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The other Pipli
The hamlet of Peepli in MP, made famous by Aamir Khan's film portraying despair amongst its farmers, has an unlikely twin in Gujarat. With industrial zones springing up, farmers here are minting money as land prices have appreciated more than 300 times in the last five years.
Had Nathadas Manikpuri, the bankrupt farmer in Aamir Khan's Peepli [Live] hailed from Gujarat's Pipli, he would perhaps be driving a swank car instead of contemplating suicide. The story of this Pipli, located in Bhal, Gujarat's dry heartland, couldn't have been more different than its celluloid namesake's.
The fortunes of this village in Ahmedabad district, with a population of about 1, 600, almost changed overnight. Ever since plans of a Special Investment Region (SIR) near Pipli were announced, its farmers have been minting money. It wasn't always like this, though. Till recently, Pipli's residents faced the same problems farmers around India battle - unproductive and saline lands plagued by inadequate irrigation. Even until a year ago, farmers would tell visitors depressing tales of mounting debts triggered by repeated crop failures. Today, the scenario has changed dramatically. Industrial investment strategies in and around Pipli have pushed land prices up exponentially. Plans of an international airport here have only added fuel to the realty fire that's sending a warm glow through Pipli.
It was about a year-and-a-half ago that the state government officially declared that the local Fedra region would be the site for a 'Greenfield' airport. At the time, Meghraj Chudasama, a Pipli farmer owning 40 bighas of land, sold 10 bighas to a Mumbai realtor. He managed to pay off his debts amounting to Rs 7 lakh, and even splurged a little. "I bought these gold rings and two bighas of land outside Fedra. I will now hang on to my land in Pipli while buying more acres, " he says, flashing the jewellery.
Chudasama has rapid industrialisation that's triggered the prosperity across unproductive tracts of land along the proposed Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor to thank for his windfall. The stretch includes a petroleum, chemicals and petrochemicals investment region (PCPIR) as well as an industrial estate near Tata's small car plant in Sanand. But industrialists are not the only ones doing brisk business here. These dusty villages now routinely welcome realtors and brokers from Ahmedabad, Rajkot, Vadodara, Mumbai and Delhi, arriving to negotiate directly with farmers for lands located around these project sites.
"Five years ago, land in Pipli cost between Rs 2, 500 to Rs 4, 000 per bigha. Prices shot up to Rs 70, 000 to Rs 1. 50 lakh per bigha as soon as plans for an international airport were announced. Today, rates hover in the region of Rs 7. 5 lakh a bigha. Farmers in my village have paid off their debts and are buying more land in the vicinity, " says Pipli sarpanch Dilip Chudasama, grinning widely at the twist in the fate of his village.
The phenomenon is not restricted to Pipli alone. About 15 km away lies Gujarat's erstwhile port town of Dholera where the Ahmedabad-based Adani group once planned to build a port. Although that plan has been put on the backburner, realty rates continue to soar. Takhatsinh Parmar and his brother recently sold 50 bighas of land to a Rajkot realtor. "Apollo Tyres was buying land in the vicinity. Prices in Dholera shot up to Rs 8 lakh a bigha. I had mounting debts as nothing grows on my land, " recounts Parmar for whom the deal clearly came as an extremely well-timed relief.
Interestingly, even as they cashing in local farmers are thinking beyond their individual welfare. According to Dholera sarpanch Jai Chudasama, farmers from the area make regular trips to the state capital, Gandhinagar, and the district collectorate offices to know what industries are being set up in SIR. They then collectively decide on land prices. "This way, they do not get cheated by realtors. I remember the last unproductive deal in Dholera was worth Rs 4, 000 per bigha in 2007. Projects relating to Cadila Pharma and Apollo Tyres have scaled prices upwards here, " the sarpanch says.
At 'Nanoland', as Sanand is known after Tata Motors shifted its project here from Singur in West Bengal following protests from farmers in 2008, land prices have increased 25 times. Two years ago, Bharatbhai Bhikhubhai's 10 acres of land was worth Rs 20 lakh. Recently, he was offered Rs 5 crore for it by the state-run Gujarat Industrial Development Corporation (GIDC) which is building an industrial estate in Sanand. Wishing to avoid controversies, the Gujarat government has started acquiring land from farmers at rates much higher than prevalent market prices.
Developments like these have translated into people like Kalubhai Thakor, a 48-year-old local farmer, driving a highend Audi these days. Thakor owned huge tracts of land in Bol village near Sanand. He bought 20 acres for just over Rs 2 lakh per acre in 2007. He recently sold his land at Rs 60 lakh an acre to GIDC. The GIDC has acquired land at Rs 1, 200 per square metre - which comes to Rs 48 lakh per acre - under its 'market plus' formula. The corporation is in the process of acquiring another 770 hectares of Bol village for Rs 900 crore. The state government had offered land to Tata at Rs 890 per square metre two years ago. And to think that land rates around Sanand used to be Rs 2 lakh per acre until October 2008. Today, it is Rs 45 lakh per acre. Local farmers, of course, are laughing all the way to the bank.
GIDC plans to adopt this policy while setting up a huge land bank of 35, 000 hectares to establish 30 new estates along the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor even as it intends expanding 15 existing estates in south and central Gujarat. "Of the 35, 000 hectares state-wide, 9, 000 hectares are government land. The rest will be bought from farmers, " a government official says. GIDC has applied the same 'market plus' formula to acquire land at other places in Gujarat too.
The Pipli story is repeating across the region. Prices of farmlands in Kheda have shot up by 35 per cent after the Delhi Mumbai Industrial Development Corporation (DMICDC) started acquiring land. Lands near Kheda, Halvad and Rajkot near the Narmada main canal have also become a zone of prime interest for realtors. In Dahej with the special economic zone and PCPIR, realty rates are surging northwards.
Bhavesh Sharma, a farmer-turned-realtor in Dahej, says, "The Dahej SEZ already boasts a number of domestic and international companies with investments lined up to the tune of Rs 20, 000 crore. Professionals working in PCPIR will soon require a place to live in. "
This Pipli looks like it will have a truly happy ending.
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