The Information Technology sector, especially the software and the services segments, has emerged as an important part of the Indian economy. With the IT sector accounting for a significant proportion of the country's exports, it is hardly surprising that the States are vying with one another to project themselves as the most favourable destination for the IT industry.
For quite some time now, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, and Andhra Pradesh have been in the forefront in this inter-State competition. It is but natural that Kerala, the fourth State in the southern region, should want to catch up with them and increase its stake in the sector. This provides the context for the publication of the coffee-table book under review.
Facts and figures
Designed to portray Kerala as the destination of choice for IT entrepreneurs, it provides a huge volume of facts and figures — interspersed with breathtaking pictures from ‘God's Own Country' — in an effort to assure investors of high rates of growth. The book manages, at the least, to impress the reader.
As a relatively late entrant in the race, Kerala has to make up for the lost time and work much harder if it is to reach the level of progress others have attained in areas critical for attracting operators who would like to just plug and play. In infrastructure, for instance, the State is working at a breakneck pace, going by the book. The number of graduates passing out of the 84 engineering colleges in Kerala is around 25,000, which is far below the figure in the other States. The State's reputation for labour-friendly governments and socialist policies also seems to have acted as a dampener, considering that the IT industry, more than any other, has always felt threatened by Indian labour laws. Moreover, a significant proportion of the State's well-educated talent pool has, for various reasons, tended to emigrate for employment, resulting in the economy being driven — to a not inconsiderable extent — by foreign remittances.
In recent times, however, the government has endeavoured to modify the pattern of growth, by working on the advantages it has gained by focussing on education, health, and equitable distribution of resources. With an enviable literacy rate of over 90 per cent and a Human Development Index (HDI) that is comparable to many developed nations, Kerala has indeed a strong foundation to build on.
The Technocity planned near Tiruvananthapuram, work on which is to start soon, is among the new initiatives to accelerate economic growth. This and other ongoing/proposed projects, including the Infopark (Kochi), Cyberpark (Kozhikode), and Techno Lodges, are listed in the book. A number of IT parks have also come up in the private sector, and some more are in the pipeline.
Notable, at the grassroots level, is the Akshaya programme that seeks to take e-literacy to the villages by making at least one member of every family computer-literate. It is stated that every village has broadband connectivity and the State's e-governance initiatives may well pave the way for responsive governance.
The results of these initiatives have already started showing. During 2008-09, the year badly hit by financial recession, the IT industry in the State posted a growth of nearly 45 per cent, as against the national average of 17 per cent, with the value of exports standing at around Rs.3,000 crore. Maybe, this does not bear comparison with the IT export figures of Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, or Andhra Pradesh. But the spurt in growth clearly suggests that investors are finding the State increasingly attractive.
The book refers to a recent World Bank study that placed Kerala second among the States in India in terms of the Investment Climate Index (ICI) and identified as a major enabling factor the ready availability of a strong talent base, thanks to the stress laid consistently on education and health development goals. With IT parks coming up in major hubs like Tiruvananthapuram, Kochi and Kozhikode, where techies are concentrated, the rates of attrition in the State are low. The investment on transport and communications infrastructure has also paid off, and the rural-urban divide has blurred over the years because of the balanced socio-economic development. Overall, Kerala seems firmly set on emerging as an attractive destination for IT industry.