“But when these industries started setting up here, I worked day and night to empower myself. And today I own a house with air conditioning. I live a happy and fulfilled life because wherever I go, I easily get business!”
According to Umang Upadhyay, a hotel manager, it is no secret that it has been possible thanks to Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi: “In Gujarati, we have a saying: Government is the biggest Baniya” Umang jokes with a smile. “Narendra Modi has created the conditions to attract companies. Thanks to his great efforts, a lot of development occurred. In every part of the SEZ there are good roads, drainage systems, public lightning etc,” he adds.
Dahej SEZ: A Modi’s economic success
Launched in 2004 by Narendra Modi’s government, the Dahej SEZ is indeed a great success. The Gujarat Industrial Development Corporation and the Oil & Natural Gas Corporation ltd. (ONGC) created a joint-venture company, Dahej SEZ Ltd (DSL), to develop the industrial area under the direction of Gujarat Government.
In 2012, 68 units were allotted for more than 1,730 hectares of industrial area and Rs. 35,000 crore. 140 companies have settled there from 5 years, and 180 others signed a MoU to set up a unit within 5 years. That is why FDI Magazine ranked Dahej SEZ among the World’s “Top-50 Free Zones” in 2012 and called it the “next Dubai”.
And the process is not over. GIDC announced on 23rd of November that 150 MSME companies had already booked their plots to be part of the Gujarat’s Plastic Park to set up in Dahej. It is believed to attract Rs. 5,000 crore investments. Moreover Dahej SEZ attracts foreign multinational companies.
Rockwool, a Danish stone wool insulation manufacturer, is a good example. In 2011, the company invested Rs. 144 crore to build a green field factory of 200 workers. And it planned to invest Rs. 120 crore more to double the unit’s capacities.
Rockwool is not just another foreign company. In Denmark, it is believed that Rockwool is a model company, at the cutting edge of Corporate Social Responsibility policy and respectful environmental practices. Its arrival in India should have been a very good thing according to Ramesh Kasondra, director of a local NGO: “This kind of company should help to raise the standards and should drive to apply respectful practices toward workers” he says.
But five years of this major growth changed the village’s face. The reality is sobering. Streets are covered with puddles. “And it is only the beginning of the Monsoon!”, Rana Pushkar Singh complains. The Dahej Sarpanch is not kind with GIDC: “GIDC built roads for industries, so it stopped water circulation.
There is no outlet any longer so water cannot be drained away!” The rapid urbanization also creates pollution and major issues for Dahej inhabitants: “Because of water pollution, we must not drink Dahej water. We get drinking water from another village 70 km away” Rana reveals.
This dramatic situation affects deeply inhabitants’ health. The construction of the hospital, promised by GIDC and Reliance group, has not yet started. And the two small clinics of Dahej welcome both inhabitants and workers: “People are complaining about different skin diseases, fever, malaria, leprosy, dysentery… there is even chikungunya now!”
Dr Mukti says. “It is due to water pollution and poor life conditions” Dr Kurupa Chauhan adds.
The major change is above all demographic. According to Ramesh Kasondra, 30.000 workers migrated from poorest states of Indian, like Bihar, Uttar Pradesh or Madhya Pradesh, to earn a small income for their family.
“But contractors only pay them Rs. 200, whereas a skilled worker should be paid Rs. 400!” he says. Even worse, they are parked in slum-like townships.
In Rockwool’s camp, 200 workers live in 5-6 men rooms of 10ft/10ft, they take shower with their security helmets and they share only 4 dry toilets treated with chemical products. For activists like Ramesh, that is the result of companies’ lies and false promises: “Foreign companies are taking advantage of us to pollute our land and treat our people like slaves”.
Narendra Modi: A worldwide respected leader
According to Dahej inhabitants and workers, only one name often comes up to solve the issues: Narendra Modi. “He is the one to have an international reputation here” Umang claims. Then he quotes an article about international bank Goldman Sachs who sees “Namo” as the future 2014 Lok Sabah elections winner.
“He is a strong leader. He is capable of forcing Indian and foreign companies to respect their environmental and social commitments!” Umang adds. And Dahej Sarpanch to conclude: “Modi Ji already did a lot for us. But if nothing is done now, there will be harm! Only harm.”