Rural IT park concept a non-starter except at a few places

Technolodges or rural IT Parks, aimed at bringing the fruits of IT industry to remote areas away from the hubbub of urban centres, has proved a non-starter with the sole exception being the one at Piravom in Ernakulam.

The concept was considered apt for the State where the urban-rural and digital divide was not as pronounced as elsewhere in the country. A couple of Technolodges launched in Kollam district were gradually shutdown while another 10-odd sanctioned across the State never really took off.

Technolodge were conceived as cost-effective IT facilities to be set up in unused buildings belonging to the government or local bodies in small towns and rural centres. The idea was to spruce up those buildings for catering to small and medium IT companies. Technolodges have been planned with the objective to empower youth of the rural area and provide them with employment opportunities in the IT industry at a location near to them and to provide space at low cost to BPO companies.

K.G. Girish Babu, the managing director of Kerala State Information Technology Infrastructure Ltd (KSITI), said the Technolodges failed to take off owing to a variety of reasons.

“Many of the locations identified for Technolodges were not really fit for running IT operations. For instance, one chosen location was right next to a fish market. While the concept was to develop unused government buildings, many of the buildings identified were in such bad conditions that they were just not fit for use. Besides, no entrepreneurs came forward with genuine proposals to take over the proposed facilities,” Mr. Girish Babu told The Hindu.

KSITI is now in the process of returning such unfit locations back to the government. The concept of rural IT Parks, however, is alive and the government is determined to go ahead with it if the conditions are conducive.

Joseph C. Mathew, IT adviser to the Chief Minister during the previous LDF government, said the Union government’s decision to withdraw STPI (Software Technology Parks of India) benefits and restrict tax benefits to Special Economic Zones alone made the implementation of Technolodges unfeasible.

“SEZs called for a minimum of 25 acres and were open to export-oriented companies alone. In comparison, the very purpose of Technolodges was to offer cost-effective working space. So when considered in alignment with the Union government’s policy, Technolodges were simply not feasible,” he said.

The insistence of people’s representatives to get rural IT Parks allocated for their constituencies to please the electorate didn’t help either.

Technolodges should be used to execute domestic work if the State as a whole aims at becoming an IT destination rather than having a few hubs centred in cities, Mr. Mathew said.

He countered the reasoning that inappropriate location failed the concept, pointing out that the very idea of ICT was to make connectivity accessible ubiquitously irrespective of geographical locations.

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