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HUBLI: Hopes of setting up an IT special economic zone (SEZ) in Hubli have taken wings. The Union Ministry of Commerce is likely to issue a final notification on the approval of a proposal by the Karnataka Industrial Area Development Board (KIADB) to set up an IT-SEZ. According to industry insiders once the project is completed it could provide a fillip to the state government's initiative to developHubli-Dharwad into a prominent IT hub in the Northern Karnataka region.

KIADB, had proposed to develop the SEZ on around 30 acres at Gamanagatti area in Hubli-Dharwad. Once this three-year-old project gets a final nod from the Centre it will be up to the state to take it further - arrange financial resources and land. Till now the state government has agreed to help KIADB for installing industrial infrastructure. M Manjunath Gowda, resident director, Karnataka Udyog Mitra, who pursues state projects, told ET, "The SEZ proposal was cleared by the Board of Approval (BoA) of the Union Commerce Ministry last May and final notification in this regard is pending. The notification was expected in the last month but it got delayed due to some administrative reasons. I will meet the concerned officials to expedite the process."

The final notification is getting delayed as it awaits no objection certificates (NOC) from various government agencies. In this regard, Member of Parliament from Dharwad, Prahlad Joshi met with Union Commerce Minister Anand Sharma and other top ministry officials to push the project further.

Hubli SEZ"Since the proposed SEZ in Hubli is being developed by the government's own agency it does not need NoC from the Home Ministry," said Mr Joshi. "This was apprised to the minister and the officials. The officials agreed issue final notification shortly."

Availability of land for industries was a big issue earlier in Hubli-Dharwad as the government did not have sufficient land in its possession. Due to this, the city lost the SEZ project proposed by IT giant Tata Consultancy Services (TCS).

But now, KIADB has already acquired 500 acres in Gamanagatti. KIADB chief executive officer MB Dyaberi told ET, "Once the final notification is issued, the land will be allotted from the bank." KIADB will be develop all necessary infrastructure for IT companies to set-up their facilities in the proposed IT SEZ.

The big issue
However, drawing attention on bottlenecks in the approval process, IT entrepreneur Santosh Huralikoppi said, "As all SEZs proposed by KIADB got clearance from the Centre, we are quite hopeful of this one as well. We have requested the government through district in-charge minister Jagadish Shettar to allocate at least Rs 50 crore for developing infrastructure, but no such measure has been taken. Mobilising funds and releasing it would further delay in the process."

Mr Hurulikoppi, chief executive officer, NS Infotech, a healthcare BPO is concerned, "As the state SEZ policy will expire by next year and the benefits of the policy cannot be availed if the project is delayed further."

Expressing the same apprehension Mr Joshi said that discussions will be held with the concerned ministry officials to expedite the process after issuing of final notification by the Centre. "Karnataka is holding the second edition of Global Investors Meet on June 7-8, this should make the picture on Hubli IT-SEZ clearer besides attracting fresh investments in the region." he noted.

However, North Karnataka IT Developers Association president Sridhar Pujar is positive on the recent developments but pessimistic about Hubli-Dharwad emerging as an IT-hub. "After four years of allotting land at Aryabhata Tech Park, IT companies have still not got the possession of the land. The infrastructure facilities provided at tech park are poor and substandard. If government's apathy continues to be the same, how we can expect the twin cities to emerge as an IT destination?" he said.

Mr Pujar added, "Although the city has a huge potential due its geographic location, connectivity and availability of trained human resource but both political and administrative executives have not marketed it properly. It's a good thing that the city is getting an SEZ. A committee should be formed under district minister comprising officials and IT entrepreneurs, to monitor the implementation of the project."

The total ITeS export from Hubli in 2010-11 was Rs 18 crore, according to the state IT department. At present, there are around 18 IT/ITeS companies operating from the IT Park based here. This includes Firstsource, NS Infotech, Sankalp Semiconductors, Neilsoft, Gumbi Software. Thirteen of them of have registered with the Hubli Centre of Software Technology Park of India for exporting services.