In the days before the Yeshwantrao Chavan Expressway connecting Pune and Mumbai came into being, the journey between the two cities took you through Pimpri Chinchwad, which then comprised Pune’s largest industrial belt. On either side of the road were names of well-known companies, starting with Swedish companies at Kasarwadi, at the appropriately named Sveanagar.
Today, almost two decades later, a drive down that road offers a glimpse of a mixed development of housing and commercial buildings, cineplexes and malls since a large number of industrial units have moved out to Chakan-Talegaon or even out of Maharashtra. No longer do residents of Pimpri-Chinchwad need to come to Pune for their shopping or entertainment: they represent a significant market and commercial development has moved to them.
The industrialization of what were fields about six decades ago began with the coming of large industrial units, mainly automobile companies such as Tata Motors Ltd, then known as Telco (Tata Engineering and Locomotive Co. Ltd), Bajaj Auto Ltd and Force Motors Ltd. These companies needed ancillary units, which mushroomed around them. This light engineering industry boomed with Indian and multi-national companies from Sweden and Germany setting up operations in this region.
Today, the facilities of Sandvik Asia Ltd, Atlas Copco (India) Ltd, Alfa Laval Ltd and Indian engineering company Forbes Marshall are the last major manufacturing units at Kasarwadi, the village closest to Pune and part of the larger sprawl of Pimpri-Chinchwad. The belief here is that in another decade, Kasarwadi is unlikely to have any manufacturing activity: Forbes Marshall is expanding at Chakan and the Swedish companies have been looking for land for expansion outside this belt.
The trend is neither new nor unique, of agriculture giving way to industry, which in turn has to make way for residential-commercial use of the land. In fact, it is a sign of a living and even thriving community, changing and adapting as the needs and aspirations of people change.
Among the first to start this trend, of converting industrial land to residential use, was the Mahindra and Mahindra group. They moved some units (mainly ancillary) from Pimpri, converting some of the land into research and development centres or training facilities, but turning a major chunk of it into housing. Manufacturing slowly inched away from Pimpri-Chinchwad to Chakan-Talegaon and villages in between.
Today, over a decade after that first inching away, the move is more noticeable. Other industrial units monetized their lands, including the Indian Card Clothing Co. Ltd and Elpro International Ltd. While Indian Card Clothing has built offices or commercial blocks on its land, Elpro has built housing spaces. Finolex Industries Ltd sought to sell its land since it has moved most of its manufacturing to Urse, about 15km further along the Pune-Mumbai highway, as has the group’s flagship company, Finolex Cables Ltd.
Among firms that have moved manufacturing away from Pimpri-Chinchwad are Bajaj Auto, which moved its motorcycle manufacturing operations to Chakan (and some of it to tax haven Uttarakhand), leaving its Akurdi plant largely as a training and R&D centre. Force Motors now makes very little of its product line at its Chinchwad plant while its ancillary-manufacturing company, Jaya Hind Industries Pvt. Ltd, has moved most of its manufacturing further along the Pune-Mumbai highway. Among the older inhabitants, Tata Motors continues to make some of its light commercial vehicles at its Pimpri plant.
Premier Ltd, formerly Premier Automobiles Ltd, the grand old pioneer of the country’s auto sector, also monetised its land holdings, selling a large chunk to a developer who has created housing there. Other smaller units have made way for training institutes or R&D centres.
A major reason for these large companies moving out of the Pimpri-Chinchwad area is that wages have increased sharply in the region. Land prices have also appreciated, but the industrial estate in the Pimpri-Chinchwad area was developed by the state-owned Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation so the land is leased to business units. They can vacate the land, but it isn’t theirs to sell.
Reminiscent of an earlier era, the townships built by original equipment manufacturers such as Tata Motors, Bajaj Auto and Force Motors are now increasingly unoccupied. These were built by a benevolent management to attract managerial staff to units that were located well away from Pune.
Today, that is being repeated, for employees of companies located at Chakan and Talegaon, only now the housing is in Pimpri-Chinchwad. So, the commute remains at a constant 20-25km, whether from Pune to Pimpri-Chinchwad or from Pimpri-Chinchwad to Chakan or Talegaon.