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Six years ago, emboldened by several industrial projects in the works and a real estate boom, a group of businessmen decided to use their extra cash to purchase a record 150 Mercedes cars. This got Aurangabad—known more for the Ajanta-Ellora caves than for its industrial growth—national attention (yes, even Outlook paid a visit). But then the slide began. The capital city of Marathwada, which is also listed in the Modi government’s Smart Cities plan, is now seeing its fourth year of drought. A disturbing number of 1,000-plus suicides has been recorded in the last year.
“It was expected that it would draw attention to us and more investments would come in,” says Mansingh Pawar, who too bought a Merc in that historic deal. “Many newspapers started Aurangabad editions and there was a lot of talk for some time. But nothing came of it. There was a lot of hope when the new government came in. Modi was expected to repeat Gujarat’s success at a national level. But that hasn’t happened.” In his Mahindra showroom, he says, sales have dipped because of widespread crop failure.
“People focus on roti, kapda, makan, everything else takes a backseat in times of downturn. Agricultural production and prices are down, as is real estate, and you can see empty markets,” says Ajay Shah, owner of Shah Sons, a consumer durables showroom. He is also the president of a parent body of 72 associations of different trading organisations, which cover everything from food to luxuries. “We have to understand that a sudden boom is always shortlived,” adds Adesh Chabda, who runs a wedding card business in Aurangabad.
Aurangabad has industries such as steel, beverages, pharmaceuticals in the middle of vast agricultural land that now largely grows cash crops like sugarcane, cotton and soyabean instead of traditional jowar and toor. But despite several announcements about Make in India and Smart Cities and the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor for which land has been acquired just outside Aurangabad city, infrastructure is a huge challenge. The Chikhalthana MIDC, where many companies have shut shop and made way for a huge mall and residential complex, is an example of industrialisation lacking long-term vision.
“Many companies have shut down here but we are trying to turn the Walunj and Shendra MIDCs into examples of ideal development,” says Prabhakar Mate, a local leader with Kamgar Sena of the Shiv Sena. “Nowhere in the country is there such a huge mass of land available for business as in DMIC Aurangabad. Now we are waiting for people to come.” He admits that so far the growth in Shendra hasn’t been up to their expectations.
In the past two years, the region has seen alarming depletion of the water table due to poor rainfall, unchecked digging of borewells and rampant plantation of water-guzzlers like sugarcane. Activists warn about a suicide epidemic. “Most of the suicides are committed by those in the 25-35-year age group. Urbanisation and forced migration will be the biggest challenges for Aurangabad. Instead of NRIs, we need to now talk about Non Resident Villagers,” says activist Sanjeev Unhale. “They don’t get jobs at your industrial units, all they do is start dhabas outside those companies.” In the absence of viable production at these units, even those dhabas may not get them their daily bread.
By Prachi Pinglay-Plumber in Aurangabad, Maharashtra