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A boom town worries about its future
Rising labour unrest and deteriorating supply of vital inputs such as power have put question marks over Manesar's prosperity.
Hundreds of workers gathered in the sprawling campus of the Honda Motorcycle and Scooters India factory in Manesar on Wednesday, shouting slogans that called for workers' unity. Wearing sports shoes and armed with smart phones, the modern-day mazdoors raised thunderous shouts of "inquilab zindabad". Led by trade unions, they were marking the anniversary of the 2005 violence in which several workers were injured in clashes with the police.
The air is tense outside. A heavy police contingent is keeping a close watch to ensure that trouble does not spill out onto the streets. The cops are edgy as they have been busy dealing with the aftermath of the deadly violence which stormed the shop floor at the nearby Maruti plant, leaving a deep scar in worker-management relations.
A short distance away under the shadow of the memorial of a local war hero, a group of village leaders discuss the future of this industrial town. They are both anxious and angry about the violence which swept through the Maruti plant claiming the life of a senior executive. Most blame the unions for the string of violent incidents that have hurt the image of Manesar as a world-class investment destination.
"We will not let goondaism prevail here. We want peace and development here not hooligans. We are not against the workers but we are against the red flags. Maruti Bachao, IMT bachao (Save Maruti, Save IMT), " says a village leader at the "Mahapanchayat" of more than 75 village elders. His anger is clearly aimed at the growing influence of trade unions in the area.
The village elders make their plans to prevent violence and blunt any efforts to shift Maruti operations from the area while taking turns with the hookah. While the authorities have given assurances that Maruti will not shift from Manesar, the villagers are still restless.
Trade union members, on their part, say they were waging a peaceful battle for the rights of the workers and the Maruti incident should not be interpreted as a return of violent trade unionism.
Welcome to Manesar, the boom town which held out promises of a good life for the thousands of workers in and around Haryana. Today, it's become symbolic of the development vs displacement debate.
It has also emerged as a cauldron of aspiration, greed, violence and the clash between modernity and tradition.
Since Maruti started operations in this industrial town dotted with villages on the Delhi-Jaipur Highway, life has changed dramatically for the population.
Swanky glass and chrome buildings are springing up with spectacular regularity. The highway - NH-8 runs through the town - is lined with high-rise apartment buildings. And vibrant mustard fields have been swallowed up by hotels and resorts.
Top companies like Denso, Bosh, Honda among others from across the world have set up base. BMWs and Mercs zip across the smooth roads linking different sectors of this huge township even as buffalo carts move along leisurely.
Investment has poured into the area, bringing prosperity while the influx of workers from neighbouring districts and states has spelt immediate gains for the villagers living in the area.
The village shops are stocked with foreign fries and colas while buffaloes and swanky SUVs move cheek-by jowl in the narrow lanes. English-medium schools promise "a bright future". Land prices have soared and builders have thronged the area along the highway leading to the industrial town. Enterprising villagers have constructed rooms which are rented out to migrant workers.
But the fortunes of this once sleepy cluster of villages are linked to the Maruti factory. "We will die of hunger and there will be nothing left for us if Maruti shifts out. Our livelihood is linked with Maruti, " says Ajay Chauhan, a school drop-out who runs a grocery shop close to the car factory.
Outside on the highway, mammoth cargo tracks meant for transporting Maruti vehicles sit idle. The drivers and their assistants play cards as they sip tea in the sweltering heat.
Manesar gained prominence after the galloping urbanisation of Gurgaon nearly exhausted space for expansion. The industrial town, set up by the Haryana State Industrial Development Corporation, about 17-km away from Gurgaon, has grabbed the attention of global investors but the nagging labour problems in the area have come as a wake-up a call for the authorities struggling to maintain peace in the industrial township.
According to official data, annual turnover in the industrial sector in Gurgaon district has crossed Rs 46, 000 crore with an investment of more than Rs 10, 000 crore. There are 402 large and medium scale units with an investment of Rs. 9, 000 crore and around 8, 000 small scale units with funding of Rs. 890 crore. The employment generated in the industrial sector exceeds 200, 000.
Several prominent units manufacturing cars, motorcycles, automobile parts, telecommunication equipment, electrical goods, software development, hardware, sports goods, rubber products, readymade garments have made the district their home. Factories manufacturing light engineering goods, pharmaceuticals, terry towels, food items, air conditioners, shoes, pesticides and insecticides also dot the landscape against the backdrop of farmland.
Industrialists say it is a huge challenge maintaining the factories in the town against the backdrop of rising labour unrest and deteriorating supply of vital inputs such as power.
"Even smoke from a small fire pollutes the whole environment. Even if you have great HR (human resources) practices going, the atmosphere gets impacted, " said Deep Kapuria, chairman of the Confederation of Indian Industry's national council for small and medium enterprises.
Kapuria, who is in the business of auto components, has a unit based in Manesar. He employs skilled workers and depends on captive power to run his operations.
But despite the shortcomings, the town is experiencing a boom. Manesar's connectivity to adjoining states and the infrastructure here has helped it to be part of the $90 billion Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor project. But prosperity and progress are also posing massive challenges for the town groaning under the weight of industrialisation.
The influx of migrant workers has also made Manesar a hunting ground for trade union cadres. It has also led to a clash between modern management practices and rising demands of workers whose aspiration levels have soared. The prosperity and spending power of the workers have also angered the villagers although they benefit from their presence.
Village elders here are promising a quid pro quo to the factory owners. Employ local people and we will ensure peace, they say. "Our land was taken away for a pittance in 1997. Our children were not given jobs in the factories. Had they given employment to our children, this kind of violence would not have happened, " says Dharam Chand, a farmer from Kankrola who had come to express his solidarity with the village elders.
The state authorities are desperately trying to restore peace but it will take much more than massive police contingents to help strike the balance between tradition and modernity.
Experts say more attention needs to be paid to augmenting worker-management relations in the area as well as a strong focus on outreach programmes to help train and absorb locals in the workforce. This, they say, will force the local population to have a stake in maintaining peace.
"One can learn from the sugar cooperatives of Maharashtra. In the 1960s and 70s, as they expanded, they started their own training schools which trained local people. Similar efforts should be made to start ITIs and train the local people. That will be a more long-term solution, " says sociologist Dipankar Gupta.
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