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From Bad S to Good S

india Updated: Oct 12, 2008 01:15 IST
Sweta Ramanujan-Dixit
Sweta Ramanujan-Dixit
Hindustan Times
Highlight Story

“It has something to do with driving,” said 20-year-old Jaffer Khan looking away shyly, unsure if he has the right answer to the question: ‘What is Nano?’ But what Khan, like the people of his village Kalana and the neighbouring village of Chharodi, is sure of, is that the Nano (whatever it is) will give him a job that is better than guarding land belonging to other people.

Located in the industrial belt of Sanand, a municipality 36 kilometres from Ahmedabad, Chharodi has become a part of the ambitious project by the Tatas that Gujarat bagged and West Bengal lost after a dramatic and violent sequence of events.

“More jobs” is the reason everybody in the villages of Chharodi, Kalana and Khoda villages gives for being happy about the project being set up here. Though they have yet to receive any written assurances, the words of Tata and a chief minister who literally means business were enough.

A constant flow of government vehicles carrying important-looking officials and the media swooping in and out with queries, their answers almost seem rehearsed. But what they fail to hide is their wide-eyed anticipation laced with a hint of apprehension.

Sizing up the new home

Chharodi village has a number of small and medium sized chemical manufacturing units. Gifted with fertile land, the area has lush rice and wheat fields thriving alongside industrial structures.

“You can grow whatever you want here. The soil is very good,” said Ishwar Kalubhai, a 38-year-old farm labourer who works on the Chharodi farm at the Anand Agricultural University centre.

This farm sits on a part of the 2,200 acres of land that the Anand Agricultural University gave to the Gujarat government. The Chharodi farm was set up after famine struck the state in early 19th century. Jamsedji Tata, founder of the Tata group, had then donated a sum of Rs 1,000 towards the setting up of the farm. Half of this area has been given to Tata for the Nano plant.

Expecting change

Liaqat Khan parades up and down the road with his baton, which has a sickle, attached to one end. A resident of Kalana village, near the Nano site, he earns his living as a watchman guarding the land in Chharodi belonging to people from the city.

“The Nano plant will get us better jobs than this one,” said the clean-shaven 22-year-old who earns up to Rs 2,500 a month. “And the money will definitely be better.”

Kanuji Thakore, 42, former sarpanch of the nearby Iyava village, said: “This project will attract many other industries. Currently, people travel between 20 and 50 kilometres to get to work. Soon they will find jobs closer to their villages.”

Ishwarbhai Juhaji is among those farmers who may have to part with a portion of their land for an approach road to the Nano plant. But he isn’t complaining. “This project is good for us. I am ready to give up my land at whatever rates the government decides on,” he said.

Twenty-six-year-old Liaqat Khan, a resident of Chharodi village, described how villagers burst crackers the day Narendra Modi and Ratan Tata announced the deal. “There are small factories nearby but most of them do not want to employ us because we are not educated enough,” said Khan, a farmer who also runs a small paan (beetle leaf) shop in the village. Khan, who studied up to class five, hopes with Nano people like him will find work. The project is prestigious so the nature of work is not something he is thinking about. And he also knows that the Nano is a car.

Though the prospect of employment is most attractive to the villagers, the rise in land prices has given them another reason to be happy. “In the past ten days, land prices have gone up nearly ten times,” said 24-year-old farmer Salim Khan, taking time off from his a post-namaaz chat with friends at the village square. “People have been coming here to inquire if land is available for sale but we are not selling yet.”

Keeping everyone happy?

The people here say they are happy but their responses are measured. There are those who will have to give up their sources of livelihood to meet the project’s infrastructure requirements. Like Wali Khan, a father of six, who runs a small welding workshop and a poultry shop at the mouth of the road leading to the Nano plant. “I’ll have to shut shop once they start building the road,” said Khan as an earth-moving machine digs away, almost mockingly across the bumpy path. “The government has told me I will have to hand it over whether I want to or not.”

Khan, 39, has six sons who work as farm labourers. His biggest grouse is that his shops will be demolished even before the price of land rises. “We have been assured jobs. But if that doesn’t happen I won’t know where to go.”

Nazir Khan, sarpanch of Chharodi village, tries to allay such fears saying he has had a word with the authorities. “We have been told that these shops will be relocated on government land nearby or be compensated,” he said.

When contacted, Ahmedabad district collector Hareet Shukla did not wish to speak about the project. However, a senior government official, on condition of anonymity said that those losing their land or property would be compensated. “The compensatory rates are very competitive,” he said.

Though it looks like the Nano will have a smooth ride in Gujarat after what it faced in Singur, faint voices of dissent are being raised in Khoda village, near the site for Tata’s project.

The farmers of Khoda village had given 1,100 acres of land to the government in 1902 on a 99-year lease, which expired in 2003. They are demanding that the government compensate them according to prevailing land rates. However, they welcome the Nano and deny that they chose to rake up the issue with the intention of cashing in on the Nano rage.

“We have been saying the same thing for 15 years,” said Juarsinh Vaghela, a landowner from Khoda. “This has nothing to do with the Nano.”

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