Rashmi K Pratap
Why is Gujarat equated with Godhra? Don’t you have riots in other states?” asks a sugarcane juice seller on the street in Gandhinagar.
“Instead of seeing the development in our state, you’re stuck in the past,” he accuses even as he shoves a tall glass of the sweet juice at us. He isn’t the only one who is tired of references to the two months of rioting across Gujarat in 2002. We’re on our way to Udyog Bhawan in the state capital, but the bureaucrat we were to meet backs out. “Journalists meet us, ask about Gujarat’s development and then go back to write about Godhra. I don’t want to talk to the media anymore,” he declares.
In the past seven years, Gujarat has received investment commitments of Rs 3,894,080 crore. Companies that have made their way to the state include some of the world’s biggest names such as Siemens AG, JSW Wagon, Sandvik Asia, FAG Bearings, Ingersoll Rand, ABB, Tata Motors, Ford, Peugeot and Hitachi. The state’s GDP growth has been ahead of the national average all through the past decade; it is a power surplus region and has over 70% share of all cargo handled in minor ports across India. So, what is Gujarat doing right?
At first glance, the Gujarat Secretariat looks like any other government building — sprawling, with huge corridors and security guards. There’s a striking difference though. It’s clean and silent unlike other state secretariats, which are bustling with people seeking appointments with bureaucrats and waiting for their turn. A lone assistant takes us to Chief Secretary AK Joti’s room, and the noted absence of piled files takes us aback. “We believe in decentralisation and delegation of power. We don’t grant any [project] approvals here. That is why you don’t see people around,” says Joti.
Since 2010, all project approvals have gone online, where one can apply and monitor the status of applications — there is a quarterly review of project status at the chief secretary-level. “We do not make any exceptions while granting approvals,” he adds categorically.
It helps that the government has been increasing its investment in infrastructure and since 2003, it has been working to improve port linkages through road and rail — a critical move, considering the state has a 1,600-km long coastline with 41 major and minor ports. Nine linkage projects have been completed, while another eight are in the pipeline. Jayesh Buch, resident director of the Essar Group in Gujarat, says the state’s infrastructure is a big draw for industry as good roads and port connectivity gives access to both inputs and markets.
Gujarat is also creating the country’s first special investment region (SIR) at Dholera, in Ahmedabad district. SIRs differ from special economic zones (SEZs) in that they aren’t exclusively for exports. They will have residential complexes as well as industries, and world-class infrastructure — the SIR is being planned as a smart city, with digital control of all facilities like water and electricity. When complete, the Dholera SIR is slated to be bigger than even China’s Shenzhen: it will cover over 900 sq km along the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor (DMIC). In all, 24 SIRs are planned along the DMIC.
It isn’t industry alone that has profited in an ‘always-on’ Gujarat. At Kanera village, some 25 km outside Ahmedabad, Dineshbhai Chauhan beams as he explains how life has become easier with 24x7 power. He is the secretary of an Amul mandli, a milk collection centre from where milk is collected twice a day. Even a few years ago, the chances of milk spoiling due to lack of power or power cuts was high. Now, though, the villagers sell about 350 litres of milk everyday. Kokilaben Sakrabhai Chauhan, a member of one of the 1,100 families in the village, owns four buffaloes and sells about 55-60 litres a day. “We are paid Rs 43 per litre for full fat milk,” she says delightedly. The rate was hiked from Rs 37 per litre in February, increasing the 52-year-old’s daily income by about Rs 300.
With talk about Gujarat as India’s most industrialised state, it’s easy to overlook the progress in agriculture. Between FY02 and FY11, this sector registered a growth of 10.7%, compared with 10.3% for industry. “Setting up of check dams, bori bandhs (sand bag dams) by the state government and involving local communities in rainwater harvesting as well as ground water recharge has helped agriculture,” says Laveesh Bhandari, director, Indicus Analytics.
Is Gujarat really as Utopian as it appears? Scratch the surface a little, and a slightly different picture emerges. Farmers’ share of power has actually dropped over the past decade. Prohibition and the lack of metropolitan cities means youth aren’t keen on staying on in the state, pointing to a manpower crisis in the near future.
More worrying, perhaps, is the fact that Muslims in the state are still bearing the brunt of the decade-old riots. There are fewer Muslims working in manufacturing and organised trade than in other parts of the country; instead, they are more likely to be engaged in informal trade or be self-employed. There is subtle discrimination at work, in school and college admissions, white collar jobs, and while procuring bank loans. It may take another decade for the Godhra shadow to disappear completely.