Bangalore: Deadly blasts in the hi-tech hub of Hyderabad, the second attack in the city in three months, have raised concerns about investment in a region powering the national economy.
The bombs late on 25 August, blamed by the Andhra Pradesh state government on unidentified terror groups based in Bangladesh and Pakistan, left 42 dead and injured more than 50.
It followed the arrest of three men from Bangalore who have been linked to failed car bomb attacks in Britain in June.
Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Kerala are home to a combined 222 million people and are on centre-stage as the country enjoys a highest ever economic growth of 9%. From basic industries to heavy engineering, primary agricultural commodities to software and biotech, the region leads the rest of the nation.
It also boasts the highest levels of social development, from education and healthcare to women’s literacy.
“If someone wants to try and threaten India’s economy and investment-friendly matrix, they would try and target the southern cities where you have sunrise industries and young talent,” said Harish Vellat, South Asia managing director at securities systems company HID Global.
“You will then have a situation where the foreign investment boom would be threatened,” he said, warning that the south’s growth made it more vulnerable to external terror groups and “empathetic local terrorist cells.”
Most companies in the region have tightened security, especially after the failed British attacks put scrutiny on cities such as Bangalore as potential recruitment hubs and targets for terror groups.
“We are closely monitoring the situation and have further enhanced security in all our offices,” said Hyderabad-based Satyam Computer Services, India’s fourth-largest software maker.
Infotech Enterprises, another Hyderabad company which had briefly employed an aeronautical engineer alleged to have driven a flaming jeep into Glasgow airport on 30 June, said its security systems were “always on alert.”
“There can be no compromise on security,” said K.S. Susindar, a spokesman for the outsourcing firm.
He said Infotech had already tightened security systems after it found that Glasgow bombing suspect Kafeel Ahmed, who died of burns in the attack, had been a former employee at its Bangalore offices.
Infosys Technologies, India’s second-largest software company, said its employees in Hyderabad were working as usual Monday while its Bangalore head office was shut because of a regional festival.
“We follow very strict security norms,” said Infosys spokeswoman Bani Paintal, a comment echoed by her counterpart Radha Radhakrishnan at Wipro, the number three software firm.
Hyderabad, where 11 people died in a bomb attack on a mosque three months ago, has positioned itself as a rival to Bangalore in the 50-billion-dollar IT industry.
Investment in Andhra Pradesh more than doubled to Rs10500 crore in the three years to 31 March 2007, from Rs4520 crore in the preceding three years.
“South India and especially its software capitals are obviously being chosen as targets by terrorist groups,” said N. Reguraj, managing director of engineering company NTTF India.
“The region is being targeted because it’s an upcoming economy,” he added. “We don’t have the kind of intelligence resources that a city like New Delhi has.
“It’s time we became more aware of the need for reinforcing the intelligence networks in the region.”
For the moment, companies in the region are relieved that hubs of economic activity such as IT campuses have been spared the attention of terror groups that targeted a packed street eatery and an amusement park in Hyderabad.
“You have to take precautions but one can overdo this,” said Kiran Karnik, president of the National Association of Software and Service Companies. “These kind of attacks are worrisome but they are happening around the world.
“The purpose of such attacks is to win publicity,” he added. “There’s no guarantee where the next attack will take place.”