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The Great Run of Kutch

The 2001 Gujarat earthquake hit Kutch the hardest, killing more than 10,000 people in the district, flattening towns and ravaging lives. Nearly six years later Kutch has risen from the rubble to become the state’s industrial hub. ABHISHEK KAPOOR reports on the dust to riches story

December 9, 2006 9:12:23 am

BUSY highways, a landscape decorated with busy windmills and Punjabi dhabas on Gujarati roads. This is the new Kutch, risen from the dust, literally.

In 2001 the picture couldn’t have been more different. When the killer quake measuring 6.9 on the Richter scale hit Gujarat, it left 15,000 people dead in the state. Kutch’s toll was the grimmest at over 10,000. The temblor destroyed 90 per cent of Bhuj, and ruined lives in the towns of Bhachau, Anjar, Gandhidham and Rapar. In all, more than half a million lost their homes and over 150,000 people were injured.

With the region reduced to a concrete rubble, the economy was literally pushed back to the Stone Age.

But six years later, India’s second largest district (the largest is Leh) Kutch—one-fourth the size of Gujarat—has reemerged from the ruins to become a major industrial hub. Fuelled by post-quake investment that toted over Rs 28,000 crore at last count, the district’s throbbing economy is leading Gujarat’s industrial march to a double digit growth.

The investment is likely to touch Rs 50,000 crore within the year. The leap is huge considering investment pre-quake, since independence, had never crossed Rs 2000 crore.

Now overloaded trucks block national highways coming out of Kandla and Mundra ports, as industrial towns of Anjar, Bhachau, Samakhiali, Adipur and Gandhidham pulsate to the clink and clamour of industrial growth.

As trucks whiz past giant windmills on the Bhachau-Samakhiali stretch, the buzz on the Bhachau-Bhuj road is that there’s an urgent need to put in place a four-lane road to facilitate the traffic.

Kutch, it appears, has shaken off the last of the dust and arrived, finally.

Kutch has a brand equity now. The two ports (Kandla and Mundra), combined with government support, have played a great role in polishing Kutch post-quake. The Central government announced excise exemptions. An emotional Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had then promised a Naya Kutch, and the state government chipped in with tax sops. Promises were made, some too tall to see implementation. Aided by international donor agencies, good roads have come up, carpeted from edge to edge to give dust-free cities. With the old gone, the newness of Kutch is a sight for sore eyes. ‘‘The change is visible in the lifestyle of an average Kutchi as well. Though the industrial development is not directly translating into jobs for resident Kutchis, the ancillary and service industry growth in Kutch means there is now a four-wheel vehicle even in remote villages. Farmers have good price for their land which otherwise was not very productive,” says Chandrakant Dedhia, chairman of the Kutch Development Council, an industry supported NGO, working to focus attention on development.

Kutch boasts of being the world’s largest maker of Submerged Arc Welded (SAW) pipes, it has the largest single unit making vitrified tiles (by ORPAT) in Samakhiali, scrap and roll steel units, coking coal industry, large cement plants like that of Sanghi’s at Abdasa (two more are in the pipeline), even as a Japanese business delegation led by the country’s ambassador scouted for opportunities in the district last month.

All this has sent prices shooting with parts of the coastal corridor commanding a premium of up to Rs 1 crore for an acre. A two-room accommodation in Mundra village, 10 km from the port, can come for Rs 5,000 per month.

With the economic change has come social change. Financial growth has fostered cosmopolitanism. Punjabi dhabas are now as ubiquitous as Kathiawadi food joints.

The growth story has an emotional thread to it as well. Originally from Kutch, Talakshi Nandu was a trader of vitrified tiles based at Mumbai. The post-quake sops announced by the government brought him to his homeland, with Nandu setting up the Euro Ceramics unit at Bhachau, now a Rs 150-crore business. “Before this, I did not know anything about tile making. Now it’s big for me. There is still a lot of promise of growth in Kutch,” says Nandu, who now divides time between his business in Kutch and his family in Mumbai.

Adds Kutch Collector Dhananjay Dwivedi: “All this transition has come after the earthquake. A lot of focus on facilitating this growth is showing results now.”

Last month also saw the state government clearing land for the Union government supported 4000 MW Ultra Mega Power Project (UMPP) worth Rs 20,000 crore. The Sanghi group is setting up another 1200 MW power plant, with both projects adding more than 2500 MW to Gujarat’s kitty.

But Kutch’s sparkling sprint does have a few tarnished facets. Already the chorus in the district is growing shriller over the incentives not being enough to keep business going. Industrialists of the region have sought an appointment with the Union Finance Minister P Chidambaram this month to discuss this issue.

While states such as Himachal Pradesh, Uttaranchal, J&K, and those in the Northeast were allowed tax incentives for a period of 10 years, Kutch was given a long rope only for five years—till December 2005. The sops were not offered to existing units if they planned expansion, unlike other regions where any expansion exceeding 25 per cent of existing capacities became eligible for the exemptions. Industrialists say the state government is failing to keep its promises.

Kutch businessmen also complain that the concessions are biased in favour of large-scale units, leaving the small-scale sector to fend for itself. “There has been no income-tax exemption, nor any capital investment subsidy. Units in Himachal and Uttaranchal enjoy IT exemption between 30 and 50 per cent up to 2012. In fact, even before industrialisation could take strong roots, some of the units in the pharma sector have migrated to Himachal already,” says Nimish Phadke, general secretary, Federation of Kutch Industries Association (FOKIA), an umbrella organisation of Kutch’s industries.

State bureaucrats shrug off the complaints as usual business greed. “Every businessman wants more. How much more can one give? It’s at least better than what they were getting in Ahmedabad,” is how Gujarat’s Principal Chief Industrial Advisor R J Shah puts it.

That’s one claim not many would dismiss.

Dump down effect

TAX sops and the red carpet thrown in by the government has meant more than 200 medium and large-scale manufacturing units have mushroomed in Kutch post-2001. But the massive industrial growth is only beginning to hit where it hurts: the environment.

For a district with this scale of industrialisation, Kutch is yet to get a single solid waste disposal site. Industries have to go all the way to Naroda and Vatva in Ahmedabad (more than 400 km away) to dump their waste. That’s, of course, in theory. In practice, even half does not reach the dumping destination. Instead it is left in the wastelands of Kutch. Though none of the industrialists will go on record on this, they admit this is the practice in the face of no alternative.

Associations are working on a solid waste treatment site, though like the desalination plant, this too would need a lot of joint effort and will between industry and government to reach commissioning stage. “It is at a conceptual stage as of now. We have taken an in-principle decision to float an environment company, but I believe it would not be ready before two years,” says Phadke.

The new developments have brought new problems. Bhurabhai Harijan, a farmer in Shikarpur village of Bhachau, came face to face with the altered reality this monsoon, when the well in his field yielded polluted, coloured water. Assisted by a local NGO Setu, he is now fighting with the industry over the matter.

Villagers like those in Khavda have had a fight on their hands for sometime. Agitating against a couple of bromine-making units in the Great Rann of Kutch, they are ready to engage professional environmental activists for their cause. “The air has deteriorated so much that people are getting skin and breathing problems. The situation becomes difficult on days when the wind blows eastwards from the creek toward the village,” says Haji Allana Sama, a taluka level leader of the community.

Ground water sources are being depleted—resulting in water salinity increasing in the coastal belt and turbidity rising in Samakhiali industrial region, Bentonite mining has adversely affected top soil in Mandvi taluka. Limestone mining by the cement industry is creating its own hazards. “As all this is so new to Kutch, we are still working to quantify the damage,” say Sandeep Virmani and Yogesh Jadeja, of two NGOs working on Kutch environment.

“Since industries are there, pollution becomes a natural corollary. But a planned sectoral growth could have helped mitigate the damage. What we see now is a haphazard industrial development with all the potential for social strife,” says Babu Meghji Shah, former state finance minister and Congress MLA from Rapar taluka.

In a measure of how much the state government comprehends the pollution problem, the Gujarat Pollution Control Board (GPCB) is yet to touch base in Kutch, operating presently from its regional office in Jamnagar across the gulf.

The administration needs to act before the side effects of Kutch’s growth begin to hurt.

Art of surviving

AWAY from the bright lights of industrialisation, traditional Kutch too has kept pace with its dizzy growth. The famed suf, khaarek and paako embroideries, Khavda mud work; tie-and-dye and its textiles has seen a kind of commercialisation that has doubled sales in the last five years. Turnover of various NGO supported artisan groups, as also independent sales through traders of Kutchi crafts, stands at about Rs 10 crore. More than 25 per cent of this with Shrujan alone, run by Chanda Shroff who was recently conferred the Rolex Award for preserving traditional embroidery.

“It’s good that the industries have come, but the kind of training and skills people here have is more suited to the traditional crafts. Even otherwise the industry does not provide permanent employment. What we do, brings not only income but respect in society as well,” says Shroff, who has been working with the women of Kutch since 1969.

Judy Frater, who first came to Kutch on a research assignment from the United States in 1970, and now lives in Bhuj after quitting her job as the curator of a Washington D.C. Textiles Museum, conceived and formed Kala Raksha in 1993. Five years later a folk art museum was set up to preserve the traditional crafts with all its history at Sumrasar Sheikh village. This year it sold textiles made by its 600 artisans for Rs 65 lakh, up by more than 100 per cent over the last five years.

“Post-earthquake, a kind of commercialisation has come in that helps the artisans earn more money. But it also has the potential for deflecting them from their traditional designs as the demands of Delhi and Mumbai markets are different. Our museum helps them keep focused,” says Kala Raksha chief executive Prakash Bhanani.

Then there are organisations like the Ashapura Foundation supported by Kutchi industrial groups that set up a crafts village last year, or the umbrella NGO Kutch Mahila Vikas Sangathan, that work to ensure that Kutch’s tradition is not lost in its race to the top.

Pulling it back

WATER: Of the 200 million litres per day (MLD) of the Narmada river water given to Kutch, only 45 MLD was allocated for the industry before the 2001-quake. Today, after the promotions and invitations the new industry demand alone stands at 300 MLD. The shortfall of 255 MLD isbeing met by a tanker economy based on dangerous ground water suction. Kutch is a traditional dark zone owing to recurrent droughts. A much talked-about desalination plant is still at least two to three years away.

ROADS: The 7-km road from Zero Point to the NH-8 coming out of Mundra Port is a camel ride that takes 20 minutes, with dusty traffic jams. The potholed 50-km road between Bhuj and Mundra has prompted truckers to abandon it. The Mundra-Gandhidham/Anjar stretch of the NH-8 can be a driving nightmare.

TRAINED MANPOWER: Lack of technically trained manpower is increasingly troubling the industry. The district’s educational infrastructure has not kept pace with its industrial progress. Kutch’s traditional skills, borne out of occupations like pastoralism and handicrafts, do not go with the new industry.

The district has only two polytechnics and doesn’t run even a single engineering degree course. This has meant the industry has had to look outside for talent, which is now being resented by local residents. The migration has brought in new languages and culture.

While making one’s way through the industrial hub of Anjar, a query for directions in Gujarati is sure to get you a response in chaste Bihari!

The road ahead

* WITH two wildlife sanctuaries, 200 sq km of snow-white Rann, a shallow Mandvi beach where one can walk for 500 mt into the sea and yet only be in waist deep waters, Kutch is a sleeping tourism giant, says Mike Vaghela, member of the Gujarat Tourism Promotion Council. “Kutch has something for every one. From adventure to leisure to nature to spiritual. Dholavira, Mandvi, Great Rann, Flamingo city, all constitute a week’s package for both domestic and international tourists,” Vaghela says.

And this is one project that the state government seems to be serious about. Chief Minister Narendra Modi has been personally marking two annual festivals (Sharadotsav and Rannotsav) in Kutch, and officials inform, against 26,000 tourists in 2005, Kutch has seen 61,000 footfalls already this year, more than half of them foreigners.

* After salt and SAW pipes, Kutch is all set to become Asia’s largest centre for wood-based industries. Last week the Gujarat government declared Kutch as an “Imported Timber Conversion Zone (ITCZ)”, freeing the region from the 2002 Supreme Court ban on wood-based industries to put brakes of forest depletion.

According to the Kutch Timber Association this would translate into more than 100 plywood units, another 200 saw mills, and 50,000 additional jobs in talukas of Gandhidham, Anjar, Mundra and Bhachau within a year. “The special zone has come about as all wood would be imported. Kutch itself has not forest area and that helps. From 20 lakh cubic metre, this year alone our wood imports have seen a jump of 25 per cent owing to the interest generated,” says association secretary Vinod Bindlish.

* A state government decision two years ago liberalised cutting of Prosopis Juliflora, an unwanted weed that ate up the verdant grasslands of Banni, for making charcoal. With up to 90 per cent of the Prosopis gone there is a new possibility of regaining the lost green cover famous for its healthy cattle and culturally vibrant pastoral communities.

45,612 sq km: AREA

15.83 lakh: Population (2001 census)

Rs 2000 cr: Investment before earthquake

Rs 28,000 cr: Investment after 2001

Rs 30,000 cr: In the pipeline

Business Centre
Before 2001, salt, cattle and traditional craft constituted Kutch’s economy. Now it’s an industrial hub, home to: SAW Pipes: Welspun, Jindal, PSL, Man Industries (World’s largest SAW pipemaking)

Vitrified Tiles: ORPAT, Euro Ceramics

Edible Oil: Adani Wilmar, Cargill India, JMD Oil, Gokul, Vimal (More than 50 per cent of India’s edible oil is processed here)

CFL: Anchor, ORPAT

Welspun (terry towel), Anchor (toiletries like toothpaste, soaps), Parle Biscuits, Suzlon (wind energy and ancillary equipment), Neelkanth Comcast (steel) Shah Alloys (steel), Thermax (Yo bikes)

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