Himachal Pradesh’s clear headed plan on industrialisation is set to give the BJP a headstart in the assembly elections slated later this year.
The surge in job generating factories is powering the hill state’s increasingly diversifying economy, which was once overwhelmingly dependent on tourism and apples.
Strategic investments in recent years have laid the foundations of deep industrialisation.
For instance, the second ground breaking ceremony for new investments worth Rs 28,197 crores was performed in Mandi in December 2021. And another Rs 2,989 cr investment proposals were cleared last month by a high-level Single window project clearance authority. Besides, the stars are shining bright for a Rs 10,000 cr Bulk Drug Park – one of three proposed by the Government of India (GoI) for the states.
These are just a few examples to indicate how Himachal Pradesh – a small northern hill state, earlier dependent on tourism and horticulture, has broken new ground to spur a silent industrial revolution.
Take the state’s Baddi-Brotiwala industrial belt. Bordering Punjab, it is already known as Asia’s biggest pharmaceutical hub manufacturing and exporting all kinds of emergency, life-saving drugs and vaccines including Covid-19 Sputnik V vaccine.
Kandrori, a key industrial area, bordering Pathankot (Punjab) was declared as the next pharmaceutical hub, based on the perception that the Baddi-Barotiwala-Nalagarh area has reached a saturation point. The new pharmaceutical fulcrum will have an advantage of good connectivity by road, rail and air. Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur was in Kangra when a MoU was signed by the government with Mefro Organic Limited for an investment of Rs 100 crore to set up a nutraceutical unit at Kandror. Earlier, a MoU was also signed for setting up the Green Field Project of Nutraceuticals with an investment of Rs 70 crore in Kandror.
Beside Paonta Sahib and Kala Amb in Sirmaur is another Industrial belt –Parwanoo attracting expansions of existing units, apart from new investments.
The state’s Industries minister Bikram Singh Thakur says the proposed bulk drug park for Una district will be another landmark .
“If approved by the centre since being a project of huge national importance, will itself generate employment for 15,000 people. The centre has offered a grant of Rs 1,000 cr for setting-up park to reduce country’s dependence for foreign companies for Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients (API) and other raw materials required by the pharmaceutical companies in India, also Baddi” says Thakur.
The centre has proposed to set-up three such parks and states were asked to submit their competitive bids. Himachal Pradesh has been lobbying hard to get the bulk drug park sanctioned.
Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur and Union Minister for Information and Broadcasting Anurag Thakur together have met several union ministers including finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman and minister for chemicals Dr. Mansukh Mandaviya.
In September, the centre had also sanctioned a Rs 5,000 cr medical device park at Nalagarh, which again has helped in boosting the investment drive.
Rajendra Guleria, president of the Baddi-Brotiwala-Nalagarh Industrial Association, admits that Himachal Pradesh has several inherent advantages for the investors. The government, through its initiative on the Global Investors’ meet held at Dharamsala in 2019, was able to create an investment climate in the state. The norms were also eased for new investors, apart from creating a land bank.
Though the Covid pandemic impacted the pace of investments, two ground-breaking ceremonies of MoUs signed during the meet (worth Rs 96,000 cr) have been held, one of these on December 27 at Mandi.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi was present at the event and also interacted with investors. He exhorted investors to come to Himachal Pradesh, which has a huge potential to change their fortunes and also help Himachal Pradesh in its development, prosperity and growth.
Director Industries Rakesh Prajapati said the “bulk of the investments, coming to Himachal Pradesh relate to manufacturing, which also include defence industry (to manufacture bullet proof jackets for the army), pharmaceutical formulations, food processing, textile engineering, tourism and hydro-power sector”.
In all 287 MoUs were signed at Mandi’s ground-breaking ceremony. M/s Nestle in the food sector and Vardhman in the textile group are major investors.
Most of the investments in Himachal Pradesh are in the districts of Solan, where Baddi-Brotiwala-Nalagarh remains a most favoured pharmaceutical belt, beside Una, Sirmaur and Kangra districts, mainly because of location advantage at places like Mehatpur, Amb, Tahliwal, Gagret, Nahan, Kala Amb and Paonta Sahib, apart from Nurpur and Sansarpur Terrace.
Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur says the “state has been rated best in ease of doing business. We tried to create an environment favourable to investors. The projects are cleared through a single window authority under the Chief Minister. Lot of new incentives were also rolled out for the industrial promoters during the past four years.”
The state has about a 24,000 MW harnessable power potential ,which was about 40 percent of the total potential of the country. Till date, only 10596 MW has been harnessed and the state government has set up a target of harnessing another 10,000 MW in the next ten years, he says.
The state has also written to the Direct Power Grid Corporation to prepare an effective plan for power evacuation from Chenab basin and from Spiti area.
But, Guleria also claims that section 118 of the HP Tenancy and Land Reforms Act still remains a hurdle in getting approvals for land transfers to set-up industrial units.
“We have submitted a representation to the Chief Minister of steps to at least make land transfers a time-bound exercise for the promoters who want to exit ,after running the industry for some years . Ease of doing business also should cover ease to exit and removing multi-layered clearances mechanism” he suggests.
Yet the advantages he claims also include low-cost quality power since Himachal Pradesh is a power surplus state, harmonious industrial relations, no law-and-order issues, clean environment, investor-friendly administration and attractive incentives.
The industrialists are asking the government to come out with a scheme to set up a new township in the industrial belt for the housing facilities. Most of the industrialists either live in Chandigarh or Panchkula as there is no facility. Their mobility to their industrial units remains a big issue, and the worst was during the Covid lockdown.
The opposition Congress contests the BJP government claims on investments.
“These are claims only on paper. Not a MoUs has been translated into action. Let the Chief Minister show a single industrial unit, which has come-up after global investors meet at Dharamsala or his road-show in several metropolitan cities. He even took officers on a foreign junket on pretext of wooing foreign investments. We will bring the real truth before the people before next elections” warns Leader of Opposition Mukesh Agnihotri.
There are also fears being expressed about states facing environmental pollution due to mindless industrialisation. “Some of the water sources at Baddi-Brotiwala and Nalagarh have turned toxic due to effluent discharge in the rivulets and local streams. Air pollution is a serious problem in towns of Paonta Sahib, Amb (Una) and Baddi” alleges Anoop Rattan, a Shimla-based senior lawyer.
(The story has been published via a syndicated feed.)