toes will be crossed till then, mine included!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Twitter Mania

Twitter has proved to be a key aspect of this blog, helping to let many of you know when a new post is up.  So in a sense, it's come full circle when I got invited to be part of a panel discussion on Twitter, including its pros and cons. The show is being telecast on Asianet's avant garde channel, Rosebowl, today at 7 PM. Stay tuned!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

An Awesome Peek inside T3 - The Future is Here!

We have been following the development of the massive new International Terminal - T3 - at the Trivandrum International Airport with bated breath for over a year now. We have had to satisfy ourselves with exterior pictures till now but now my friend, Vivek, has gone and shot a stunning virtual tour of the interiors of T3. The terminal easily blows the pants off anything else in Kerala and probably outdoes the likes of BIAL and HIAL as well. Here are a few of his pictures, with his permission (more pics here and here):

Monday, May 10, 2010

Making Cities

My friend and neighbour, Gulzar, who happens to be the current Collector of Hyderabad, has put up an interesting post on the proposal to create a brand new city in China. It offers several interesting insights into what planners of the expanding metropolitan areas of Kerala and of new townships such as Technocity need to be prepared for. His blog, Urbanomics, is one of the most prolific that I have come across and makes for excellent reading if you are a keen follower of the ups and downs in the world of economics, finance as well as financial and public policy.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

YourSpeak on the Highway Widening issue

The development of the NH-47, or rather the lack of it, seems to have roused a lot of passion, if one is to go by the number of comments that the original post received - 34 till date!

I have been stuck with a few other things lately and have been traveling a bit over the last few days, so I have not been able to reply to your views. Apologies for that, folks. So here goes.

First of all, thanks for all your support, feedback and criticism. I will try and reply to as many comments as possible.

Anonymous said... There is no plan for 45m road. Road will be 30m, but they need land of 45m. Don't get mislead with politician like silver spoon baby. 

Nope, the main carriageway (4-lane) would be itself about 20 m wide with that going up to 28 m when we consider 6-lanes, which is urgently needed. Once we consider the service lanes (7 m on each side), footpaths and utility corridors (for pipelines and cables), we reach the 45 m mark.

Vinod said... Ajay, eviction required for 45m highway would be like this. Total affected would be 11283 persons. If we breakup, 5111 houses, 5643 business establishments, 187 tabernacles and 342 historic monuments. In this some are fully and some partly affected. Can’t the govt. do this for us and for future generations? 

Vinod - This list, probably sourced from the DPR, does not discriminate between those who will be displaced (total or near-total loss of built-up property and land) and those who will just be affected (minor demolition or partial loss of land). The former need to be compensated fairly while the latter may even benefit from getting better business or having their property appreciate, which is usually the case when a road is widened, as is evident from the TCRIP project in Trivandrum. Has a real social audit of how many of the affected folks actually oppose widening been taken? A lot of people affected by TCRIP voluntarily gave up their land, and that was in the heart of Trivandrum city, where land is most precious!

Robin said... The problem here is the cost Govt pays for Land, they pay only Rs 30 K/cent when the prevaling rates are Rs 3 L. This is the about people who lost land for NH in Thrissur region (60 M aquired) May the govt provide at least Half the Land, Pref on NH side for the people who surrender Land.

Robin, an effective Compensation & Rehabilitation policy has to be worked out by the State and Central Governments instead of forsaking highway development. Usually, the compensation package is worked out by a committee in consultation with the public. One also should not compare pre-widening land rates with those post-widening.

Unni said... My point is, of course we need better roads, but not just expanding the current one. Why not build a highway above our railway line from mangalore to Thiruvananthapuram. There are examples in the world where they built superfast highways on concrete pillars. 

Unni, an elevated highway is prohibitively expensive - five to eight times more than an ordinary one. Moreover, can you imagine constructing a highway above the rail line when even the construction of a few road overbridges has been hanging fire for over a decade. Imaginative but not practical, I am afraid.

Unni said... Also, some one quoted the numbers of evicted person doesn't make sense to me. I have traveled quite a bit from Payyanur to Calicut many many times. Let us do a rough calculation..The length of the high way is roughly around 130 km. On an average I assume that there are 2 buildings per 100 m. This is again average and this could be much more dense in town areas and little bit smaller in other areas. However it is really hard to find places where are there are no buildings within a span of 100m. Therefore I would assume at the very least there are 2 builds per 100 m on an average. Each building is connected to atleast ~ 5 person. I think this is roughly on the lower side. If you do the math, ~ 13000 people will be effected in 130km stretch. Assume the total highway is around 600 km, the total number of people affected is going to be roughly 6 lakhs.

Okay, let's do the math. 2 buildings per 100 m = 20 per Km = 100 people per Km = 13000 over 130 Km and about 60,000 for 600 Km of NH-47 and NH-17, NOT 600,000! A full order of magnitude less! And less than the population of most municipal towns in Kerala.

Let's also consider that of these buildings, many will not need to be demolished because they are set well back from the highway. In fact, there is a rule saying that any building can only be built at least 7.5 from the edge of the existing RoW.

Friday, April 30, 2010

The power of a Tweet!

I had been invited to be part of a panel discussion on Rosebowl, called Talking Point, to discuss the pros and cons of Twitter. My fellow panel members, who included my friend Kenney Jacob, and I talked at length, including about the power of tweets in promoting an idea or product, or a person. But if anyone has doubts about that, take a look at what happened when Dr Tharoor tweeted a link to this blog.

"Excellent blog on NH issue but flies in the face of severe political resistance. In democracy popular will prevails"
The result? 50+ new followers on Twitter, 10+ new followers of the Blog and 1,400 visits in less than 24 hours!

Welcome to all of you, thanks for checking Trivandrum Rising out!