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Nirvana [Under Construction]

Nirvana [Under Construction]

In Bangalore, it's Electronic City. Hyderabad is home to both HITEC City and the Satyam Technology Center. Chennai is putting the finishing touches on Tidel Park. Not just high-tech office parks, these state-of-the-art facilities are self-contained IT communities--condo associations, if you will, that, in stark contrast to the slum-ridden chaos that surrounds them, provide reliable infrastructure and Western-style amenities for tenant companies whose employees work, eat and, yes, even sleep within the walls of these gated business communities.

The attraction? Stability. Established mainly outside the teeming cities with their clogged streets, dirty air and patchwork infrastructure, these cybercommunities (cyburbs?) offer reliable power and phone lines, potable water, even transportation amenities that people can't count on in Bangalore or Hyderabad, which spar over the title of "the Silicon Valley of India." But beyond serving basic needs, these new high-tech parks also provide recreation, shopping and health-care facilities, as well as modern residential housing.

Electronic City, largely completed (although still expanding) in 1998, is the first of these futuristic tech parks. Its chief tenant is Infosys Technologies, India's top software services provider and one of the biggest employers in Bangalore. There are 3,500 employees at Infosys headquarters (8,000 and growing worldwide), which is set up like a sprawling college campus. There is a gymnasium, a basketball court, tennis courts, a meditation center and even a practice green for golf. There are three huge food plazas that serve breakfast, lunch and coffee. And there's even a small Domino's Pizza franchise that delivers hot pies to employees who can't leave their desks. There is a music room for stress relief and a band of employees who perform for entertainment. There is an amphitheatre for performances, a dance floor and dorm rooms for employees who want to stay over. Infosys also provides bus transportation so that employees don't have to brave Bangalore traffic on their own.

In Hyderabad, an hour's plane flight north of Bangalore, two megapark projects are under way. The first, Satyam Technology Center, owned by Satyam Computer Services (India's No. 4-ranked software services exporter), is a 120-acre facility on the outskirts of the city. Like all such office parks, the Satyam Center provides its own power and water supplies; it also offers a golf course, swimming pool, recreation center, infirmary and residential housing for up to 1,200 employees. Currently, 750 Satyam employees live and work there.

And then there is the Hyderabad Information Technology Engineering Consultancy City (HITEC City), a techno-township being built, marketed and maintained by L&T Infocity, a joint venture of Indian engineering giant Larsen & Toubro (which owns 89 percent of the project) and the Andhra Pradesh Industrial Infrastructure Corp. (a state-affiliated entity that owns the remaining 11 percent). Constructed on 158 acres of land and at a cost of about US $375 million, HITEC City is scheduled to be completed in 2002 and will include Cyber Towers, a 580,000 square-foot office park that houses its own banks, restaurant, travel agency, shops, and power and water supply. Today, such major names as GE Capital, Microsoft and Oracle operate offshore development facilities or call centres in this 10-story tower. Nearby and under construction is Cyber Gateway, an 866,000 square-foot arched office space that will feature a glass facade, landscaped interior gardens and again its own power supply as well as fibre-optic Internet connectivity. Additionally, there are many undeveloped plots of land on which businesses may build their own structures and still benefit from HITEC City's independent infrastructure. HITEC City will also offer a new hotel and convention center, as well as a golf course, clubhouse, medical center, gas station, firehouse, nursery and shops tending to almost any material need.

Not to be outdone, Chennai (formerly Madras), located on India's southeast coast, counters with Tidel Park, which is scheduled for completion in 2001. Developed by Tamilnadu Industrial Development Corp. and Electronics Corporation of Tamilnadu, Tidel Park offers 1.28 million square feet of office space, as well as a convention hall, health club, two restaurants, guest cottages, travel desk, retail outlets and several banks. The main contractor for the project is Hyundai Engineering & Construction of South Korea. Opened in July, Tidel Park is still completing construction, but it is already 98 percent booked and it is occupied by some tenants.

To Americans, these all-in-one tech parks are reminiscent either of the old "company towns," or of the Walt Disney Co.'s Celebration, the planned community built outside of Orlando, Fla.

But to the developers, these cybercities serve two purposes: They provide a comfortable, familiar environment for foreign visitors, and they remove everyday obstacles from the paths of their native Indian employees. There are no traffic jams at these parks, no annoying power outages or water shortages. The phones and plumbing are reliable, and the facilities are kept clean and attractive. From the front gates to the underground parking lots, security is everywhere.

Of course, there's always the question of whether these all-inclusive tech parks will create problems of their own. Once the novelty wears off, for instance, will employees really want to live where they work? And what about the residents on the outside looking in--will the have-nots harbour resentment for the haves?

Fair questions, but not top-of-mind for tech park developers. Preoccupied with mitigating the problems of everyday life today in India, the futurists are betting that these live-at-work facilities will be tomorrow's rule, not its exception. As S.V.L. Narayan, head of corporate communications at Satyam, says, "Once people are here, they are away from all the problems of the city."

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