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The road ahead for Mysore

R. Krishna Kumar
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Mysore is yet to live up to its potential of an investment destination though there are perceptible changes in that direction.— Photo: M.A. SRIRAM
Mysore is yet to live up to its potential of an investment destination though there are perceptible changes in that direction.— Photo: M.A. SRIRAM

What does 2013 and the years ahead portend for Mysore in terms of its projected growth? Will the city live up to the hype generated in the past as an investment destination next only to Bangalore? Will the infrastructure cope with the projected population growth? Have any of the potential of Mysore to emerge as an industrial hub in its own right materialised?

These are questions bogging the minds of residents of the city who are coming to terms with the slow but steady changing landscape of Mysore which is struggling to come into its own and emerge out of the shadows of Bangalore on the industrial and investment front. While the small changes are perceptible it will take more than that for the city’s economy – driven by the industry and service sector – to be more vibrant.

Though the early part of the last decade saw Mysore buzzing with hype generated by the massive dose of investment in the software sector, mainly Infosys, there was nothing on a similar scale in the subsequent years to carry forward the momentum. Other players such as Software Paradigm and Excel Soft are firmly established and it is reckoned that there are nearly 60 to 75 software firms — big and small — but this is nowhere near what the other tier-II cities in the country have achieved in terms of investment and infrastructure. Mysore is yet to hit the IT and industrial highway on a full throttle.

While Mysore’s potential is waiting to be tapped, the non-entry of major IT companies into the city in a big way also underlines the absence of major economic drivers – a large talent pool of qualified people, absence of quality medicare, connectivity and work culture that is a by-product of exposure to the best practices in industry from across the globe. However, some of these factors are being addressed and Mysore has a network of well-established and mature financial services and institutions, presence of a new crop of smart schools to cater to the education of the children, quality healthcare and housing.

On the healthcare front, apart from the existing multi-speciality units of Vikram, Columbia Asia, and Apollo to name a few, the Narayana Hrudayalaya and JSS Super-speciality hospitals are also fast taking shape.

In addition, the JSS Institutions already have an Ayurvedic campus supplementing the State-run Ayurvedic hospital to cater to those preferring alternative therapy to allopathic medicines, all of which will put the quality of medicare in Mysore on a par with major cities across the country. Likewise, the city has witnessed a slew of new-age smart schools while the existing ones have shored up their facilities and their numbers are on the increase.

Workforce needed

But for the industries to thrive, the city needs a vast trained and talented workforce and Mysore has a long way to go to be anywhere closer to Bangalore.

Though there are technical institutions including engineering colleges, ITI institutions etc., they are not sufficient to fuel the growth nor do students passing out of these centres find Mysore attractive for job opportunities and hence tend to migrate in search of greener pastures. On the drinking water front, Mysore has two perennial sources in the Cauvery and the Kapila, and the recent completion of the first phase of the Kabini drinking water works augurs well for the local people. For, it will augment the drinking water supply by an additional 60 million litres per day (MLD) and the installed capacity will be increased to 180 MLD in the subsequent stages of the work.

This is in addition to nearly 180 MLD already being supplied through Cauvery drawn from Hongalli and Melapura, and the combined availability from both the rivers is expected to meet the drinking water requirements of Mysore for the next 30 years.

On the solid waste management front, the city is yet to face the crisis plaguing Bangalore and it calls for an urgent decentralised waste management system in place to avoid the pitfalls experienced by Bangalore. Also, the experience of the mess created by the solid waste plant near J.P.Nagar should serve as an eye opener as the centralised unit receives nearly 350 to 400 tonnes of garbage as against its handling capacity of about 250 tonnes, resulting in accumulation of waste and pollution of the ambient air of the nearby residential areas. Though the authorities have made the right noise about creating additional facilities, there is nothing concrete to show that the city is moving in the right direction.

Roads continue to be the bane of Mysore and the booming vehicle population is taking a toll with increase in noise and air pollution, lack of parking place, and road widening being taken up at the cost of pedestrian safety by reducing the size of the footpaths. Though the Mysore Master Plan has underlined plans to widen the existing arterial roads to augment the handling capacity, critics have flayed it as an expression of sentiment and intention without suggesting a solution to relocate the thriving commercial enterprises alongside them. Any suggestion of compensating hundreds of enterprises to encourage their relocation is reckoned to be impractical and hence traffic management and road widening issues will pose a challenge in future.

Tourism

Tourism is one industry which keeps Mysore afloat and has ensured that the city remains high on the tourists’ itinerary. But the year 2012 seem to indicate that tourism in Mysore has hit a deadend or a road block. For, the number of tourists visiting the city was down from nearly 3.5 million in 2011 to less than 3.1 million in 2012. It is for the first time that the numbers have fallen and what is worse, the industry has been kept afloat by the domestic tourists while Mysore is yet to capture the imagination of the international tourists.

That more needs to be done to push the tourism sector is obvious, according to K.S. Nagapati, Director, Mahajana Tourism Development Institute, who pointed out that imaginative packaging of itinerary holds the key for giving a push to the sector. The current rush through Srirangapatna, Palace, Chamundi Hills, zoo and Brindavan Gardens by itself no longer has the allure of the past and this has to be marketed with more exotic locales including Bandipur, Nagarahole and Kodagu. Likewise, Mysore should be promoted as the base camp to explore the breathtaking architectural splendour of Belur-Halebid and Shravanabelagola, according to Nagapati.

But equally important to attract more tourists is direct connectivity to Hampi and Goa while introducing regular commercial flights between Mysore, Kochi, Goa, Mumbai, Hyderabad and Chennai. This will not only serve the tourists but also the local industrialists who find lack of commercial flights a major handicap to drive investment to Mysore.

Manufacturing sector

However, the manufacturing sector did see some action as there has been a proliferation of ancillary units to cater to the automobile sector. But the city’s performance on the industrial front was mixed as a power crisis ensured that very few of them functioned to their full installed capacity. The only silver lining – again by way of promises – was the MoUs signed by small and medium scale industries with the local authorities which is expected to generate an investment to the tune of more than Rs.5,000 crore. Though it looks impressive on paper the gains cannot be counted as the gestation period for most of these industries to commence operations is anywhere between two to three years.

The decline in tourism and a depressed industrial activity coupled with the general negative sentiment of the economy of the country had its impact on the investment climate in Mysore. While the retail market has taken a hit with some of the malls not doing well to keep themselves afloat, additional investments have been put on hold and the work on a five-star hotel and a mega mall had come to a standstill as the project promoters are going slow. This is in contrast to the sentiment two years ago when tier-2 cities like Mysore were projected as heralding the second retail revolution, which is actually yet to take off.

Property scene

Trends in the property market tend to fluctuate and the advantage that Mysore held compared to Bangalore – availability of land at an affordable price – is fast getting neutralised. Sensing the impending boom in the long term, speculators in real estate have gobbled up large chunks of land around the city limits and the cost per sq. ft has increased significantly though it is nowhere close to the prevailing rates in Bangalore.

But the single biggest project that will permanently alter the landscape of Mysore and also change the composition and profile of the population is the completion of the railway track doubling and electrification between Mysore and Bangalore. Expected to be complete by the end of December 2013 or early 2014, it will reduce the commuting time between the two cities from about three hours at present to about 90 minutes to usher in new dynamics on the investment and industrial scene.

The demand for property is expected to spiral north as improved connectivity will make Mysore within easy reach of Bangalore. This, according to observers, will reinforce Mysore’s USP as an investment destination and put the city back in the reckoning of investors in future. It can set off a chain reaction, accelerating Mysore’s growth. But for the city to retain its charm and reputation for planned development, the time to act for the authorities is now by shoring up the capacity of the Mysore City Corporation to deliver on the civic front. Whether it will rise to the emerging challenge remains to be seen.

R. Krishna Kumar

While small changes are perceptible, it will take more than that for the city’s economy – driven by the industry and service sectors – to be more vibrant