Fix B'luru's infra issues; else, it may lose its competitive edge

Fix B'luru's infra issues; else, it may lose its competitive edge

In a small but rapidly expanding diplomatic community in Bengaluru, Jorn Rohde has been one of the most visible faces ever since he arrived in the city three years ago as Germany’s consul general.

He has been very vocal about the city’s enormous potential for expanding Indo-German ties in the fields of trade, investment and technology, education and culture.

From time to time, he used the popularity of football and organised live screening of major matches involving the German national team to bring together the game’s hardcore enthusiasts – Bengalureans as well as expats from Germany and other prominent European Union countries based in the city. As a perceptive observer, Jorn Rohde keenly watched the city and the rest of Karnataka during the past three years. As he prepares to leave Bengaluru to take up his new assignment in Colombo as Germany’s Ambassador to Sri Lanka, he shares his three-year experience in the city with Deccan Herald. Excerpts:

How have been your three years in Bengaluru as Germany’s Consul General?

The three years have been very exciting. By the time I came here as the consul general, our Consulate General in the city was very new, just about two-year-old. I now know how important it is to have the Consulate. Bengaluru was already an acknowledged IT (Information Technology) hub. It has now become India’s startup capital as well. Three years ago, we had 170 German companies here and we now have 210.

The city has become an RD (research and development) hub for German companies. We have also established stronger links in the field of education and research with this city. German researchers are coming to work in institutions like the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) and a good number of students from here are now studying in Germany. Three years back, we were issuing 25,000 visas a year and now it has gone up to 36,000, a 44% jump.

So, this relationship is growing rapidly.

Yes. But much more can be done. If you look at German companies here, a majority of them are in the manufacturing area. And, for the manufacturing sector to grow rapidly, we need some good infrastructure – land, water, transport, power etc. I don’t think Bengaluru or for that matter Karnataka, is able to provide that at present.

A few years ago, there was a government-appointed task force on the manufacturing sector. In its report, this panel recommended that the share of manufacturing in Karnataka state’s GDP should go up from almost 19% in 2008 to 25% by 2025. This was important not only to ensure employment to the city’s growing population, it was also necessary for Karnataka to retain its position as one of the top five states in the country in the manufacturing sector.

However, things are not going as per the panel’s recommendations. Karnataka has slipped in the manufacturing ranking in the country and the share of manufacturing in the state’s GDP too has shrunk – from almost 19% in 2008 to just about 16% in 2016. You have a dynamic Industries Minister in R V Deshpande. I hope he is able to the address infrastructure problems, red tape and transparency issues to arrest this manufacturing slide.

Infrastructure improvements will certainly help German companies as well. With a better infrastructure, the city will immensely benefit if and when you have the proposed goods and services tax (GST) regime in place. The GST regime will create a unified market in the country and it will be easier for companies to do business from a dynamic city like Bengaluru.

When you refer to infrastructure problems, are you talking about Bengaluru or Karnataka?

I am talking about Bengaluru. The city remains the hub of economic activity in Karnataka though even tier-two cities in the state, except Mysuru, too have infrastructure problems. The city’s infrastructure problems, particularly on the transport front, will have to be addressed on a priority basis.

The city may lose its competitive edge because of the transport bottlenecks. A lot of big companies based here have changed their office timings to help their employees reduce the time taken by them to travel from their home to the workplace and back. But this does not work when other companies too do the same.

Probably, funding may be a serious issue with the state and local governments to improving the city’s transport infrastructure.

Tell me, which city in the world doesn’t have funding problems?  The lack of funds may not be really an issue. It is more about commitment. If we are committed to achieving stiff targets within tight deadlines, we can accomplish them. I wish to again point out that Bengaluru is clogged and it requires priority attention by the authorities.

Have you travelled in Karnataka during your three-year stint?

I have done a lot of travelling. Mostly it was travels during the weekends. I could see the state’s landscape – the Western Ghats, numerous historical forts, temples etc. I liked the state’s rich wildlife reserves. Karnataka has really done well in wildlife conservation. May be I will continue to have opportunities to explore more of Karnataka as Colombo is not far away from here.

However, from a tourist’s point of view, I can tell you that a lot needs to be done by the state government to promote the state’s rich tourism potential. Besides, it can also make a significant contribution to the state’s income.

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