Amir Ullah Khan and Raju Bhupatiraju
In exploring Hyderabad’s past, we come across the Mulki nostalgia of the pre-independent state’s infrastructure, its airlines, railways, bus services, roads, traffic, hospitals, schools, and universities that seemed to be way better in quality and access than what we see around us today. Hyderabad had it all in its days of glory, before it joined the Union of India. You ask a Mulki what was so great of their times and their city; they will probably hold a mirror reflecting our planning’s disarray and dysfunction today.
Fast forward to the 1990s; ours was a city starting to crumble. What was left were a rich collection of archives from the few past centuries, poor-roads and palaces in ruins. There was hardly anything the commoner could aspire for from our city. Post-partition, the uber-rich moved away to greener pastures of the West; the remaining lived in the oases of their neighbourhoods with high walls. Amidst this gloom came the internet and brought with it visions for digital dreams. As if the commoner’s dreams caught some magical wings, this was one such instance where the leadership and the administrations became dreamcatchers.
Weaving out these digital dreams and grounding them in the city’s soil, leadership and administrators laid down magic carpets welcoming MNC IT firms. The leaders and bureaucrats travelled the world soliciting businesses to come to the state. In coordination with the then elected administration, something that was never heard of before, called a single-window clearance scheme was announced. This meant that there was just this one door for digital MNC’s to knock at, to enter Hyderabad. Meaning, applications to set up digital companies would be cleared within a set time or the relevant officer would be penalised for the delay.
Unlike other already developed metros and larger cities in the 1990s, large swathes of land were available in Hyderabad for companies to capitalise and build from scratch. For jobs created by these digital companies, land was given in return at cheaper rates. It was far cheaper for companies to come to Hyderabad and set up shop on land that was given at a subsidised rate than to compete for costly space in already larger metros.
As if by sheer luck, just as the industry was taking off, came the Y2K problem. The developed world was running scared. Would their expensive databases and systems collapse as the millennium ended and the clocks would not understand how to change for the twentieth to the twenty first century. What Y2K needed was a whole lot of manpower to edit systems from the then existing date format of MM-DD-YY to that of MM-DD-YYYY. Studies from Oxford show that Hyderabad was the world capital for what was called body shopping. It basically means selling a computer-engineer’s services to western MNC’s to correct their Y2K issues.
How these thousands of engineers were trained and created to cater to the ever exploding demand is another fantastic fable. Next to the STPI (Software Technology Park of India) there was this crossroads in the sleepy suburb of Ameerpet, where software training centres mushroomed to teach every conceivable software one could think of. Not just teaching, they taught software at a much cheaper rate and in a much quicker time than the original software manufacturers themselves. With streets being named after software and engineers being picked up like hotcakes by American companies, the area was nicknamed The United Streets-of-Ameerpet.
For all of these to happen, the administration and the bureaucracy burnt the midnight oil in lighting the baton that lit the path to Hyderabad being the global IT Hub that it is today. In a never before fashion, the administration aided ways for the one department to pick up work, where the work of the other’s ended. Public policy was getting formulated and implemented in a big way, without any delays and without the red tapism that is characteristic of such missions. Satellite links were set up, electricity lines were laid, optical fire cable was installed and telephone lines were given out in quick time.
Change of governments didn’t mean abandoning the race of the city’s hunger for being an IT hub. Opposition parties that alternated in power even two decades later still align to the then vision and add to the scope of the ‘Project-IT-Hub- Hyderabad’. Hyderabad’s IT story is where government and Bureaucracy have hand-in-hand worked for the emergence of a sector with such a great spillover effect that just the city of Hyderabad produces as much revenues as the rest of the present state. The story of Hyderabad becoming an IT-Hub could synonymously be called the story of the fruits of coherent governance.
The present article is an overarching snippet of a series of interviews we(Amir Ullah Khan and his colleagues) at the CDPP and MCRHRDI are doing in documenting Hyderabad’s trajectory as a global IT Hub. More articles will follow, which will detail stories of bureaucrats, companies, professionals, and others with their little stories each in their building of brand-Hyderabad.