With its competitive advantages, West Bengal has emerged as the new IT destination in the country.
AZIM PREMJI, Chairman of Wipro, said recently: "West Bengal, under the able leadership of a pragmatic Chief Minister, is now poised to make a true economic breakthrough towards recovering its leadership position. With so much knowledge, talent and potential, I will be both surprised and sad if this does not happen... Wipro will back the State in its IT [Information Technology] endeavours as we believe that West Bengal has much more to contribute towards the national economy and India's growth." Premji's comment only re-emphasises the fact that West Bengal has emerged as the new IT destination in the country.
All major IT companies - IBM, TCS, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Cognizant, Skytech, NIIT, Lexmark, AIG and many others - have set up shop in Kolkata. Recently, Wipro, LSI Logic and G.E. Capital joined that group. Several others such as HSBC, ITC Infotech, Reliance and Satyam, are in the process of setting up their facilities in Kolkata. The international human resources outsourcing and consulting firm, Hewitt Associates, has projected Kolkata as the next preferred IT-enabled sector (ITeS) destination, in view of its competitive advantages. Apart from its talent pool, Kolkata offers the lowest rates of operations and attrition, quality power and good infrastructure necessary for IT operations.
Several IT infrastructure projects are coming up in the State. The DLF Group is developing a 1.3-million-square-foot IT Park at Rajarhat. The first phase of the Rs.280-crore project will be commissioned in May. Soon to be completed are several other walk-in infrastructure projects such as Infinity (Tower II), Infinity Benchmark, Infinity Waterside and Technopolis and the Millennium Park.
An important project is the Technopolis, India's first Green Building for IT, to be established in Kolkata by March 2006. The 675,000-square-foot project, launched by Phoenix Software Limited, a part of the Saraf Group, will be Kolkata's largest single-unit building. Technopolis is being built to the specifications of the U.S. Green Building Council and, once completed, will aim for the latter's LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) standard. LEED provides a framework to judge building performance and the ability to meet sustainability goals.
Rahul Saraf, director, Phoenix Software, said: "West Bengal is making a serious endeavour to position itself as the next favourable IT destination. As builders, we must match this effort by providing world-class infrastructure. Green buildings have already become a norm in the West and soon it will be so in our country too. Infrastructure like Technopolis will give multinational organisations the kind of working environment they are used to internationally. It is extremely important to provide the right kind of infrastructure for IT personnel where the working hours are longer and the space is used on a 24x7 basis. Hence we will lay stress on features like indoor air quality. This ensures the physical and mental well-being of the workforce and has a direct bearing on lowering attrition rates in the organisations."
G.D. Gautama, Principal Secretary, Department of Information Technology of the West Bengal government, said: "Looking at the requirements of the IT sector, we are taking all steps to meet the infrastructure requirements." Apart from Kolkata, four other satellite IT destinations are coming up - in Siliguri, Durgapur, Kharagpur and Haldia. Software Technology Parks (STPs) have been operating in Durgapur and Kharagpur since last year. Two STPs will be set up in Siliguri and Haldia by the end of this year.
The IT Department's main priority is to reach the advantages of IT to the masses. For this, the State government has launched a number of e-Governance projects. The West Bengal State Wide Area Networking (WBSWAN) has a 2 Mbps leased line to transmit data, voice and video between 18 district headquarters and the Writers Building in Kolkata, the seat of the State government. Plans are afoot to extend the WBSWAN to the panchayat level.
The rural people of the State are today enjoying the benefits of telemedicine, with three major hospitals being connected to rural hospitals. This is being done through conventional telephone lines, mostly on store and forward technology with live video and data session support. The Kolkata Police has an efficient intranet system, connecting the police headquarters with important offices and all the 407 police stations in the State.
THERE is no dearth of talent in the State thanks to premier educational institutions such as the Indian Institute of Technology (Kharagpur), Jadavpur University, the University of Calcutta and the B.E. College. The State government is promoting the West Bengal University of Technology, under which 65 private engineering colleges and business schools have been established. This includes the government-sponsored Indian Institute of Information Technology. A milestone project - Computer-aided Text to Braille System - has been developed to enable the visually disadvantaged to access and read documents from the Internet.
Currently, Mumbai, Kochi and Chennai are the only optic fibre cable (OFC) landing stations in India. The total bandwidth available from these ports is sufficient to meet the domestic and industrial demand of the Indian market. But with new players entering the market, new landing stations need to be developed. The West Bengal IT Department hopes to establish the next one in the State. It has approached the Central government for sanction to set up a submarine cable landing station, the first of its kind in eastern India.
The IT Department has undertaken a series of measures to change the "perception" of West Bengal as being a non-industry-friendly State, which has for long been considered a major impediment to the inflow of IT investments. It conducted 46 road shows in various parts of the country; participated in exhibitions and seminars; invited investors to the State; and talked to embassies, consular corps and industry associations, to promote West Bengal as a destination for IT investments. "The perception of the State is a distortion not borne out by the ground realities. If it was not so, then giants in the IT sector would not be expanding at such a rapid pace. Moreover, a lot of other big companies are exploring Kolkata as their next destination," said Gautama.
In 2003-04, the State's share from IT in the national revenue stood at 5.1 per cent. The West Bengal government hopes to increase this by 2010 to 15 per cent from IT services and to 20 per cent from ITeS. The government's promotion of the industry is not confined to providing the necessary social and physical infrastructure. It has declared IT and ITeS industries as a public utility service. These steps are paying dividend, as Kolkata achieved a 119 per cent growth in this sector between 2001 and 2003 as against the national growth of 36 per cent in the same period.
West Bengal's efforts in this sector are not going unnoticed abroad either. Harris Miller, president of the Information Technology Association of America (IIAA), recently said: "The commitment of Kolkata and West Bengal to becoming an Information Technology centre is extremely impressive. Clearly, this area of India and this area of the world wants to be a global player in Information Technology.... From what I have seen of the commitment of the industry here in Kolkata and the government of West Bengal, this area is going to be a real player in the world economy in IT."