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Magnetic Maharashtra: Truths beyond the tamasha

This show must have earned Fadnavis brownie points in his bosses’ book; Prime Minister Narendra Modi has near-perfected the politics of dazzle and spectacle.

mumbai Updated: Feb 22, 2018 00:58 IST
Smruti Koppikar
Smruti Koppikar
Hindustan Times
mumbai,investment,summit
Fadnavis desires that Maharashtra should have a $1 trillion economy from its present $400 billion in the next seven years.(HT file photo)

Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis pulled off the global investor summit called “Magnetic Maharashtra” in a spectacular fashion this week to promote the state as a favoured destination for investment.

The state inked more than 4,100 Memoranda of Understandings which promise a total investment of Rs12.10 lakh crore and the potential to generate nearly 37 lakh jobs across the state. Fadnavis desires that Maharashtra should have a $1 trillion economy from its present $400 billion in the next seven years, growing at an annual rate of 15.4% which is about 6% higher than the current growth rate. The numbers seem staggering, perhaps even intimidating.

The promised investments are in varied sectors from engineering and housing to textiles and defence manufacturing; there will be a thrust in the backward regions of the state. Maharashtra will, hopefully, have a better conversion rate from promises to actual investments than say Gujarat did. If nothing, this show must have earned Fadnavis brownie points in his bosses’ book; Prime Minister Narendra Modi has near-perfected the politics of dazzle and spectacle.

The real grind begins now. Fadnavis might want to note at least five disquieting facets. First off, while there was affirmation from who gathered that Mumbai will continue to be the economic gateway to Maharashtra – indeed, to the country itself – the state government seems not to have a holistic and inclusive plan for the city to play this role. The lament came from none other than Anand Mahindra, chairperson of the Mahindra & Mahindra conglomerate. He termed Mumbai “as one of the two poles of the magnet” and asked for “an impeccable plan” for it. There have been moves to divest Mumbai of its economic significance in the last few years, as noted by various people including Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray.

Secondly, in rolling out projects, Fadnavis foregrounded the development of the Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR). A 25-acre gems and jewellery park, India’s first such, has been planned in Ghansoli, Navi Mumbai, at Rs13,500 crore. But there are protests already from owners and workers of small-scale gold and jewellery units in south Mumbai’s Zaveri Bazar which became the hub of the trade in an organic manner in the last century.

Similarly, the affordable housing plan for the MMR is just so much rehash of earlier plans. The Fadnavis government inked memoranda with two associations of the real estate industry, which promised 5.5 lakh affordable homes in the MMR by 2022. It will take more to believe in this dream given Mumbai’s non-spectacular experience with affordable housing. Similar agreements signed in 2010 have come a cropper. Mumbai has the dubious distinction of being an international city of unrealistically high prices and vacant apartments but half of its population in squalid and informal housing.

Thirdly, Fadnavis’s targets for agriculture, industry and service sectors in the overall economy in the next few years, and the planned reduction from 11% to 6% for agriculture’s contribution in it, marks a definite declared shift in the state’s direction of growth. It raises questions about his government’s priorities vis-à-vis agriculture, farmers and their issues. It also raises fears about conversion and diversion of land in rural areas in the pursuit of the urbanisation-and-service economy.

Fourth, it may have escaped Fadnavis that without any of this dazzle-and-noise, Maharashtra has been the most favoured destination for foreign investment most years of the last decade. In fact, between April 2000 and March 2017, the state got as much as 31% of the total investment inflow into India, according to Reserve Bank of India data. These were on-ground investments, not mere promises. “Magnetic Maharashtra” was a glamourous re-packaging, tamasha, of an existing trend.

Lastly, in this big dream scenario, no one spoke about the participation of women in the economy. Nearly 70% of Maharashtra’s women are not in its labour force despite high levels of education and urbanisation. The “Magnetic Maharashtra” posters and ads, not surprisingly, listed a bevy of high-profile leaders, not a single woman among them.

First Published: Feb 22, 2018 00:56 IST