BANGALORE: The saga of struggle of differently-abled D K Suresh Kumar in setting up the first ever “Rural BPO Centre” in Somwarpet taluk, Kodagu district is seen to be believed. He has already invested `55 lakh and is still struggling to get another `20 lakh for the unit’s take off. Completely dejected, Suresh told Express, “With time running out, I may lose my permit. It is impossible to get any bank loan while the state IT Department has already sent a ‘letter’ stressing the opening of the unit by mid-March.”
This is not an isolated story as rural BPOs set up by some enterprising individuals have been facing a plethora of problems and it is a moot question whether the BJP government’s dream of providing one lakh IT-based jobs in rural areas of Karnataka will ever be realised.
Out of the 38 sanctioned rural BPO units in Karnataka, the IT Department has already recommended for cancellation of five units while another two, one in Davangere and another in Somwarpet, are on the verge of losing their permits from the government.
Earlier, the permission for two units in Chikaballapur and one each in Shirahatti, Shimoga and Sadashivgad was cancelled by the government, while the one at Jagalur had to be shifted to a semi-urban area nearer to Davangere.
Arun Umapathi, who set up Cache Solutions at Jagalur with a total investment of `78 lakh and a subsidy of `30 lakh, is a bitter man today. Forced to move his unit to Shamanur village near Davangere, Arun says “It is not possible to meet the guidelines framed by the department and I strongly advise people not to set up rural BPOs.”
Citing the lack of educated population, and IT or corporate culture at Jagalur, he adds, “The problems of frequent attrition, project delays and failure of client expectations killed our dreams of doing something worthy in our native place.”
Unable to meet the guidelines, JSS Rudseti BPO at Chamrajnagara, employing only 25 youngsters, has decided to ‘stand alone’ and has not taken any subsidy since its inception. Shekar told Express, “There is a need to have a re-look at the guidelines formulated by officials sitting in AC rooms and without experiencing the real-life situation in a rural area. The insistence by the department to certain guidelines is not at all viable for running a rural BPO, therefore, we decided to go alone, not taking any subsidy.”
Another individual who wanted to do something worthwhile in his home town, Umesh Belludi told Express, “The government support itself is a bottleneck and although the project was approved, I was not keen on running it. Even the opinion of other entrepreneurs was pretty bad and this put me off despite it being a good project. Getting the subsidy is tough as they unnecessarily dig into many issues, taking advantage of the loopholes,” added Umesh.
Former minister Prabhakar Rane too backed out from setting up a unit at Sadashivgad.
According to Rane, the ‘training and wage provision aspects’ itself made the project unviable at Sadashivgad where all students prefer to work in Goa rather than in Karnataka.
The ambitious “Rural BPO Scheme” that envisages creating IT-based employment opportunities in rural areas by providing incentives to enterprising persons from the private sector has recently undergone amendments so as to make the scheme more viable and attractive. The government has reduced the employment intake in these units from 100 to 30, however, it has not agreed to other demands like providing loan assistance, project orders, etc.
Out of the 32 rural BPO units, those that are linked with IT companies (big firms behind these units) or backed by financial support/institutions or possessing sound professional expertise, have been doing very well. But, units run by individuals have either lost their permits or struggling to hold afloat.
On the whole, the opinion of most of them is: “It is extremely difficult to put the required infrastructure, train and retain the youngsters, pay the minimum wages as well as operate the unit within the given limited timeframe.”