My New Year started of to a hectic travel schedule over 2 cities and a town. Was at Baroda, Ahmedabad and Morbi. While it was great seeing all the 3 places – my first detailed one – it was Morbi which was most fascinating. The place is India’s Ceramic and Tiles Special Economic Zone (SEZ). I consider myself a brand aware person and was stumped to see the whole of the National Highway 8 -A lined with billboards of only one industry – ceramic and tile manufacturers. Every possible name with the correct and incorrect spelling and permutations was put up.
The junction where you break of from the Ahmedabad – Rajkot stretch of the NH – 8 leading to Morbi is called NH-8A. The initial part of the route is idyllic and rustic. Low hills, shrubs and some trees, with a very nice lake in the initial stretch. Then after 20 minutes or so the landscape starts changing drastically. You feel the energy and the activity. The place becomes increasingly dusty and labourers can be seen in groups.
I was visiting Morbi to help address an industry issue which the ceramic industry is facing. In the bargain I got to travel a good chunk of the industrial belt in the comfort of a car with somebody to drive me around.
The one thing that caught my attention during the nearly 3 hour trip was the ridiculous state of the basic infrastructure. The power and the water and raw materials for production are there but where are the roads, drainage and waste disposal systems. Same story every where in India. It is amazing that the industry doesn’t consider at least roads as a very integral input. Heavy trucks laden with raw materials and finished goods go heave-ho plunging into a large pothole, getting out and going in again, all on a single lane with 2 way traffic. Amazing. At least the waste water and solids one can understand that th industry wouldn’t care much about but the roads are very much a selfish interest. Their Honda Accords and Corolla’s go through the same!
The person driving me had the same sense of excessive pride in his town – it will beat Mumbai one of the days. When I spoke to him about the environmental problems he chose to be silent, only murmuring but that will happen, why fret?
Forget the physical environment, it was the condition of the labour which was really disturbing. One cannot believe that this is the same resurgent India which is almost violently boastful of India’s prowess in the popular media. It being January the area was very cold and returning in the evenings seeing the labour going about their balance of life was really saddening. Do these guys have minimum wages, medial facilities, insurance, decent housing. The public transport is dependent on the rickety auto rickshaws which also cater to the office category people. The few times I took a rickshaw there was always a relieved labourer or two who would jump into share the front seat with the driver for a Rs. 5 flat fee. Its prohibitive to take the rickshaw alone and there may not be sharing possibilities when you want to go.
The residential areas were shabby and congested. Untreated effluent or sewage fills all the drains and streams and ponds. Pigs roam about. And all amidst some of the finest names supplying sanitary ware to the country and for export. Incredible India.