Bengaluru: Karnataka’s beleaguered Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government is hoping that a Global Investors’ Meet (GIM) that begins today will restore some shine to its governance record months ahead of assembly elections in which it is expected to struggle.
The GIM, last held in 2016, hopes to draw fresh investments into India’s tech and start-up hub of Bengaluru as well as across the hinterland to show that Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai’s government is delivering on its promise of jobs and development.
Aaccording to the Government of India, Karnataka was the top recipient of all foreign direct investments (FDI) into India in 2021-22, bagging 38 per cent of the total $83.57 billion in the previous fiscal.
Over 35 per cent of this was in the ‘Computer Software and Hardware’ sector, indicating inflows into Bengaluru which, despite the capital infusion, has not seen better quality of life for its over 12 million residents.
The CM has been under immense pressure to showcase some semblance of development and governance as the rising communal tensions, crumbling infrastructure and corruption has grabbed more headlines in recent months, sidelining its more favourable attributes like technology, start-ups and talent pool, among others.
“We are expecting over Rs 5 lakh crore in investments and the State High level Committee has already given clearance for investments of over Rs 2.8 lakh crore,” Bommai said speaking to media persons Tuesday.
“For all the global players, whoever they are…the destination for prominent industries and businesses…if there is one place, is Bengaluru. All global corporations lead into Bengaluru. All roads of international and multinational companies lead to Bengaluru,” Bommai said after inspecting the Bengaluru Palace which will host the event.
The ‘road’ metaphor, though, is unlikely to sit well with citizens of Bengaluru, which fares poorly when it comes to quality of roads.
The Karnataka government had last year admitted that the state and the city corporation had spent over Rs 20,000 crores in road-related works in Bengaluru alone in past five years.
But the lack of any significant change on-ground is indicative of the widespread corruption that has seeped into every aspect of public life in one of India’s largest and most populous cities.
Commuting on roads that are subject to constant digging, potholes and clouds of dust has fueled the rapid deterioration of air, water and the general quality of life in the city.
The roads have also led Bengaluru to claim the title of being the world’s most traffic-congested city, according to a 2019 report by TomTom, a Netherlands-based global provider of navigation, traffic and map products.
At least 18 lives were lost due to negligence by civic agencies, which include pothole-related accidents, among others, in Bengaluru in 2020, accounting for 85 per cent of all such cases reported across India, according to the National Crime Records Bureau.
The city corporation, Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP), which is responsible for road maintenance, has been without an elected council since September 2020.
The fast approaching assembly polls next year has led to more roads being dug up.
Most investments into Karnataka come to the capital city due to its good ecosystem of academia, industry, education and enterprise. It infuses more capital into the city but has added tremendous pressure on its limited resources.
Between 2013 and 2019, at least 90 of the 142 projects valued at over Rs 39,000 crore with the potential to create 80,000 jobs were lost out on by Karnataka due to troubles in securing land under various sections for industries, according to government data.
On the other hand, the floods in Mahadevapura, Bommanahalli and other parts of the city this year also showed how the city has become a victim of its own success as lakes, valleys, drains and other essential infrastructure were encroached and replaced with concrete structures for large IT and other corporations, as well as for housing.
Homes or villas of top IT captains and start-up founders were among the hundreds that were submerged in the relentless rains since July this year.
“There will be a lot of letters of intent, MoUs signed but how consistent has this government been in trying to attract investments is a big question. In the past two and a half years, not one new commercial production has started. There have been only expansions but nothing new,” Priyank Kharge, Congress legislator and former minister of the Department of Electronics, Information Technology, Biotechnology and Science & Technology, said.
He added that communal disharmony, political instability, denting of brand Bengaluru and other challenges has rendered the government unsuccessful in selling the idea of the city and state being an investment destination.
Red tape, long waiting periods for requisite clearances are some of the other reasons.
Companies like Flipkart, Snapdeal, Amazon, Uber, Ola and several others that put Bengaluru on the global start-up map have faced their fair share of troubles, reflecting a dissonance between the emergence of innovative technologies and the archaic policies that have not kept pace.
In the most recent manifestations of these clashes, mobility service providers like Uber, Ola and Rapido were ‘banned’ from operating auto rickshaws on its platforms on 12 October, forcing these companies to seek relief from the courts.
The court has capped commissions at 10 per cent and regulated fares until the government can bring all stakeholders and decide on a price that can accommodate vehicles both on and offline.
“Currently, our commission in Bengaluru is capped at 10 per cent of the fare collected. This is not financially sustainable. If our costs can not be covered through commissions, we will have to find ways to offload costs that could impact the experience of drivers and riders,” Nitish Bhushan, Head of Central Operations, Uber India & South Asia, said in a statement Tuesday.
He said that these commission caps may lead to Uber Auto being limited to selected parts of the city, where the service is “viable”.
“This will hurt drivers and inconvenience riders who depend on aggregators for their commuting needs,” he added.
(Edited by Theres Sudeep)