Fears of Maruti shifting operations prompt unlikely alliances

Workers outside the Maruti Suzuki plant in Manesar on Monday.   | Photo Credit: Handout_E_Mail

“My English may not be very good,” said Maruti Suzuki’s Japanese Managing Director Shinzo Nakanishi at a press conference last week, “But even I know the difference between expansion and relocation.”

Days after Mr. Nakanishi’s exasperated assurance that Maruti Suzuki was not shifting its production lines from Manesar, Haryana, but was building an additional plant in Gujarat to increase capacity, about 150 residents gathered on Monday for a ‘mahapanchayat’ at a village just behind the Maruti plant to insist that the Haryana government ensure that it remained in Manesar.

The mahapanchayat revealed an ecosystem of competing interests of real estate agents, contractors, transporters, workers, shopkeepers, tempo drivers and landlords that has sprung up around a plant that acquired 3,000 acres of farmland and, at peak capacity, pushes out 5,50,000 cars a year.

The mahapanchayat at Dhanda, which claimed to represent over 100 villages in the area, resolved to stand firm against the activities of the “lal jhandawalas” or trade union activists, and to set up a 21-member committee to interface between Maruti, the workers and the local villagers. But why was the village intervening in an industrial dispute between a private company and its workforce?

Dhanda looks like one of numerous urban villages in the national capital area, but in the early 2000s, it was a very different settlement. “In 2002, the Chautala government acquired 3,000 acres of land for Maruti at Rs. 2.25 lakh per acre,” said Hari Prakash Sharma, a former sarpanch, “At the time, the government promised us jobs, but the company refused to hire a single local boy.” With the farms gone, Mr. Sharma said, the villagers set up small businesses like teashops and provision stores to serve the workforce drawn to the factory. “If the plant leaves, the villagers will have nothing,” said Mr. Sharma.

One family that gained from Maruti’s arrival lives in three large adjacent houses that look like giant wedding cakes. “My father and his brothers had about 50 acres of land,” said Arun Dhankar, a muscular 23-year-old who is in the final year of his MBA at a private institution in Saket, Delhi.

“When the first lot of land was being acquired at Rs. 2.25 lakh, speculators began to inflate the price of adjacent lands, so we sold some of our other land for up to Rs. 20 lakh per acre,” he said.

Mr. Dhankar said his family made a lot of money and still had some land that is yet to be acquired. While Arun’s father set up a tractor dealership, his uncles set up a real estate business and a transport business.

“But, most of the villagers didn’t know how to invest their money,” said Arun, “and the company refused to give the locals jobs because they thought local workers would keep disrupting company operations. Now the workers have left, and there are no real jobs in Manesar.”

Instead, most residents chose to add floors to their homes and put them out on rent. Dhanda now resembles an ad-hoc worker’s colony of stilted, multi-storeyed buildings partitioned into hundreds of tiny rooms for rent.

“We lost about 6 acres of land in 2002 and got about Rs. 15 lakh as compensation,” said Ravi Chauhan, from Dhanda, “The first 6 lakh went in paying off farm loans we had accumulated over the years. We spent about four lakh building a house, and the rest went in weddings and other expenses.”

Mr. Chauhan’s house resembles a large, green aircraft hangar divided into 50 small rooms.

“Each room is rented for Rs. 2,000 and four people live in each room,” said a tenant. At full capacity, Mr. Chauhan earned about Rs.1 lakh a month, but today almost all the rooms are empty.

“I had rented it out to the Maruti workers. They have all run away after the attack,” said Mr. Chauhan, “The company took away my land, and now this incident has taken away my livelihood.”

Monu Sharma, 20, used his compensation money to build a house and is now doing a Masters of Commerce at the Maharishi Dayanand University, Rohtak. “He can’t get married,” called out an elderly gentleman as Mr. Monu approached this correspondent. “You need land to get married. He meets girls, and they ask ‘Where is the land,’ and the conversation stops there.” Mr. Monu did not respond to these comments.

“MSIL management has the support of petty capitalists in surrounding villages because of its strategy of granting small contracts – for transport, canteen, ancillary activities – to key people in the surrounding villages,” said Rakhi Sehgal, vice president, Hero Honda Theka Mazdoor Sangathan, a contract workers union.

Ms. Sehgal said the Maruti management and media had tried to portray a small section of views as being representative of all villagers, but this was not the case.

“This support of villagers to unions is not an isolated instance,” she said, adding that villagers had helped Maruti workers run a community kitchen during a month-long protest last year.

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Printable version | Oct 22, 2021 8:15:19 AM |

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