Job losses will haunt Bengaluru, India’s Silicon Valley, as it goes to polls today

Job losses will haunt Bengaluru, India’s Silicon Valley, as it goes to polls today
Students of Vivekananda college of Law create public awareness holding placards to vote for the General Election 2019 in BengaluruBCCL

  • India's Silicon Valley is headed to the polls today and unemployment is one of their main concerns.
  • It's not only the IT industry but also the small enterprises that have been hit by demonetisation and India's revamp of its tax system.
  • Bengaluru's transformation to an industrial hub hasn't been without its cost with the city's burgeoning environment pollution problem.
Bengaluru, known as India’s Silicon Valley and home to two of the biggest IT companies in India — Infosys and Wipro — goes to the polls today representing 17% of Karnataka’s population. Amid the rapid changes in technology and the United States tightening immigration laws, the sheen from India’s IT hub has dulled.

Between 2016 and 2018, at least five million people lost their jobs in India according to a report by the Azim Premji University reporting unemployment increase in the formal and informal sectors of the economy.

India is already looking at the highest unemployment rate in 45 years according to reports and its effect is not lost on Bengaluru even with the highest hiring rate in the country. According to TeamLease’s Employment Outlook, Bengaluru has been categorised as an employment ‘laggard’ with its employment outlook falling two percentage points in 2018.

Waning job growth after demonetisation and the implementation of the General Goods and Services Tax (GST), Bengaluru is far from the day when it saw job spurts across the board for technical and blue-collar positions — starting from state run companies like India Telephone Industries Limited (ITI), Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), Bharat Electronic Limited (BHEL), and Bhart Earth Movers Limited (BEML).

One must remember that a significant number of voters come from outside Karnataka. In the IT sector, at best 65% of the people are locals and 35% are from outside. So it is quite possible that they cannot go back to their places to vote, while some may have gone back to vote. So I would not worry too much about voter turnout being only 55%.

Indian IT industrialist and co-founder of Infosys, NR Narayana Murthy


Changes in technology

As technology gets more complex with the rapid implementation of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), so does the gap of technical and non-technical skill requirements required for the sector.

So, it's not that the jobs don’t exist in Bengaluru — there’s actually an increasing demand for highly skilled technical management jobs that offer high salaries — but more, that people aren’t equipped with the correct skill sets for employment.

The bigger issue boils down to the quality and content of educational institutions where the placement rate of engineering and management schools was its highest at 30% between 2012 to 2018, according to AICTE’s online data dashboard.

It’s not just Bengaluru that has jobs on its mind. It’s the number one issue for Indian voters as they participate in the world’s largest democratic exercise according to a report by the Pew Research Center (PRC).

Lingering effects of demonetisation

Demonetisation has been particularly hard for the citizens in Peenya, one of the biggest industrial areas in Asia located in northwest Bengaluru — and primary depends on cash for its transactions.

It’s home to more than 6,000 small businesses, employing over 800,000 people and generation ₹120 billion ($1.72 billion) in revenue, according to Peenya Industries Association.

Even Bengaluru’s realty market is only just starting to recover from the effects of demonetisation where property registrations dipped from 1,800 per day to 200 per day.

Startups came under the gun as well, especially the e-commerce segment. Bigger startups like Flipkart and Zomato, both based out of Bengaluru, had to figure out how to make up for the fact that 60 to 70% of their orders were cash-on-delivery transactions.

Choking on industrial waste

While industries in Bengaluru have thrived over the past couple of years, it has not been without its cost. The city’s Bellandur Lake and Vrishabhavathi River have been in the news for all the wrong reasons.

The Bellandur Lake was seen spewing a 10-feet high wall of toxic foam that seeped on to the roads and bridges.

Job losses will haunt Bengaluru, India’s Silicon Valley, as it goes to polls today
The 10 feet of foam on Bellandur Lake in Bengaluru in 2016IANS

Rashmi Mandanna, a south Indian actor, even did an underwater photoshoot at the lake to draw awareness the increasing problem of water pollution.

The Peenya Industrial Belt, with more than 7,500 industries — including the Peenya, Yeshwanthpura, Rajajinagar, Jalahalli, Goraguntepalya and Dasarahalli industrial areas — has also been called into question for polluting the Vrishabhavathi River and the lakes within its catchment area.

One of lakes, Nelagadaranahalli Lake, is even speculated to be more toxic than Bellandur Lake.

The problem seems to be on the rise despite corporates facing penalties amounting to ₹750 million ($10.8 million) within the first quarter of 2019 for water pollution in Karnataka from National Green Tribunal (NGT).

The issue of the city’s lakes being polluted also fuels the resultant water crisis in the city. Citizens claim that the water was crystal clear and used for drinking and agricultural activities.

But despite these issues, the biggest challenge is going to be getting voters to come out and participate in a city that has consistently recorded a low voter turnout.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP already paid the price for some of these issues by losing its opportunity to win during the Karnataka’s State Assembly Elections in 2018. But, the Janata Dal (Secular) and Congress alliance that replaced the government has been facing dissidence in certain constituencies, hampering their prospects.

See also:
5 charts that tell you what India cares about ahead of 2019 elections

Nearly a quarter of the seats in the Lok Sabha are “reserved” and they matter a lot in this election

Tamil Nadu’s angry voters have a small oil field, a big highway, a medical entrance test, and a police shootout in mind