Why Gujarat’s Mandal Becharaji SIR is important for India’s future path

Ahmedabad, 7 July, 2013

This is the last part in my series on SIR. While first one focused on conceptualized aspects of DMIC to SIR, second one focused on in absence of such initiatives we are heading for a big trouble. In this article, I would like to dwell upon specific plans Mandal-Becharaji Special Investment Region (MBSIR). The larger benefits it promises v/s vested NGO’s malicious campaign. But more importantly what is the situation on ground. Today when Media is very much obsessed with one encounter, they are not even bothered about Indian economy on ICU.

Nothing Special about Mandal-Becharaji Region:

One board strikes you as you enter Becharaji which reads “Tropic of Cancer passes from here”. It’s the uppermost point for sun’s northward (Uttarayana) journey. No doubt an Eleventh century edifice in the form of Sun Temple with marvelous architecture is in vicinity. The Mandal-Becharaji area in local dialect is also known as Chunwal Area. Barring above there is hardly anything significant for Chunwal. Traditionally a drought prone area with harsh terrain, probably one of the least industrially developed part within Gujarat. Based on the 2001 census data, the population of this proposed SIR is less than 70,000 for 505 Sq KM area. With hardly any presence of industry, 80% of the people are involved in primary sector mainly in agriculture and animal husbandry. The education level is low and it is observed many people prefer to migrate to other cities for better opportunities. Even though in last 10 years, especially after Narmada Canal Water and revival in ground water level has seen spur in Animal Husbandry and lately BT Cotton crop, still on overall parameters, the area lags rest of the state.

But the area did have an advantage in terms of geography. It falls between Ahmedabad and Ports of Kutch namely Mundra and Kandla.

Something significant is going to happen at this part. State Govt’s sincere efforts to develop this area, got big boost when Maruti Suzuki, chose Chunwal for their largest expansion yet in India. I hope to cover this in next article (Importance of Maruti for India), but the scale of investment and commitment is already drawing rivals to Mandal-Becharaji. The multiple large multinational anchors are in the midst of finalizing their plan which could transform the place completely. If all goes as per the plan, Gujarat’s this area itself may see addition of discreet industry capacity equivalent to NCR’s automotive cluster. With Suzuki announcing their 3 Million cars from India, at least 50 to 60% will have to come from Gujarat. Once the base cluster is ready it will attract more export oriented companies and even some MNCs who value infrastructure over anything else.

It would be interesting to know that OEMs are already talking to Component suppliers in terms of “Gujarat Premium”. Compared to north or south, companies investing in Gujarat do not have to spend extra on Diesel for power or water tankers. Even the excellent roads mean less damage to the goods. The cost reduction makes Gujarat preferred choice both for expansion as well as tapping newer exports market such as Africa. The biggest gainer in this whole initiative will be Gujarat’s local industry. Not many have got chance to get into automotive market in a big way. As OEMs look to cut cost, they will have to look at effectively engaging local industry. There lies a great future for growth and employment in Gujarat.

According to state planners, the base job of 700,000 and 1 million support jobs would be created at this SIR. Add family and other floating population, by 2040 the area is going to see 5.2 million people in a day with 4.2 Million residing in it, rest commuting from other places. Even if we discount half of their claims we are still looking at a new futuristic sustainable city which is as more than the size of Gurgaon in similar time-frame and with much better environment friendly living conditions.

The difference is in Planning

So how does Gujarat attempt to do where others have failed? What exactly is the plan?

Rather than leaving on the market forces and ending up like Gurgaon, Gujarat’s authorities are very cautious to build a sustainable city. The vision statement of Mandal Becharaji SIR is and I quote. “To Develop a Smart Industrial City with Concepts of Recycle, Reuse and Efficient Transport Network”. The SIR Act for Gujarat provides needed framework where this implementation can be carried on in most transparent way. There is a meticulous guideline for the roads to housing to factories. The topography is studied in detail and utmost care is given in preserving natural water bodies.

Industry (predominantly non-polluting ones) will only cover 30% of MBSIR area. 57% of area will go for Urbanization which will cover residential, education institutes, Utilities, Green-area, transportation, recreation etc. The remaining 13% will protect the village buffer and all the natural water resources intact. For 44 villages that will be part of this SIR will also get Buffer zone for their natural expansion.

The keyword will be sustainability. The idea will be to move and connect people at the least usage of energy. There will be enough care taken for healthy lifestyle and development of human capital. That in turn can spur the industrial growth to overall help Indian economy.

SIR in nutshell is not about taking land to give it to industry but it is for building future cities where sustainability is key word. One of the largest SIR under the aegis of DMIC is slated to be at Dholera. But the scale of Dholera is much bigger and it will take time to be magnet in its own right. Gujarat after passing SIR act has identified many areas

For Mandal Becharaji SIR, the work will be carried out in phases. Already low cost housing projects have quietly started taking shape. Further for the first phase, well designed outer and intersecting Roads, Transportation and logistics hubs along with water and sewage would be created. First phase will last till 2030. With the participation from industry job creation will spur residential and other community needs. As more people may opt for living within MBSIR next phase will focus on developing infrastructure for human capital. Phase-2 will continue will 2040.

What Farmers really want: Looking beyond the Stereotypes:

If you were to believe media reports, there is a big protest against Mandal-Becharaji SIR from so called farmer bodies and is led by NGOs with dubious credentials (see my 1ast article). What was more astonishing was agriculture economist parachuting himself into protest. The ex planning commission member ironically has written papers on future of Indian Agriculture. And he among all should understand the most how the Agriculture economics work and should have kept his compulsion of political appointment aside. Even with the beginner’s curiosity I could find following.

The biggest problem faced by this region is in affordable agriculture workers. Except for BT cotton not many traditional crops, farmers can afford to pay 100 Rs a day to laborers. Forget industry, thanks to gas find in vicinity of this region, ONGC pays 200 Rs a day to the same laborers. Obviously agriculture loses out. (If you want to know why NREGA fails in Gujarat?).

The land reforms have taken place as a process of natural market forces. The landless farm workers are made equity partner by farm land owners to make sure they continue to engage in farming. But the uncertainty in Cotton policy saw many farmers indulge in heavy losses last year. With reducing enthusiasm for farm activity, Animal Husbandry is growing at faster pace. The growth in buffalo among non-traditional farming castes is on increase thanks to one of the largest dairy DudhSagar. No doubt Gujarat Govt gives utmost care and importance to Cattle technologies. (Read this for details). But important thing to note here is Cattle survive on fodder which does not even need large fertile land. Unlike traditional animal husbandry castes, more and more new communities are getting into animal. it is all the more important to start a fresh using modern techniques. Animal hostel was one such idea; I am sure worth trying for judicious use of land, health of humans and animals along with better productivity.

So what is the real issue in the guise of We don’t want to lose Agriculture land as projected in media. It is easy for media along with ill-motivated NGOs(http://deshgujarat.com/2013/06/01/keep-a-watch-over-foreign-fund-involved-in-anti-bechraji-sir-agitation/) to play it to get their respective motives fulfilled. What is going on in the mind of Farmers who are used as inedible broth by these NGOs with political consideration?

Most of the people on the ground are quite happy to see development finally coming to their side. With no industry for long time, this is their great chance. Yet, they do not have any proper understanding on the overall master plan. They are not even explained about the difference between land acquisition and Land Aggregation allowing Political NGOs to take advantage of the situation. Barring media headlines, there is hardly any soul on the ground that is against industry. The only motive for these farmers is to see if they can get better rate from Government for their land. If the plan is explained well and compensation is acceptable, I am sure the malicious NGOs will be defeated for greater good of Chunwal, Gujarat and India.

When there is a will

The proposed SIR solves multiple problems. On one hand it provides jobs, on second it also enhances exports, earning precious foreign exchange to control rupee fall and inflation. The values addition is feasible due to SIR meticulous planning as explained above. It augers very nicely for India that Japan is partnering for this project too in the form of anchor industry.

You might be wondering why I chose Abe with PM and CM as title picture. Not many may know, but in the long tenure in office first as Government officer, then as FM and now PM Man Mohan Singh has made 27 trips to Japan. 22 years back as Finance minister, he got Japan to extend help without attaching any string to India’s reform program. There is a mutual respect. Since he became PM, he has made 5 trips to this friendly country. The dream project DMIC and sub concept of SIR all have conceptualized with Japan over a period of time. In spite of contradiction of Indian polity, PMO tries to facilitate projects of national interest especially involving friendly nations and must be commended for that.

On the other end, when it comes to generating and implementing ideas Gujarat under Narendra Modi has proven record and has won many global accolades. (Follow this link presented to Planning commission to know what he has done in 10 years)

Japan is no exception which finds Gujarat most credible. SIR and through them the compact cities is the idea whose time has come. Gujarat has to take lead and show to within and outside that India can meet the expectations of her youth demography. For sustainable compact cities are the only solution for country on a growth path in a world facing resource crunch.

I am sure if Farmer’s concerns at ground are genuine, it surely will be met and the maliciously funded NGOs whose agenda is to break India needs to be defeated.

Gujarat needs to be encouraged for this bold new imitative. Let the new era begin.

Previous article of this series: Lost decade under UPA and risk of Demographic Curse

The author can be contacted at @SominduS handle on twitter

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