In his crisp white shirt, gelled moustache and gold-rimmed glares, 41-year-old Sunil Bharne looks anything but an out-of-work construction contractor.
In January, after all, he was a millionaire.
Sitting amid mounds of rubble outside a semi-constructed building in Hinjewadi village, 150 kilometres south-east of the state capital of Mumbai, the one-time rice and onion farmer says he never expected things to get so bad so fast — “just because some companies in USA went bust”.
His village of Mann, adjoining Hinjewadi in Pune district, sold over 70 per cent of its land between 2003 and 2007 to make way for one of the country's biggest IT parks.
Overnight, the sleepy village 150 kilometres south-east of the state capital of Mumbai turned into the bustling hub of building contractors.
Determined to prepare for their new tomorrow, the village of 1,600 families invested crores in 30 earthmovers of varying power and 50 dumpers and water tankers.
Many had been paid up to Rs 20 lakh per acre for their land, and would be paid by the hour to help build the 2,800-acre tech zone coming up on it.
Other farmers started small business renting cars and running small lodges and warehouses to service the multi-million-dollar IT industry coming up here.
That was six months ago.
Before the US firms headed for the outsourcing hub saw much of their investments erased. Before the construction companies' stocks plummeted on the Sensex.
Now, Bharne and the rest of his village are out of work, praying desperately for the downturn to abate. “Six months ago, we were on the top of the world. Today, that world has crashed,” he says.
Ahead of the national elections, the villagers want a government that will effectively arrest the downward slide of the IT industry and the real estate market.
Hinjewadi and Mann now fall in the Baramati constituency, where Nationalist Congress Party chief and Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar's daughter and Rajya Sabha MP Supriya Sule will contest for the first time.
“She’s an educated woman and hopefully she will encourage training workshops and specialised education camps with the IT companies, so the youngsters can be a real part of this industry in the future,” says Suresh Holawale, a farmer from Hinjewadi village whose warehouses stand half-empty today.
Bharne sold his brick kiln business to invest in five earthmovers, worth a total of over Rs 3 crore.
At one point, the giant machinery was earning him over a crore annually.
“Today, I am worried about paying the EMIs… I may have to sell two of the earthmovers,” he says. “Some clients have not paid their dues in five months because, frankly, all construction here has stalled.”
Only half the IT park is complete. On the fringes of the ring of glittering glass buildings are half-constructed concrete pillars, lifeless cranes and groups of contractors chatting idly on piles of earth.
“We don’t want to think about what will happen if construction does not bounce back soon,” says Shantaram Jagulkar, president of the recently founded local Earth Movers Association.
Less than 1 per cent of the villagers actually have jobs at the IT companies — and most of those are security guards. “Our youngsters are not really qualified to be a part of this IT city,” says Jagulkar. “They can’t even speak English well.”
But many are beginning to go to English medium schools now.
“We are hoping that tomorrow they will find jobs inside the buildings, and not just at the gates,” he says.