//IT Hub Can Handle Gigabytes, Not Dog Bites

IT Hub Can Handle Gigabytes, Not Dog Bites

When a pack of stray dogs tore to pieces the eight-year-old daughter of a construction worker, it showed up the social inequalities and other paradoxes of this global information technology (IT) hub.

Construction for as many as 14 traffic-easing underpasses promised by the municipality is languishing because of delays in firming up proposals, floating tenders, issuing work orders and actual execution. And only one of 11 major road projects, promised several years ago, has been completed.

Aside from the serious infrastructural woes that global IT names have been complaining about, authorities seem incapable of doing anything about packs of stray dogs, estimated to number around 71,000, marauding through the streets and inflicting at least 3,000 bites per month on a helpless public.

India already has the word's highest number of dog-bites, 17.6 million annually. It also accounts for 80 percent of the world's rabies cases according to the Association for Prevention and Control of Rabies in India (APCRI).

In Bangalore, 45 percent of dog-bite victims are slum children playing on streets in low-income areas which are a world away from the affluent or those who earn global salaries in the IT sector, says Dr. B. J. Mahendra, professor of community medicine at Bangalore's Kempegowda Medical Institute and president of APCRI.

Professionals with a few years' experience command annual pay packets of 50,000 US dollars or more in Bangalore, making it a magnet for qualified workers and yet stay competitive for global IT majors that outsource work this way. The trend has even resulted in the coinage of the term ‘Bangalored' to describe the global shift in IT and IT-enabled services away from developed countries.

But, few notice the armies of labourers, construction workers, cleaners and helpers that make it possible for this IT hub to keep turning, by making do with dirt poor wages and putting up with living conditions unimaginable in the countries that get Bangalored.

According to APCRI the municipality's estimate of 71,000 strays in the city is ‘grossly underestimated'. Either way city authorities are now facing a barrage of protests over the death of the girl who was attacked on a busy, public street while carrying her father's lunch to him.

The issue has snowballed into a crisis for Bangalore's municipal commissioner, K. Jairaj, who now faces charges in the Karnataka state high court for neglecting human life by allowing stray dogs free run in the the city.

"It is shameful that the child's death was compensated with a mere Rs 100,000 (2,252 dollars) by the authorities," says Vatsala Dhananjay of a civic group, Stray Dog Free Bangalore (SDFB). "The least the municipality can do is fix a more realistic rate of compensation."

The SDFB is now planning to petition the country's National Human Rights Commission to intervene in helping remove the city's stray dog menace.

And yet, the city's municipality is prevented from doing more than sterilise and release the dogs because of protests from animal-rights organisations, most of them run by wealthy and influential socialities that have managed to bring stray dogs under the ambit of the country's Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act of 1960.

''I feel very strongly about dogs on the roads,'' commissioner Jairaj told IPS. ''But we have legal and social problems against removing them.''

So, while the salaries and lifestyles in the city's IT industry surpass those in many developing countries, the father of the unfortunate girl, as a member of the city's unorganised but vast workforce, has little hope of adequae compensation.

Apart from petitioning the NHRC, the ‘anti-stray' group also has plans to take the municipality to court for violation of the fundamental rights of its citzens. " If the government won't see to the rights of the poor, some of us need to take responsibility," says Diana Bharucha of the SDFB.

While the IT sector enjoys enormous clout, what matters most to it is greater attention by the government to research and development and creationg of manpower needed to maintain a high growth curve. ''It's mediocrity (of workers)and complacency (of the government)that we need to address,'' says D.N. Prahlad of Surya Software Systems.

Global software giants like Wipro and Infosys have created vast modern air-conditioned campuses in which it is possible to maintain an international ambience for their carefully selected employees and complain only about the potholes on the roads that lead to the airport and the disconcerting view of slums and unfinished construction.

Many are satisfied that the government is constructing a 30 km-long dedicated expressway that will connect a spanking new airport to the city centre, bypassing the traffic jams and human misery.

''If the IT multi-national corporations (MNCs) were unhappy with Bangalore's infrastructure, they would not be in the expansion mode," says J. Parthasarathy, director of the government-owned Software Technology Park, at Whitefield in Bangalore which houses over 1,800 companies with 400,000 professionals on its sprawling premises.

But the president of the federation of Karnataka's chambers of commerce, R.C. Purohit, admits that the IT sector, which is responsible for a good deal of the city's congestion and deteriorating conditions, needs to participate more actively in urban planning and the society it works in. ''The IT sector has to understand its public responsibilities.''

''Our physical infrastructure is bad, yes,'' says Chamaraj Reddy of the Builders' Association of India. ''But being killed and menaced by stray dogs on the roads is even worse.''