It was to be the signpost of the new, globalising India.
But the unedifying, unprecedented sight of CEOs protesting the dumping of garbage of Gurgaon’s streets is an indication that a shiny Indian dream is collapsing.
“Millenium City”, as its administrators and builders often call Gurgaon, where 2 million live and work, accounts for more than 10 per cent of India’s $40 billion (about Rs 18, 400 crore) in annual software exports.
It is home to offices of some 200 Fortune 500 companies, from General Electric to Coca Cola.
Gurgaon was to do to Delhi what Pudong did to Shanghai — put it on the global business map.
Pudong made that jump into the first world. Gurgaon is sliding further and faster every day into the third world.
From potholed roads and power outages to worsening law and order, each passing day brings more agony to companies which have pumped in billions in investments.
Raman Roy, a pioneer in the business process outsourcing industry, warns, “there is a serious risk” that companies that were looking to come to Gurgaon might go for a rethink.
“The growing popularity of Manila and Vietnam as an outsourcing destination is a result of our own undoing,” said Roy.Making it worse is apathy.
“What worries me most is that I don’t even see a plan to fix it,” said Marc Vollenweider, CEO of Evalueserve, a knowledge process-outsourcing firm that employs 2,100 people in its Gurgaon offices.
Gurgaon was an example of how a city could be built from scratch to house investors from the world, wanting to cash in on India’s emergence as an economic powerhouse.
Gurgaon’s population has nearly doubled in the past one and half decades; from a couple of thousands the number of people employed by industries and services companies in the city has risen to more than 300,000 –– half of them in the outsourcing sector –– in just 20 years; and with all that have come scores of shopping malls, skyscrapers and towering condominiums.
But the failure to cope with the rush only underscores fears that India could remain “emerging forever.”
“Reality bites when people step out of these islands of prosperity,” said Rajesh Relan, country head of US insurance giant Metlife.
Gurgaon may have come on top of Bangalore, but that’s not a consolation because it was never meant to compete with other Indian cities.
“We didn’t want it to be better than the worse. We wanted to be among the best in the world and that’s clearly not happening,” said Raman Roy, chief of Quattro, a leading BPO firm. “The gap with the best, in fact, is growing on a daily basis.”