Of Carterpuri and a slump in the car market
First about Carterpuri’s Jimmy Carter connection: the 39th President of the United States visited the village, which was then called Daulatpur Nashirabad, in January 1978 with his wife Eleanor Rosalynn Carter.Updated: Sep 09, 2019 13:52 IST
Bhim Singh Yadav, a property dealer in Carterpuri village near the Maruti Suzuki car factory in old Gurgaon is pretty proud of his native village. “Our identity has been shaped by the Maruti car and Jimmy Carter,” he says, sitting in his large air-conditioned office. “While Carter brought name and fame, Maruti brought prosperity to our village. Our economy depends on the car company, and we are now beginning to feel the pinch of the slowdown in the auto sector.”
First about Carterpuri’s Jimmy Carter connection: the 39th President of the United States visited the village, which was then called Daulatpur Nashirabad, in January 1978 with his wife Eleanor Rosalynn Carter. The story goes that Carter’s mother, Bessie Lillian, had worked and lived in the village as a nurse during the Second World War. The then US president gifted the villagers a TV and equipment for the laboratory of the local school.
“That was the first TV in the village. When he visited the village, we were asked to come in neat and clean school uniforms. He did a tour of the village, interacting with men, women and children. Women gifted his wife traditional Haryanvi dresses. After his visit, the village was rechristened Carterpuri. The television set was placed in the Panchayat Bhawan, where it was used for many years,” says Yadav, talking of his village’s American connection. “Maruti Suzuki came a couple of years later, changing the village’s fortunes.”
In 1981, the Union government had set up Maruti Udyog Limited, which entered into a joint venture with Suzuki of Japan in 1982. The first cars were produced in 1983 in the plant, located a few hundred metres from Yadav’s village. “All of us would have remained peasants if there was no Maruti factory here. The arrival of Maruti in the early 1980s put the village on the road to prosperity,” says Malkhan Singh, another villager who retired from Maruti Suzuki this year after almost four decades of service as a senior civil engineer.
Carterpuri, once a village around 800 farmers, today has a population of about 12,000. About 10,000 of them are migrant workers, a majority of whom work in Maruti and auto ancillary units in nearby Udyog Vihar. As migrants flocked to Carterpuri from across the country to work in Maruti and other newly opened auto units in the late 1980s and the early 1990s, Carterpuri, being in the vicinity, became a preferred housing destination.
With demand for housing rising fast, villagers started building a few extra rooms to rent out. In 1986, HUDA (Haryana Urban Development Authority) acquired land in the village to develop housing sectors. “While only a few villagers got jobs in Maruti, with the compensation money they got for their land, many of them built multi-storied tenements and switched from bullock carts to Maruti cars by the late 1980s. And they were especially proud of the fact these cars were manufactured in the vicinity of their village,” says Malkhan Singh “In the past decade, with income from rentals increasing, they built big tenements comprising 20 to 50 rooms.”
No wonder then, Carterpuri, once a farming village, metamorphosed into a workers’ colony. Today, its narrow paved streets have multi-storey buildings, some new, some dilapidated, some under construction. Tenements with box-like rooms have no windows and toilets are shared by 4-5 families.
The average rent room in the village is between ₹2,500 and ₹3,000 a month. But these days, a lot of rooms are empty. The villagers, many of whom earned as much as ₹5 lakh a month as rental income until a few months ago, blame it on the slump in the auto sector.
Passenger vehicle sale has fallen at the fastest pace in nearly two decades, triggering major job cuts in India’s auto sector, with many units making auto parts forced to shut down. Almost 40,000-50,000 workers have reportedly been retrenched in Gurugram and Manesar in Haryana, the country’s biggest automotive hubs.
The villagers say the slowdown is beginning to ruin the rental economy of the village. “Tenants are leaving our rooms like never before. Five of my rooms have just been vacated because the tenants who were working in auto ancillary units lost their jobs and left for their villages. There have been no takers for the vacated rooms in the past month,” says Rampal, a villager smoking a hookah in the courtyard of his tenement, which has over a dozen rooms. His cows are tethered a few metres away, and the way to the rooms is smeared with cow dung. “Most of my tenants are contract or casual workers with low salaries. They cannot afford a house anywhere else.”
Cheap labour has been a major driver of India’s auto sector. The auto ancillary units in Gurugram and Manesar — there are about 500 of them — are organised in an inverted pyramid structure, with large assemblies at the top, SMEs in the middle, and small factories at the bottom. Many units in the chain are connected through subcontracting practices. While Carterpuri is home to multiple categories of workers: permanent, temporary, casual, trainee recruits and apprentices, a vast majority are casual and contract workers.
“Many of them have left our village since January this year, I have lost my three tenants in the past few days,” says Sisram Yadav, who also runs a grocery store in the village. “Even sales at my shop suffered as most of my clients are migrant workers, who lost their jobs and left,” says Yadav.
Until six months ago, Vikas Kumar, 19, a migrant worker in Carterpuri, worked in a company that makes chassis. “I was asked to leave by contractor, who said he would call me when required. I have been looking for a new job, but looks like there is no work for people like me anymore. I am thinking of taking up driving,” says Kumar. “Two of my neighbours here too have lost their jobs and moved to their native villagers a month and a half back”.
Similarly, Omkar, who uses only one name, worked as a machine operator in a unit that made car steering. He lost his job a month ago. “My contractor said I am not required for a month. Now whenever I call him, he says there is no work,” says 35-year-old Omkar.
On the periphery of the village are massive parking lots for car-carrier trailers that transport Maruti cars manufactured in the Gurugram plant. These days, hundreds of drivers sit idle next to their massive vehicles as they are not getting what they call any ‘loading’ assignments. “Earlier, we used to do at least three assignments in a month transporting six to eight Maruti cars all across the country. But for the past few months, we are lucky if we get even one trip,” says Gurmeet Singh, a driver. “I am leaving this place for good and going back to my village in Gurdaspur”
Villagers in Carterpuri say that the fortunes of their village are directly linked to that of Maruti. “Even Gurugram, now a bustling IT hub, owes its development to the economic boom brought by Maruti Suzuki,” says Bhim Singh Yadav. “If if there were no Maruti here, there would be no Millennium City. The automobile industry has taken us places. We hope the auto industry is up and running again. And that is also necessary for the survival of Carterpuri as a workers’ village.”