Kolkata: At least 20 million sq. ft of information technology-related workspace is “at various stages of construction” in West Bengal, according to Siddharth, the principal secretary of the state’s IT department.
Almost all of these would be ready in three years and, if one job is created for every 100 sq. ft of space built, as some estimates, the state could see at least 200,000 IT and IT-enabled services (ITES) jobs by 2011, claims Siddharth, who goes by just one name.
“The pipeline of projects at the planning and proposal stages is even bigger,” he said, dismissing any negative impact of a slowdown in the US economy on the growth of the IT industry in West Bengal. “I think there’s enough domestic demand to offset the decline in sales to the US. For instance, Hinduja TMT employs over 1,000 people and runs a call centre for Airtel in Durgapur. The US will have no bearing on companies like these.”
Projections of state’s finance minister Asim Dasgupta are equally bullish. He says 60,000 professionals are employed in IT and ITES companies in West Bengal, and during the 11th Plan period (2007-2012), 250,000 more are expected to get jobs in the sector.
In his budget statement for 2008-09, Dasgupta said software exports from the state were expected to grow 50% in 2007-08.
“In the next year, as well as in subsequent years, this rate of growth is estimated to remain at 50% or higher,” Dasgupta told the state’s legislative assembly last week.
The state derives confidence from bullish IT infrastructure developers, such as the Videocon group, whose chairman Venugopal Dhoot says, “The growth of IT in West Bengal has been invisible so far. But, it is coming to the fore now. We are not at all apprehensive.” The group is planning to construct 10 million sq. ft of IT workspace in West Bengal over the next two years.
Not everyone is so sanguine about the impact of a global downturn.
Tholons Inc., a US-based investment advisory and research firm that, a year ago, had predicted Kolkata to emerge as one of the hottest destinations for ITES companies in India, now says investment plans might be deferred, slowing down the projected growth. Even if investment plans were pushed back by a couple of quarters, the projected growth might not be realized, says Tholons’ principal Vinu B. Kartha.
Around two million people are employed in IT and ITES companies in India. Nasscom president Som Mittal says he is hopeful that employment in the IT sector would continue to grow at around 25% annually. “There’s indeed pressure on margins, but there’s been no decline in demand for services. Emerging cities like Kolkata would grow faster than the national average.”
Though most IT infrastructure developers from outside Kolkata are still betting big on the city’s strengths, low rate of attrition and cheaper manpower, people from within West Bengal are keeping fingers firmly crossed.
Kolkata-based Forum Projects Pvt. Ltd is planning to build a 1.5 million sq. ft IT special economic zone near Kolkata, but its managing director Rahul Saraf says the pace at which space is being added is “scary.” Says Saraf, “The key concern is whether we have enough manpower to fill up the workspaces that are being built.”