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Friday, November 28, 2003

Chandigarh Sleeps No Longer

Another interesting piece from the NYT about Chandigarh (at least interesting for me, since I knew nothing about it before). I can almost here Atanu coming to tell me now: this is all vacuous hype, this is no solution to India's real problems. This may well be, but the interesting point is that this kind of movement will be economically driven, by the steadily increasing wages in places like Bangalore, as the article itself indicates.

Thirty years after a "green revolution" turned the plains around this small city into India's breadbasket, a cadre of ambitious government officials, pricey consultants and local high technology entrepreneurs is trying to accomplish something almost as ambitious - transforming this sleepy farm state capital into the "technology hub of northern India."

"Chandigarh," glossy brochures declare to prospective investors, "the city with brains."

Chandigarh was designed and built by the Swiss-born modernist Le Corbusier in the 1950's as a replacement for the former Punjab capital, Lahore, which had been absorbed into Pakistan after partition. Now a city of 900,000 people, it is the joint capital of India's two most prosperous farming states and one of half a dozen cities and states furiously competing for the call centers and software parks that American and Indian companies are opening across India.

As tens of thousands of service jobs continue to flow to India from the United States and Europe, small cities like Chandigarh offer even lower labor costs than India's "first tier" technology hubs, places like Bangalore, Hyderabad, Bombay and Gurgaon, outside New Delhi.

Manisha Grover, a Bangalore-based consultant hired by Chandigarh to aid its marketing efforts, said those cities were running short of skilled workers. "It's maxing out," she said. "The pace of finding people is definitely slowing down."

Officials from Bangalore disputed that claim, saying the city's talent pool remained vast. But businessmen here said that wages were far lower in smaller cities like Chandigarh, where a starting call center operator makes roughly 7,000 rupees, or $150, a month. A starting worker in a "first tier" would be paid as much as twice that, they said.

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