What happened to the state’s big-ticket investment projects?

Published on Sep 29, 2022 01:18 AM IST

Mumbai: While the ruling alliance and opposition parties are blaming each other as Maharashtra has lost the prized Vedanta-Foxconn’s semi-conductor manufacturing plant as well as bulk drug park to Gujarat, questions are being asked if the state is conducive for investment at all

Pune, India - September 20, 2022: Chakan MIDC, in Pune, India, on Tuesday, September 20, 2022. (HT PHOTO) (Hindustan Times)
Pune, India - September 20, 2022: Chakan MIDC, in Pune, India, on Tuesday, September 20, 2022. (HT PHOTO) (Hindustan Times)
ByFaisal Malik, Nadeem Inamdar and Pradip Kumar Maitra

Mumbai: While the ruling alliance and opposition parties are blaming each other as Maharashtra has lost the prized Vedanta-Foxconn’s semi-conductor manufacturing plant as well as bulk drug park to Gujarat, questions are being asked if the state is conducive for investment at all.

HT hit the roads in three different parts of the state -- Raigad where the bulk drug park was proposed to be set up, Talegaon where the government wanted Vedanta-Foxconn to set up its plant, and at air cargo hub near Nagpur, which the government hopes could be the home for the ambitious Tata-Airbus military aircraft plant.

Land acquisition a tall order in Raigad

The Maharashtra government’s ambitious plan of setting up its own bulk drug park is likely to be an uphill task. It has appropriated around 5,000 acres of land in Roha and Murud tehsils of Raigad district, but villagers are resisting the government’s enterprise: local revenue officers are not being allowed to conduct surveys of the proposed land, and attempts to conduct public hearings are being thwarted by the villagers, who are anxious about their livelihood following the loss of their farmlands and orchards as well as supplementary businesses like fishing.

A few years ago, Asia’s biggest refinery and petrochemical project at Nanar in the neighboring district, Ratnagiri, was scrapped for the same reason.

After losing two premium projects, the Eknath Shinde government now wants to develop the bulk drug park on its own by investing around 5000 crore.

However, in anticipation of the drug park project which went to Gujarat, the government had started the process of land acquisition in 2020. On October 8, 2020, the state industries department issued a notification and declared 17 villages -- 10 from Murud tehsil and seven from Roha -- as industrial area under clause (g) of section 2 of the Maharashtra Industrial Development Act, 1961.

Notices were issued to the land owners by the revenue department officers, asking them to submit their objections, if any.

“We have lost our sleep with the thought of losing the land and have decided not to give it away any cost,” said Arunda Tambade (48), a resident of Kharkardi village, in Roha.

The Tambade family owns a five-acre farmland, which yields two crops each season. The boundary of Roha tehsil starts with Kharkhardi village and has a population of 1,500. Villagers earn from paddy farming, mango orchards as well as guava and coconut plantation. Fishing is also a major source of income, given the village’s proximity to Kundalika river.

“What will the future generations do for their livelihood? Only one member of the family will be given a job,” asked a worried 70-year-old Ram Shelke, who owns a 51-guntha farmland.

A few kilometers away from Kharkhardi, is Deev, a small village with a population of around 800 people. Seventy-year-old Namdeo Bhopi, who owns a 10-acre plot, said that their land is so fertile that they don’t have to plough and sow the seeds. “We only have to spread rice in the farmland to get a good crop every season. We request the state government not to bring the project here. People were traumatised during the Covid-19 pandemic. Do not create more trouble for us,” he urged.

Umesh Thakur (31), who has studied till SSC, sells crabs to make a living and is not interested in jobs that could be offered to locals. He earns approximately 20,000 by working for 18 days in a month. “We can carry on with fishing for all 12 months in a year. We are free and have no interest in becoming a bonded labourer,” Thakur said.

Villages from each tehsil have formed individual joint committees -- Bhumiputra Shetkari Sangathana -- to put up a united front against the project.

Villagers from Murud tehsil have been the most aggressive against the land acquisition. They did not even allow the local officers to conduct a public hearing organised at Amli village on February 18, 2021. They blocked the road to the village to ensure no official reached the spot. The hearing was postponed.

Rajendra Sutar, 38, a resident of Talekhar village, in Murud tehsil, questioned the quantity of land Maharashtra Industries Development Corporation (MIDC) is acquiring for the project. If Himachal Pradesh is setting up the same project in 1,400-acre land why does the MIDC need 5,000-acre for the bulk drug park in Maharashtra, he asked.

“How long will I work now, even if I get a job in the proposed project. Jobs are also being given to people of a certain age with specific qualifications. What will the rest do,” queried Sutar.

All public representatives of gram panchayats and zilla parishads from affected villages of Murud tehsil have submitted their protest to the district administration in writing, he informed.

Social activist Ulka Mahajan, who is also supporting the villagers from Roha tehsil, said: “Everyone expects returns on investment from a financial institution. Why should the same not apply to the agrarian community? What are they getting against giving their land, which is a resource and not a commodity.”

It’s not just farmers, but many other families who are also dependent on farmlands, such as farm labourers, rural artisans among others, Mahajan pointed out.

Acknowledging the hostility of people from Murud tehsil, state industries promotion authorities said they are now planning to kickstart the project with the land available to them.

P Anbalagan, chief executive officer (CEO) of MIDC, said, “We are getting 2,000 acres of land in Roha, which is enough to start the first phase of the project,” said Anbalagan.

He also denied that fertile land was being used and said around 90 per cent land notified for acquisition is non-cultivable. “Only 10 per cent land notified for the project is cultivable, which we are trying to further reduce and use only the land parcels that are coming in between the alignment,” he said.

Survey for land measurement has been completed in seven villages of Roha tehsil, where no opposition was faced, he said. “In Murud, most are inam land, which means land gifted by the then rulers to the locals for cultivation. After the dynasty was abolished, the land was taken over by the government. But they continue to be in the possession of the cultivators and now they are afraid that they may not get compensation,” Anbalagan said.

He assured attractive packages to farmers for rehabilitation; all of them will get back 10 per cent developed land that can be used for commercial purposes. “We will set up a skill development centre to provide the required skillset so that most people get regular employment in the bulk drug park,” Anbalagan said.

He is hopeful that the land acquisition will be completed in the next three to four months, and another eight to ten months will be spent on various government clearances. He assured the bulk drug park will not cause any environmental hazard. “The chemical component will be treated and discharged into sea after 10-km of marine outfall – a specialised system to treat the waste before releasing it into the deep sea will be set up,” he added.

Pune’s land acquistion is slow but sure

There was much excitement among the locals when Vedanta-Foxconn began doing due-diligence to set up its ambitious semi-conductor project at the proposed Talegaon Electronic and Engineering City (TEEC). The Talegaon-Chakan industrial belt is a much sought-after destination for new industries, thanks to the infrastructure developed by the Maharashtra Industries Development Corporation (MIDC), availability of skilled manpower and proximity to Mumbai and Pune airports as well as Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust, a major port in India.

The presence of automobile majors -- Volkswagen, Bajaj Auto, Mercedes Benz, Mahindra and Mahindra and Hyundai – offers faith to companies looking to start new projects.

In anticipation of the semi-conductor plant, local MIDC officials said a detailed proposal was sent to the state government to issue a notification and provide funds for land acquisition.

The farmers of the three villages in Maval tehsil of Pune district -- Ambale, Nigade and Kalhat -- had consented to giving up 3000 acres to MIDC. Officials said, while the process of acquisition was slow, there would not have been major hurdles if Vedanta-Foxconn had decided to set up the plant at Talegaon.

Mohan Gholap, sarpanch of Ambale village, described the loss of the project as “unfortunate as it amounted to a denial of economic growth and employment opportunities for the local youth”.

“Officials from the company as well as MIDC arrived here to convince villagers about the importance of the project. We consented to the acquisition of 3000 acres of land from three villages. Also, owners of 1500 acres of land, who are investors, gave a nod,” said Gholap.

The Talegaon MIDC had acquired 6500 acres of land for setting up a global and state of the art electronics park. However, the pandemic put further plans on hold.

Talegaon and the neighbouring Chakan witnessed unprecedented growth in the past decade, with around 800 medium, big and small units setting up their businesses here. An investment of 10,000 crore has been pumped in here, creating over three lakh jobs.

Nagpur is infra-ready, but plans stalled

What was once fiercely promoted as a project that would transform the fate of the backward Vidarbha region, the Multi-modal International Cargo Hub and Airport at Nagpur (MIHAN), with Boeing MRO (maintenance, repair and overhaul) has been a non-starter.

Had the facility taken off as planned, it would have been a game-changer for Vidarbha’s industrial development.

Boeing had committed to develop an MRO facility on its MIHAN campus to cater its aircraft across South Asia when the UPA regime had inked a 70,000-crore deal to buy its planes for Air India. “The US-based aircraft giant assured to invest 10 per cent of the aircraft cost by developing an MRO in Nagpur that would cater to all Boeing aircrafts of different airlines, which would earlier be sent to Dubai or Sri Lanka. It only developed the infrastructure in Nagpur and handed it over to Air India for running it,” said Satyavira KS, general manager of Air India Engineering Services Ltd.

Given the much-delayed MRO facility with a 50-acre land at MIHAN, the American plane-maker disassociated itself after completing the work and handed over the facility to Air India in 2015. Boeing blamed the delay on building the 2.6-km taxiway connecting the facility to the airport for which land acquisition was one of the biggest contentious issues. The facility with two hangers and 12 workshops now caters to a few Boeing aircraft of Air India, which was taken over by the Tata group a few months ago.

Former union minister Vilas Muttemwar, who was instrumental in setting up of MIHAN, said if Boeing ran the unit instead of Air India, the scenario would have been different. “The US aircraft giant could have attracted all Boeing planes from South Asia for maintenance in Nagpur because of its sound technicians, engineers and knowhow which is not possible with Air India,” he pointed out. “It could have generated 2.5 lakh jobs.”

Now, the Shinde government hopes the Tata-Airbus military aircraft manufacturing plant could be set up. MIHAN, located near Nagpur, is a central place in India, and an ideal location, feel officials.

The proposed hub near Nagpur Airport is spread over 4,354 hectares. Additionally, 1,238 hectares of Special Economic Zone (SEZ) within MIHAN includes maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) for aircraft, Information Technology Parks and hospitals besides, manufacturing and value-added units. Another 614 hectares of land has been reserved for a rail terminal, road terminal, residential and commercial projects along with an international school.

However, the issue with MIHAN is that the projects are not taking off even as the government is providing the infrastructure.

Infosys had announced to set up its unit in 2014 after getting 142 acres of land here, with an investment of 475-crore to create a built-up area of 9.5 lakh sq. ft. in the next 24 months to seat over 5,000 software professionals. After eight years, it is yet to start.

The inordinately delayed Patanjali Food and Herbal Park Nagpur Private Limited has sought a few more months from the Maharashtra Airport Development Company Limited (MADC)--the nodal agency for MIHAN--for starting its operations. It was allotted 230 acres land in 2016. The company, promoted by yoga guru Baba Ramdev, already missed its December 31, 2021, deadline set by MADC.

Besides, the Dassault-Reliance manufacturing facility Dhirubhai Ambani Aerospace Park (DAAP) was supposed to manufacture components of the offset obligation connected to the purchase of 36 Rafale Fighters from France, signed between the two governments in September 2016. It was believed that the 6500 crore joint venture would create state-of-the-art integrated eco-structure to execute the 30,000 crore offset programme linked to the sale of 36 Rafale fighter jets by Dassault Aviation to India.

Spread over 289 acres, DAAP was supposed to have facilities to assemble and manufacture fixed wing aircraft and produce aircraft components for global markets.

In June 2017, then chief minister Devendra Fadnavis had announced that Twinstar company, a joint venture between Vedanta Group and Korean company LG, would set up an electronics product manufacturing facility at MIHAN with an investment of 16,000 crore, creating a large number of jobs. However, nothing materialised, stated Pradip Maheshwari of Vidarbha Development Council (VED) and added that they didn’t even purchase land at MIHAN.

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