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Sunday, October 24, 2021

A city on the move

When an MLA in waiting tells his constituents in a town as apparently unexceptional as this that what can be done in Mumbai or Delhi...

Written by Kavitha Iyer | Latur |
October 2, 2009 11:19:47 pm

When an MLA in waiting tells his constituents in a town as apparently unexceptional as this that what can be done in Mumbai or Delhi,whether a skywalk or WiFi hotspots,can easily be replicated in Latur,you know this is a city on the move. Realty prices have shot up,young women zip about on two-wheelers,and a residential school called Gold Crest High is coming up near the town’s snazziest offering — a PVR cinema.

“People from neighbouring towns and villages are migrating to Latur,” says Shrinivas Phadke,29,who owns a patch of land in neighbouring Ausa where he grows soybean,but lives in Latur city,moonlighting as a local cable television news anchor. “A flat in a good locality in Latur can now cost up to Rs 15 lakh,more if it’s a large house.” At Rs 1,700 a square foot,that’s as much as real estate in Mumbai’s farthest suburbs is likely to cost.

He has friends,especially young post-graduate students in Latur’s many colleges and technical institutes,who have moved here from towns in Beed and Osmanabad districts. Latur is a place where salaried people,even government officers on their last posting,don’t mind settling down with families. It’s had a history of having almost no communal tension,acceptable levels of law and order,and its largely trader population makes the best of the thriving agro-based commodities trade that has given Latur its understated prosperity.

Alongside Aurangabad,which has been administratively and historically a big city,Latur is now one of Marathwada’s leading urban centres.

The oilseeds and pulses marketplace may have commandeered Latur’s growth,but the tertiary sector is now expanding — chartered accountants,about 1,500 doctors and dentists practising in a 27-km radius,hundreds of employees at two brand new hospitals,transporters,restaurateurs and lodge-owners catering to the visiting businessmen. “You can do business in Latur,” says hotel co-owner Pravin Shinde. “The business community has an excellent work ethic here. And infrastructure is excellent”

While many roads are still being finished,Latur actually boasts of a couple of flyovers and six-lane roads in some parts. “In the 1990s,we would not supply drinking water from February through August,such was the water crisis. Marathwada is drought-prone,after all,” says Moiz Shaikh,a councillor in the Latur Municipal Council. “Now there is no cut in water supply in Latur.” As a state level volleyball player in his younger days,Shaikh would have to explain to other teams where Latur was,“150 km from Solapur”.

Now,a new broadguage railway line connects Latur directly with Mumbai. An airport is ready,the current three flights a week promising to grow with the city. Two private swimming pools are packed with youngsters,a government-run one is coming up,as is a “natyagruh” or a cultural venue to expand the entertainment avenues for new settlers and traders. There are no slums visible anywhere in Latur,although neighbouring Solapur has its small share.

The fact that the local administrative bodies are all controlled by a single party helps – the municipality has been able to spend freely on roads,water projects,etc. In addition,crores of rupees have been sanctioned through state government agencies like the Public Works Department,not to mention projects that will generate employment like the Rs 9,000-crore gas-based electricity generation project coming up in Ausa. Fourteen barrages are being built on the Manjara river in an effort to irrigate some 10,000 hectares of arid land. Not everybody is happy with the onset of industrialisation,and one of the first voices of discontent are being heard in Ausa,where the power project will require some land acquisition from local farmers.

But they far outnumber the supporters who promise that growth and modernisation will be painless.

“You’ve heard of the Latur Pattern in education,” says Venkat Bendre,former president of the Latur Municipal Concil and a longtime Latur resident,referring to an intensive system of coaching classes for local students which is a hit in the state and has consistently produced toppers. “We’ll show you the Latur Pattern in industrialisation soon,bringing industries here without the corresponding pain.”

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