In Rudrapur, a small but prosperous farming community is being taken over by a rapidly industrialising township, report ANOOP GEORGE PHILIP & MARIE NAUDASCHER
IF JIM Corbett immortalised Rudrapur in his Man Eaters of Kumaon for its verdant jungles, the city is now regaining the forest nomenclature — just that it is a concrete jungle that is sprouting here. This rapidly-developing township in the flatlands of the Terai, the Himalyan foothills, was once the playground of tigers. Today, with the Uttarakhand government having made Rudrapur into an industrial manufacturing hub, it’s host to corporate tigers.
Development in Rudrapur began after the State Infrastructure Industrial Development Corporation of Uttaranchal (SIDCUL) was established in 2002 and selected the city as one of three sites to promote industrialisation. The decision was followed by tax and economic incentives announced by the central and state governments. Basically, the Central initiative (first by the NDA and then the UPA) has meant a 10 year tax holiday (no excise, no VAT and no income tax) and a Rs 50 lakh capital subsidy for industries. A number of big players — Tata Motors, Dabur, Bajaj Auto, Britannia, Parle, Nestle, Ashok Leyland and Zhandu Pharma have set up huge manufacturing facilities.
And since the government owns large tracts of lands, there is no agitation of the kind that Buddhadeb Bhattarcharya and Naveen Patnaik had to face in West Bengal and Orissa over the setting up of industrial zones. The road from Rudrapur to Pantnagar is lined with giant industrial units.
However, in Uttarakhand (as the former Uttaranchal has now been renamed), the usual explanation that no arable land is being taken over doesn’t hold — there is no land but arable land! These foothills are so fertile — home to paddy, sugarcane, wheat and soya — that locals joke that if one sowed stones, they too would sprout.
Originally a town cleared from thick forests by the government to resettle refugees from West Punjab and East Pakistan, after the partition, Rudrapur now houses the next generation of their families. A Rudrapurbased journalist, Saroj Mandal, says that imigrants were resettled in an area of about 164.2 sq km. And according to resident Pradeep Sarkar, “The Government alloted land to refugee families, helped clear the land, gave seeds, money and clothes.”
Until then, there had been no town: the Terai was a jungle, infested with tigers, leopards and other wild beasts. From that first clearing, a farming community grew, in the surrounding villages of Kichcha, Gadarpur, Pilwit and Dineshpur. Rudrapur is in the centre of this rural farming region, and provides connectivity to the communities in the villages around.
If you meet a local acquaintance to scope out the area, you are inundated with a flood of information and a flurry of invitations for dinner. A visit to Sarkar’s (a farmer) house does, however, tell you how different life in water-rich Rudrapur is, compared to Delhi. He doesn’t wake up at 5 am to switch on a tube well motor, as Delhi’s denizens need to: he says that residents just need to drill to 150-200 ft depth and water gushes out 24/7 — a special feature of the low-lying Terai. It’s the abundance of water that is eminently visible in the paddy fields in and around Rudrapur.
BUT THE bucolic pleasantries come to a curt end by the time you reach the actual town, after cruising through the periphery of Udham Singh Nagar district’s rolling green fields. Chaotic miniature reflections of a Gurgaon or a Noida jolt you into the reality of a fast urbanising city.
And not a pretty reality at that. Rapid development of Rudrapur meant that agricultural land prices were inflated overnight after the SIDCUL-sponsored industrialisation started rolling out. Panchayat members admit that agricultural land valued at Rs 2-3 lakh per acre was sold overnight for Rs 1 crore. Even with settled prices now, agricultural land fetches Rs 60-70 lakh per acre.
But the government rate is still Rs 10 lakh per acre. Contrary to expectation, not many were unhappy about the rising land prices as most of the families had plenty of land. It is the huge increase in construction that has deperived agriculture of its labourers. The workers now prefer more rewarding construction work — which is available all year round — to farming, which is seasonal.
If ugly development is synonymous with most cities in India, Rudrapur is certainly no exception. Visitors can cherish the worst flaws of urban India. With soaring land prices and decreasing space in Rudrapur town, buildings are more or less like conjoined twins.
Not only are developers building flats in the town for the rising number of executives with jobs in the large corporations that have set up plants here, they are also selling their condominiums as being at hailing distance to the hills stations of Uttarakhand (Nainital, Bhimtal or Ranikhet).
And the pace of construction is such that the single main road linking Rudrapur to Uttar Pradesh on one end and the hills of Uttarakhand on the other is clogged with trucks. Some are involved with the construction effort; others ply the same highway, carrying supplies to the factories and their finished products back.
Rudrapur has also just had its tryst with mall culture. Families – both of the landed rich and those of labourers — flock to the sole mall, the appropriately named Vishal Mega Mart. But the middle-class parents grouch about their brand-conscious children, even as another snazzy shopping arcade, Metropolitan Mall, is on its way up.
If development is calculated by sheer number of high rises, Rudrapur is certainly well down that path. In the foothills of the Himalyas, the mountains look down mockingly on those who try to challenge them.
From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 5, Issue 30, Dated Aug 02,2008