C N R Rao is a “real Bangalorean” and laments that Bangalore has become an awful city in a recent opinion piece in Outlook titled ‘If IT Is Going To Take Away Our Values, Burn Bangalore, Burn IT‘ and the subtitled ‘IT squeezed Bangalore dry, hasn’t given anything in return. The signs are worrying.’
Before Bangalore became an IT city, it was a city full of not just science, he says. “There was more poetry and music here before the IT boom. The city we have created in recent years is rotten—highly polluted, garbage strewn everywhere, including the intellectual garbage dumped on this city by the IT industry.”
Yes, Dr Rao finds the signs of the decay of Bangalore worrying. What worries me upon reading his opinion is that someone who should know better is displaying such a lack of understanding of the basic realities of the world we live in. He is not just another clueless journalist. The article reminds us that he is “a world-renowned solid state and materials chemist, is chairman, Science Advisory Council to the Prime Minister.” No doubt he knows science but through his opinion piece he reveals an awesome ignorance. More than the lack of world-class infrastructure in our major cities, what worries me is the lack of comprehension among the movers and shakers of India.
I would have to wake up pretty early in the morning to fully expose the flawed reasoning of that very short opinion piece (appended at the conclusion of this post). In fact, my response could easily run into a book-length piece. We cannot afford that luxury – like you, I too have other matters to attend to. So I am going to keep this one short and if not exactly sweet, keep bitterness at a minimum.
Here are a few things that Dr Rao should have known but apparently does not. The IT industry is a collection of corporations that are in the business of creating products and services. They play according to the rules set by the government – of the city, the state, and the union of India. They are legitimate businesses and their mandate is to make money. In that process, they employ people, pay salaries, have revenues and costs, have profits and pay taxes.
While their actions do benefit the economy, social welfare is not their primary purpose. They are not charitable organizations. Nor are they in the business of funding or providing public goods such as roads, public utilities, traffic rules, legislative services, garbage collection, economic policies, city planning, producing high art and culture, public gardens, and so on. It would be wonderful if private corporations were to do the job of the government. But then you would have to allow the private corporations to collect taxes and make the rules. Since we don’t allow that, it is asinine to imply that the IT industry is to blame for the garbage strewn congested streets of Bangalore.
Practically every Indian city suffers from pollution, garbage, and congested roads – Bangalore is not alone. Irrespective of the presence of an IT industry in the city, if the city’s infrastructure is crumbling and public utilities are in disarray, clearly one cannot establish a causal link between IT and the decay of Bangalore.
The IT industry may run its own training institutes but it is not in the business of public education, and of running schools and colleges and universities. It takes what it can get. If India graduates a pitiably small number of PhDs in computer science (as in other fields), that fact cannot be laid at the doorsteps of the IT companies. Indeed, government policies that restrict entry into the education sector are squarely to blame for the dismal state of Indian education.
The IT industry should have created private universities like Harvard and Stanford, says Dr Rao. That charge of dereliction of duty is one of the more staggeringly incomprehensible suggestions that he makes, considering that he has been in the education business his entire professional life and knows the restrictions that the government imposes on the establishment of great universities. It is utterly irresponsible to charge the IT industry with a responsibility knowing full well that the corresponding rights and authorities have been denied to the industry by state policy.
Dr Rao faults the IT industry for not having the foresight to have built new cities to do their business in. He says that the industry is greedy and only wants land in the city. I find it incomprehensible that he considers urban planning the responsibility of private corporations and not of the government.
In a sense I can understand where he is coming from. He cannot legitimately point a finger at the government as he is a trusted advisor to the government. The private sector is the great evil for those who have been brought up on a steady diet of socialistic garbage. “Government good, private sector bad” is the mantra they know so well and repeat at every occasion.
In a short article, it must be a monumental task to display so much ignorance as Dr Rao has done. To me, the most horrifying statement is “They say they want better roads, but why should we create them?”
I don’t know where to begin with that line.
So here’s what I will do. I will rephrase his position. “They want roads. But we won’t provide roads because they don’t deserve roads. Nope, if they had been good, we would have been nice to them and given them roads. But we are pissed off with them. Let them suffer without the roads that we could have given them but refuse to do so because they have reduced our beautiful garden city to rubbish. Yes, we won’t. We don’t need the roads; they do. And they have been mean. They employ our graduates with high intellectual capabilities in jobs that are beneath them. They prevent our graduates from becoming good poets, good economists, fine historians, quality scientists and top-class engineers by luring them into jobs with fat salaries. That is unforgivable because we want our graduates to be socially responsible and be unemployed looking for jobs that do not exist.”
2. While writing this, the power failed half a dozen times. In the last 3 hours, there’s been about 20 minutes of power. Let me see — Pune is an “IT city.” Yeah, that must be it. It’s the IT industry’s fault. Next time I meet an IT professional, I will spit in his face and tell him to take his business some place else. Then, and only then, will Pune have clean uncongested roads and reliable power.
3. This is a trend. In July the PM Dr Manmohan Singh gave a talk at the Confederation of Indian Industries (CII) where he basically told the gathering of industry leaders that they must take care of the social mess or else they will suffer. In my astonishment, I composed a fake PM speech.
Here’s the opinion piece by C N R Rao.
I am a real Bangalorean. I was born in Basavangudi. The greatness of Bangalore was that it allowed simplicity and enjoyment—a cup of coffee and a masala dosa at Vidyarthi Bhavan kept you happy. I don’t see that Bangalore anymore. It is now an awful city. There was more poetry and music here before the IT boom. The city we have created in recent years is rotten—highly polluted, garbage strewn everywhere, including the intellectual garbage dumped on this city by the IT industry.
Bangalore was always a highly intellectual city. Though people called it a garden city, there was more science here than anywhere else in India. Nowadays, nobody talks about it. They only call it an IT city. When it all started, I thought it was a good thing because so many people were getting jobs. Over the years, it has created a large upper-middle-class population who crowd the malls. There is nothing wrong in that, but what is really serious is the influence this has had on Bangalore’s intellectual content.
It is wonderful to have a lot of young people getting big salaries, provided they don’t take away the essential lifeblood of other professions. Bright people at a very young age, before they are even 20, think of IT as an option because they can make quick money. Lots of intelligent people are doing jobs that are much below their intellectual capabilities. They are like coolies who are working for wages and not producing great intellectual material.
Can an India of the future afford a highly skewed growth like this? All the humours should be balanced—we must also have good poets, good economists, fine historians, quality scientists and top-class engineers. An nri recently asked me, if India is so great in IT, how come it produces only 25 PhDs in computer science per year? That’s a very good question.
Right in the beginning, the IT industry should have planned their campuses in towns like Ramanagaram (40-odd km from Bangalore). They should have created IT satellite towns, but they all wanted land inside the city. They not only took away that land, they also complain about not getting enough. They say they want better roads, but why should we create them?
IT people have a responsibility that they are yet to fulfil. If they’re making so much money, why shouldn’t they create an outstanding private university equivalent to Stanford or Harvard? Had they done something like that they would have compensated for the other problems they have created. If IT people are making money, what do I get out of it, unless I am employed in Infosys with Narayana Murthy? The trouble is, we have given them a lot, but have got nothing in return.
Our society has created a bunch of icons and role models who are distorting not just the future of this city but of all India, and of our sense of values. Our people have lost respect for scholarship. Money and commerce has taken over. If IT is going to take away our basic values, then you can burn Bangalore and burn IT.