Agra’s industrial growth halts, labour migrates

Agra, May 24 (IANS) Industrial growth in the 10,000 sq. km. eco-sensitive Taj Trapezium Zone has come to a halt, forcing large-scale migration of rural labour to urban hubs.

This is because of the restrictions imposed by the Supreme Court on the expansion and opening of new industrial units in the districts of Agra, Mathura, Firozabad, Hathras and part of Aligarh, to contain air pollution, which was harming the Taj Mahal and other historical structures in the region, according to REDCO (an organisation of real estate developers and colonisers) president K C Jain.

Disposing of a public litigation filed by eco-lawyer M.C. Mehta, the apex court had ordered shifting of polluting industries, or switching over to natural gas.

Jain said: “Of late, there has been an acute shortage of labour in all sectors as rural labour is now migrating to the NCR (National Capital Region), where they get more facilities and higher wages.”

Industries in Agra have been particularly hit by the labour crisis and erratic power supply. The industrialists accuse the state industries department of not being very helpful in solving the problems of the manufacturing sector in the Nunihai and Foundry Nagar industrial estates.

Agra district magistrate Zuher Bin Sagir has now instructed the departments concerned to explore how industrial growth can gain momentum and absorb local educated youth. Sagir said in future, Udhyog Bandhu meetings will play a crucial role in sorting out the problems of industries.

The prospects of any significant expansion, however, appear bleak, according to local industry chambers.

Except for tourism, there has not been any growth in any sector, say officials of the Agra Iron Foundries Association.

The industrial scene in Firozabad, Mathura and Aligarh is equally dismal, forcing the local youth to migrate to Delhi and other metros.

“The Firozabad glass industry has not seen any major expansion or development and the existing units are facing all kinds of problems,” said a local glass unit owner, Bal Govind.

Similarly, the Aligarh lock industry faces a grim future due to outdated technology, fierce competition and rising costs plus erratic power supply.

Industrial organisations affiliated to the CII, FICCI or Assocham have now collectively urged the state government to provide support and broad-base infrastructure to halt the slide.

Manish Agarwal, president of the National Chamber of Industries and Commerce, Agra, said “the state government doesn’t have any long-term plan of action, nor do the state government agencies appear concerned about the falling industrial production.”

Rajiv Gupta of Assocham told IANS: “The officials in Lucknow are not the least bit concerned about industrial development of Agra. After the ban on polluting industries imposed by the apex court, they should have worked on promoting the IT or other service sectors, but they did nothing.”

In the past Agra was a leading manufacturing hub of iron foundries, glass industries, leather shoes, handicrafts and the petha sweetmeat, but of late, industrial growth has shrunk, forcing units to permanently down shutters to migrate to greener pastures.

The industrial units that survive are also on the brink of collapse as scores of bottlenecks and pollution-related restrictions would not let them expand to their optimum level of performance.

Lack of security and poor infrastructure have hit the tourism industry with reports of cancellations of trips by tourists after the rape and attack on foreign visitors.

The leather shoe industry has suffered from recessionary pressures and a steep decline in export orders, according to the Shoe Manufacturers’ Association.

The centuries-old iron foundries were the first target. The pulses and the edible oil industries were the next to fold up. It is now the turn of the generator industry which, despite the demand, finds production badly hit due to labour shortages and erratic power supplies, Assocham’s Rajiv Gupta said.

“Due to MGNREGS (the centre’s flagship rural jobs scheme), labourers from the rural hinterland are not flocking to the city. The foundries are hit, the Firozabad glass industries and the construction industry too are all handicapped due to the labour shortage. This has become particularly acute after the opening of the Yamuna Expressway,” Gupta told IANS.

The National Chamber of Industries and Commerce, the Agra Iron Foundries Association, the Generator Manufacturers Association, the Factory Owners Association and various other bodies are engaged in intense discussions and interactions with government bodies to seek solutions to the problems the local industries face. However, the total focus of the state and the central governments is on tourism, which hardly employs 50,000 people out of a population of over four million in the district.

The city does not lack entrepreneurship nor faces a resource crunch as many other areas do, but the absence of a clear government policy framework and vision has stalled broad-basing the industrial structure that could have provided jobs to hundreds of thousands of people.

An uncertain future awaits the recently developed Leather Park in Achnera block. The IT park in Shastripuram is also mired in controversy.

After polluting industries were forced to close, the centre and the state governments in 1996 had assured prompt help to non-polluting industries, but till date nothing has materialized, hotelier Surendra Sharma said.

(Brij Khandelwal can be contacted at [email protected])

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