Monday Musings: Improve infra for industries already operating in Maharashtra
The problem for industries is not just about who offers a bigger incentive package but harassment from local contractors, opposition to land acquisition, higher land prices, poor road and other infrastructure, and worsening traffic situation
Last week when Maharashtra woke up to news about Vedanta selecting Gujarat over Maharashtra for setting up its semiconductor manufacturing facility as part of its $20 billion joint-venture with Taiwan-based electronics manufacturer Foxconn, many were shocked.
The development has led to a political blame game between the ruling dispensation and opposition parties in the state with each one holding another side responsible for the loss to the state.
In reality, when all these parties shared power at different points, little did they do to address the problems being faced by firms which already have units in various industrial belts. The problem for industries is not just about who offers a bigger incentive package but harassment from local contractors, opposition to land acquisition, higher land prices, poor road and other infrastructure, and worsening traffic situation.
Take the case of Chakan-Talegaon industrial belt, which houses some big automotive firms and a large number of units that rely on these major industries.
Several industrialists – small and big – first reported in 2015 about the harassment they faced by local contractors. The industrialists claimed they were being pressurised by contractors to gain contracts for supplying labour and collecting scrap. If the contractors would fail to get contracts in a particular company, they would create unrest in that firm since these contractors had established a network with low-profile employees in the companies
The delegation of industrialists even met the police, who swung into action though the impact lasted for a few days. Again in 2018, the MNCs complained about the trouble they faced from locals. As the matter was raised at the highest level by the then German Consul General Jüergen Morhard, Devendra Fadnavis, who was then the chief minister took cognisance and ordered Pimpri-Chinchwad police to look into the issue.
In his submission, Morhard had claimed that the harassment was faced on issues relating to tenders, tanker water supply and its control by the tanker mafia; labour issues and the demand that locals be given priority in employment.
If the police intervention resolved the matter, it was only for a brief period. Once again, this year, complaints galore about theft and extortion. Businessmen from Pimpri-Chinchwad, Chakan, and Talegaon belt took the delegation to local police with complaints about theft of industrial items, illegal unions forcing entrepreneurs to employ their members and some also extorting money, as well as workers being robbed.
Such complaints went against the spirit of the government’s flagship initiatives like ‘Make in India’ and ‘Make in Maharashtra’. But no concrete action has been seen to address the problem permanently.
Besides the issue of harassment, another major hurdle that big industries face when they propose to set up plans in Maharashtra is opposition to land acquisition or resistance to the unit. Nanar in Konkan is a classic case in point. Despite having the enormous possibility for employment generation, the government cancelled a refinery at Nanar.
If Vedanta’s shifting base was disappointing, Nanar project was a bigger loss. The proposed refinery project was worth ₹3.5 lakh crore, by far the single-biggest investment ever done in India. In 2019, the Uddhav Thackeray-led Shiv Sena had forced its then alliance partner, the BJP, to shelve the Nanar refinery project, which was to come up in Ratnagiri district’s Nanar village. Now the efforts are on to revive the project at another site in Konkan although protests against land acquisition have once already started there too.
But beyond land acquisition, issues of poor roads inside the Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation (MIDC) areas and perennial traffic jams have become bigger problems. There have been multiple cases where businessmen have found it difficult to reach the airport within the time from their industrial units due to traffic congestion as most entry-exit points of industrial parks including Hinjewadi, Chakan and Talegaon have become bottlenecks.
And if there is no traffic, there may not even be an airport, as in the case of Pune, which awaits endlessly for a fully functional civilian airport.