While international and Indian corporates invest billions of rupees in developing warehousing infrastructure, ordinary folk in the Muslim-majority city on the outskirts of Mumbai continue to be neglected on all fronts and have to struggle in their daily lives
Ashok Kumar | Clarion India
MUMBAI – It is one of India’s fastest-growing warehousing hubs, with many leading international and national companies having a strong presence here. But Bhiwandi, located less than 50 km from Mumbai, continues to grow haphazardly and the authorities – including the central and state governments and the local civic body – have been unable to check the virtually unplanned development.
One of the few cities in Maharashtra with a Muslim-majority population (Muslims account for more than 56 per cent of the total), Bhiwandi has seen top corporates investing billions of rupees in recent years in setting up warehouses to cater to the vast demand for consumer and other goods in cities like Mumbai and Pune. But there has been virtually no major investments in developing the road infrastructure, which continues to remain clogged with heavy traffic. Ordinary commuters have to slog through congested roads in overcrowded autorickshaws or buses (when they are available).
Indian Railways though has claimed that the situation has improved significantly following the development of a new railway parcel terminus recently. The new parcel and goods shed at Bhiwandi station has improved and speeded up the handling of cargo from this major point, enabling top international and Indian business groups from speeding up the delivery of their products.
However, the reality is that the situation has hardly changed in Bhiwandi. Dr Intekhab Shaikh, president, Movement for Peace and Justice (Bhiwandi), told Clarion India that traffic conditions in the city continue to worsen by the day. “It takes hours for these trucks to reach godowns. The flyovers and road bridges are weak and trucks and buses cannot move on them quickly.”
And work on Mumbai’s Metro line 5 is also on, adding to the congestion and chaos. The nearly 25-km-long metro, when completed, will link Thane to Bhiwandi and Kalyan.
According to Shaikh, though Bhiwandi is touted as one of the biggest warehouse hubs in Asia, the infrastructure remains pathetic even today. It has more than 25 million sq ft of warehouse space and top global companies including Amazon, FedEx, Flipkart, Reliance, Snapdeal, Hindustan Lever, Del Monte, Godrej, LG, Bajaj and several others have sprawling godowns.
But most of the warehouses are quite far from the railway station, so movement by trucks will continue, adding to the congestion on the narrow roads. Ausaf Ahmed Falahi, president, Jamaat-e-Islami Hind (JIH), Bhiwandi, told this correspondent that truck movement is not going to be reduced because of the modernised railway facility. “Most businesses prefer trucks while transporting their cargo, not the railways,” he points out. These heavy vehicles will continue to dominate the Bhiwandi landscape for a long time to come.
Bhiwandi, which emerged as a powerloom hub in India, is however, facing a major crisis on that front. The Covid-19 crisis earlier this year saw lakhs of workers heading back home to Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Andhra Pradesh and other states. Many of them returned a few months later when the transport situation improved, but found jobs were lacking. “Salaries have more than halved in recent weeks,” remarks Falahi. “And there is no demand in the Indian market for goods produced by the Bhiwandi powerlooms.”
Referring to the declining quality of life in Bhiwandi, Shaikh says that city has a population of 15 lakh, and an additional ‘migrating’ workforce of nearly 10 lakh. “But surprisingly, such a large city does not have a decent hospital or a good medical infrastructure,” bemoans Shaikh. On the one hand, multinationals and large Indian companies are putting up fancy warehouses and other facilities, but the ordinary folk in the city continue to be neglected on all fronts and have to struggle in their daily lives, he adds.
Indeed, even as billions of rupees pour into the Bhiwandi infrastructure sector in terms of state-of-the-art warehouses and offices, metros, railway infrastructure, etc, for the lakhs of ordinary people living in over-crowded slum pockets and colonies, facing job losses or sharp cuts in wages, the future appears bleak and unpredictable.