Think of Ratlam and your mind will pop up images of world-famous sev (spicy snacks), conjuring up a picture of a thriving economy in the city. But, the ground check flashes just the opposite.
This Sev Capital of Madhya Pradesh, about five-hour drive from Bhopal, has failed to grow as an industrial township despite it having no investment repellants, like threat of crime, unavailability of land and costly labour force.
Industrial observers link its poor showing in the industrial scene to absence of a political initiative to buck up local industries with incentives, inter-state promotional schemes and export direction.
They say that Ratlam, which is only 1.11% of Madhya Pradesh area-wise, has 100% potential to grow as an industrial hub, only if the industries here get the much-required political drive to promote disorganised units and help established ones make their presence felt on the national and international industrial map.
It has 200-odd industrial units. But, 15% are moribund or closed, according to the Divisional Industries Association. The District Industries Centre (DIC) website flashes the total number of units as 8,000, but the association terms the figure as inflated, since it includes a huge number of off-industrial area units like ‘Attah Chakkis’ and lathe machines.
Ratlam showed a growth trend (not rate) of 4% in 2010 against an approximate industrial growth rate of 5.5% in the state during 2012-13, according to Micro Small and Medium Enterprises and Central Statistical Office data respectively.
The trend shows the potential growth pattern and not the essential growth rate and hence is always less in terms of rate, say industrial sources. The latest figures show the state growth rate dipping to 2.1% in 2013-14.
However, there is no data available to show the dip in the growth trend in Ratlam currently. Industrial sources say it would be less than the state’s average growth rate, reflecting a dismal picture.
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Industrially, its only claim to fame is Integrated Projects Consortium Agreement (IPCA) Laboratories, the pharmaceutical giant and the biggest employer of the area. But it is currently having troubles with the US regulators.
Over the years some of the other large-scale industries, like Sajjan Mills, Ratlam Alcohol and Carbon-di-Oxide, Khaitan Agro, Raj Solvex Limited, among others have closed shops and no fresh unit has come up to replace them.
Among the big units that are still functioning are Ram Krishna Solvex in Chapla Khedi and Kataria industry. The medium scale units include DP Wires, Ratlam Wires, Ratlam, Vardhman Solvent, Jaora, Marbal Agrex Limited, Alot.
There are a large number of units making plastic ropes, pharmaceutical products, engineering goods, copper wires and, of course, ‘sev’. Industrialists say one of the reasons of dismal show is that there has been a lack of representation after the district was divided into two Lok Sabha constituencies – Ratlam-Jhabua and Ujjain.
There are other problems too. The foremost being water. The industries have to depend on their own resources for getting water. But things are likely to change with the sanctioning of the Kaneri irrigation dam with a capacity of 8TMC. Out of which 80% will be used for industrial purposes and 20% for irrigation.
Erratic power still remains a major setback here despite a slight improvement in the power situation here in the last few years.
It is the divisional railway headquarters with direct connectivity to Mumbai and Delhi and other major centres. And with the Ratlam Banswara rail project, its connectivity is set to increase. Road connectivity has also improved over the years.
Ratlam also boasts of an inland container depot which started operation in 2009 and from May the depot has also been joined to the electronic data interchange (EDI) network.
The entire region has rich fertile land that supports a variety of crops including soybean and fruits like oranges, grapes and strawberries. It also boasts of a winery, the only one in Madhya Pradesh, which markets Ambi wine.
Winds of change
There have been other winds of change but they have been very slow. The Delhi-Mumbai industrial corridor (DMIC) has proposed Ratlam-Nagda as an investment zone in the second phase of development of the DMIC.
Other positive developments in recent years include the 33.5 acre Bangrod industrial area for middle and small scale units and the 32.5 acre Namkin and Allied Park in Karmadi.