As I indicated in my earlier posting, my next series of postings will focus on observations of India during my recent visit in December 08/January 09. Again, these comments are based solely on my observations visiting cities and observing middle class life in Andhra Pradesh and Kerala. My last trip to India was 6 years ago and my comments generally focus on changes I noticed during the last six years, from the lens of a non-resident Indian born and raised in the US who has visited India generally every 5-6 years. The first set of observations revolve around economic changes or conditions in the cities I visited.
Most have read about the continued economic growth in India over the past several years, but seeing it first hand really drives it home. Observations are related to the noticeable growth but also some slowdowns to that growth that have hit India and the world during the past year.
- In Hyderabad, I stayed in an 8 floor building of flats near Banjara Hills built in 2004. Nearly, the whole area of flats has been built in the past several years.
- In the past few years, many new entire community complexes in Hyderabad with western style amenities have been built or will be built- amenities like clubhouses and fitness centers, with names like Lanco Hills, Boulder Hills, California Township. All have western bathrooms and parking spaces for vehicles.
- Some complexes that were near Hyderabad’s HITEC city, had private transportation organized by the various hi-tech companies arranged for their employees living there, similar to what has happened in the Bay Area (where I live) with companies like Google and Yahoo!.
- One change that seems apparent is that hiring domestic help for activities like cooking and cleaning seems to be much less reliable and available than the past. In the past, visiting grandparents and uncles and aunts homes that they’d been in for years and years, the domesticated help employees were often full-time and more reliable and often considered part of the extended family. That type of situation in the more modern and transient flat culture of today doesn’t appear to be the case.
- Perhaps, the single most noticeable change in a large city like Hyderabad is the number of automobiles in the road. Six years ago, it seemed to me that there was a much closer distribution of automobiles, motorcycles/mopeds/scooters, and auto rickshaws on the road, with perhaps motorcycles or auto rickshaws outnumbering personal automobiles. Now, it appears in Hyderabad that automobiles outnumber motorcycles which outnumber auto rickshaws.
- Furthermore, after visiting family’s middle/upper middle class flat in an 8 unit building, I noticed 14 automobiles in the parking lot on the ground floor. Nearly, 2 automobiles per family-I’m sure that is a phenomenon that has developed in the last few years.
- However, observing the genders of the drivers of the vehicles on the roads, there were very few female drivers. A thriving industry for drivers, often full time male drivers for a single family appears to have emerged, with drivers making between six and eight thousand rupees a month. As females begin to become more accustomed to driving, the number of automobiles should continue to increase.
- Tata is introducing the 1 lakh rupee ($2,500) automobile called the Nano to the market, which will make it easier for existing motorcycle/scooter drivers to upgrade to an automobile.
- The clear challenge with the influx of the vehicles is managing the traffic and maintaining and improving road infrastructure to handle the automobiles. Hyderabad continues to build more roads but the traffic in the city can be quite brutal and in reality the number of cars are probably 10x of what the roads were designed for. Additionally, traffic protocols will continue to need to develop to handle the diversity of vehicles and pedestrians on the roads.
- From Hyderabad, I traveled six hours by car first to Guntur and then to Vijaywada and passed through many smaller villages on the way.
- In between the villages along the main highway, noticed many agricultural areas-primary crops were tobacco, chili peppers, and rice paddies.
- In a medium size town such as Vijaywada, much of the industry seemed to be agricultural plants and factories.
- In the smaller towns, I noticed several universities and colleges along the way-engineering colleges, some nursing colleges. With the growing economy over the last few years, I suspect more colleges have been built in smaller towns with students upon graduation, migrating to large cities such as Hyderabad to pursue opportunities in the IT industry.
- While traveling there, along the roadways, even small roadside stands had electricity, often with wires strung through trees to provide the single night time light in the roadside hut.
- Poorer areas often had satellite dishes amongst the series of huts along the roadways; residents apparently pooling together their financial resources to provide television to their community. Popular national serials seem to be enjoyed by all economic classes.
Signs of slowing economy
- While conditions since my last trip six years ago clearly scream economic growth every corner you look, it is apparent that some of the growth is starting to slow and expectations are not fully being met.
- In the HITEC city section of Hyderabad, many multiple story office complexes have been built and several are still under construction. In speaking to some residents of Hyderabad, it seems clear that the new buildings will have difficulty in achieving full occupancy rates and even some of the existing office buildings have dropped to much lower occupancy rates.
- The global economic slowdown is clearly affecting the credit markets in India. A construction project that relatives are involved with hasn’t been able to secure full financing to move forward with the project. Few years ago, any project with the land that this project already has secured wouldn’t have had any problems securing financing.
- I am told that foreclosures are happening to Indian families and couples as well, due to unwise loans offered during the real estate frenzy of the last few years.