From acres of orange orchards and protests denouncing pizza as nothing more than a glorified chapatti, Nagpur has come a long way.
Maharashtra’s original Orange County, 863 kilometres north-east of the state capital of Mumbai, is now dotted with malls and multiplexes.
Fancy apartment blocks are coming up across town as builders rush to cash in on the growing aspirations.
And the city will soon have seven five-star hotels — up from a grand total of one.
But much of the optimism hinges on an international cargo hub that has been in the making for 12 years — and is still stuck at the land allotment stage.
Now, the 4 lakh new voters in the Nagpur and adjoining Ramtek parliamentary constituencies — about 95 per cent of them under 25 — are getting restless.
“They say Nagpur will bring world class development to this backward region, and my generation will benefit the most,” says Akash Goel (20), a third-year student of mechanical engineering. “But given the pace at which it is moving, I’ll be 80 before anyone gets a job there. Meanwhile, the world is marching forward and leaving us further behind.”
The plan was perfect: Nagpur is nearly equidistant from the four corners of the country.
Logically, that would have companies flocking to the Multi-Modal International cargo Hub and Airport and Hub, pouring money into new plants, creating highly paid jobs, finally ushering Nagpur into the 21st century.
But red tape and government malaise have left the plans inching forward one baby step every few years — usually seeing sudden bursts of activity just before election time.
“I’m sick of all the grand promises,” says Pratik Sharma (20), an engineering aspirant and first-time voter. “Some land was finally handed over to the MIHAN project a couple of days before the Lok Sabha polls were declared. Work on two thermal power stations began barely a week before. And soon they’ll be here, promising prosperity once more. Do they think we’re stupid?”
Despite the slow pace of work, Nagpur can’t seem to hide its excitement.
Property rates in a 45-kilometre radius have skyrocketed by a whopping 1,000 to 1,500 per cent over the last two years.
Investors from across the country have lined up to buy pieces of land close to the MIHAN special economic zone. Experts say about 1 lakh of the 30 lakh residents are now either directly or indirectly involved in the real estate business.
“People are making money just preparing for tomorrow,” says real estate agent Babloo Pandey (33).
Sitting in his small office, he tosses a few pamphlets on the desk before him.
They all promise ‘ultra-luxury homes and work spaces’.
“The rates are high, but investors are lapping up anything on the market, in the certainty that the deals will be profitable even if MIHAN takes another 15 years to complete,” he says. “We expect much more if the project gets onto the right track.”
For Anurag Sole (20) and Sachin Ghatol (20), who were hoping for good jobs at the special trade zone so they could stay back in the city with their ageing parents, hope just got a little dimmer.
Last week, the Vavasi Group, which had proposed a 7 billion Euro (about Rs 50,000 crore) silicon plant at the Mihan SEZ, left for Rajasthan.
The MIHAN board had not approved its demand for 400 hectares for the plant.
“The plant would have generated 80,000 direct and indirect jobs here,” says company CEO Farid Arifuddin. “We just couldn't wait any longer for the land to be sanctioned. We are moving to Bikaner.”
Over 15,000 fresh engineering graduates pass out each year from this region.
“The silicon plant would have meant a new tomorrow for so many,” says Ghatol. “Why must we wait a lifetime to realise our dreams?”