Deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal's recent announcement to allocate land to two major industrial houses to set up units at Goindwal Sahib on the banks of the Beas has failed to generate much enthusiasm among a handful of industrialists who continue to run their small-scale units in the historic town which was once touted to be developed as the country's first industrial nucleus.
Reacting to the deputy CM's assurance of reviving the Goindwal Sahib Industrial Nucleus Complex (GSINC), the Goindwal Industries Development Association (GIDA) vice-president, Sukhwant Singh Godra, pointed to similar assurances having been made in the past.
The then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, former Union minister Ashwani Kumar, chief minister Parkash Singh Badal and even two former Punjab CMs have given such assurances but nothing has moved on the ground, he added.
Reacting to the state government's clearance to the Indian Oil Corporation (IOC) and Nerolac Paints for setting up their respective units here, GIDA president GS Sandhu said the allocation of land for the two units is not going to change the industrial scenario here.
"It is unfortunate that even after the return of normalcy in Punjab, no effort was made by the successive state governments to revive industrial activity here," he said.
Sandhu pointed to a meeting which a local delegation had with former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh a couple of years back. Singh had urged the state government to bring out a white paper on the reasons behind the failure of the industrial nucleus complex and remedies needed to revive the industry here, adding that nothing has been done in this regard till date.
Failure to promote town
Kuldeep Singh Hanspal, a local entrepreneur, laments no government made attempts to promote Goindwal Sahib as an investment destination before major industrial houses of the country while Mohali and some other cities were projected for the same.
"It is sad that some of our leaders chose to put the border area tag on this town, which was discouraging from the investment point. If Pakistan can promote Lahore for securing investments what is the harm if we promote Goindwal Sahib," Hanspal said.
The major advantage that the town has over Mohali and other towns is that government land here is readily available for the industry. Way back in 1981 when the industrial nucleus concept took shape, around 6,000 acres of government land was earmarked for industrial purpose and most of it is still lying vacant. This land can be given at highly concessional rates to industrialists, which is not possible in places like Mohali.
"The power shortage scenario can be taken care of by the Goindwal Sahib thermal plant, which is now ready. Then the town has road and rail connectivity and this can be made better if more industries start arriving here," added Sandhu, referring to other exemptions that can be given by the state.
In 1980, the then Union minister of state for industry Charanjit Channan came up with the idea of setting up the "country's first industrial nucleus" in the town.
A nucleus meant having around eight to 10 large-scale public sector units, with a large number of private small-scale ancillary units to support these.
It was to be developed jointly by the Centre and the Punjab government. In the master plan, 6,000 acres of land was earmarked for the industry, roads, parks and shopping joints.
Another 3,200 acres was marked for residences and for shopping complexes. In the first phase, around 500 acres was taken up for development. Plots were allotted to industrialists and to a central school. In order to ensure smooth running of the industrial nucleus, Goindwal Industrial and Investment Corporation (GIICO) was set up.
The first unit that came up was of the Bharat Heavy Electrical Limited (BHEL) and Bawa Shoes among others. A number of support units were setup by entrepreneurs of Punjab to support the larger units and according to an estimate around 165 units took shape here, giving employment to people in the surrounding villages.
However, terrorism completely shattered the industry as Tarn Taran area was the worst affected. Gradually unit after unit began to shut down and currently of the large units only BHEL survives. As many as 132 ancillary units were also closed.
In 1988, the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi laid the foundation stone of a public sector spinning mill. This project never got off the ground and the foundation stone was finally uprooted.
Some of the closed units have been converted into godowns for storing foodgrain or other items while in some schools or coaching centres have opened. A few industrialists have opened garments stores or are into other such business. Most of the owners of closed ancillary units are still paying their bank loans.
The Baba Farid University of Medical Sciences at Faridkot is setting up its regional centre on land which was acquired for industrial use. Likewise, a modern jail is also coming up on this land while on another portion a grain market has been established.