Immense potential, but neglected

Thiruvananthapuram, the city where I was born and where I spent the first two decades of my life, is still the place closest to my heart even after having spent over a decade in metropolises across India and the world. Sifting through the experiences, memories, joys and disappointments of my relationship with this ancient, yet modern city, I feel pride, hope and excitement, albeit tinged with a pinch of concern.

A capital city and centre of commerce, knowledge and culture long before there was a country called India, Thiruvananthapuram often evokes close parallels with the two cities that I have grown to like in the recent past — Cambridge in Massachusetts, U.S., and Munich in Germany. All three share certain characteristics — rich history, the confluence of knowledge and culture and the magic combination of relative serenity and cosmopolitanism. In this similarity is where I strongly believe Thiruvananthapuram’s past leads to a vibrant future.

With over a dozen international-level research and educational institutions and dozens of colleges, Thiruvananthapuram is one of India’s leading knowledge hubs that attracts tens of thousands of bright young people, who are India’s most valuable national resource. The experience of Cambridge, which has the world’s top two universities — the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard — and has long been a destination to which the world’s top companies and researchers flock, is a roadmap for Thiruvananthapuram to follow. The development of both India’s space nerve-centre and Kerala’s IT hub, Technopark, in Thiruvananthapuram is a great indicator of the ever-evolving knowledge ecosystem in the city. In the future, the ambitious Knowledge City project, together with the continuing evolution of the city’s IT cluster, will drive its economic growth and draw hundreds of thousands of the best minds from across India and the globe.

Another sector with immense potential is logistics, where the Vizhinjam port project is, quite simply put, a unique strategic advantage that can put Thiruvananthapuram at par with the great port cities of the world.

50 years late

When I showed the site of the Vizhinjam project and explained its natural advantages to the chairman of my company, a scholarly European gentleman with six decades of global business experience, his first question was why we had not developed the project 50 years ago? While it helped make him an evangelist of Thiruvananthapuram’s attractiveness for global businesses, his question is symptomatic of what concerns me most about our city.

Thiruvananthapuram is probably the most neglected State capital in India. Where other capitals find projects and funding heaped on them, our city often has to fight for scraps. Successive governments have considered the capital a useful commodity but never a place to focus on. Except a few like Union Minister of State for Human Resource Development Shashi Tharoor and the former Minister M. Vijayakumar, few leaders have championed our cause.

In the end, the blame falls on us, the citizens, for not demanding more. If we do, the city’s few serious ills like the waste management crisis may find timely resolution. This means putting development at the front of election agendas. A single-minded dedication in how we cast our votes and how we question those we elect is necessary to ensure tangible changes and to prevent the constant “transfer” of projects to other parts of the State.

As a student of modern urban planning, I find the fact that our city and its metropolitan area have no coherent development plan nor integrated development authority as shocking and I hope that this is addressed soon. Thiruvananthapuram also needs significant social and urban infrastructure development to cater to its growth.

With all of this in place, the city of Anantha is well placed to put itself on the map of the world.

Ajay Prasad

The author is Managing Director, India, of a global private equity firm based in Boston. He is an alumnus of the College of Engineering, Thiruvananthapuram.

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