Pune’s Industrial Revolution

‘Dr. Minocher Toot, famous inventor, philanthropist and industrialist is offering public shares in his esteemed firm. People who contribute large sums could hope to become partners of Dr. Toot and take a hand in Poona’s Industrial Revolution.’

Pune’s ‘Laal Deul’, the Ohel David Synagogue in Camp (Image courtesy of Google Images).

These words accurately depict the then-current state of Pune. And although Dr. Toot’s firm is hypothetical, truth be told that Pune in the 1950s and 1960s was bustling with entrepreneurial activities. The once-quiet town was now welcoming industries which would go on to change this city’s face forever. The aforementioned book beautifully captures Pune’s days of being a ‘Pensioner’s paradise’ and the ‘Oxford of the East’! And today, the city has evolved all the way up to being referred to as the ‘Detroit of India’, surpassing Chennai (which, by the way, happens to be a jinxed ‘compliment’ thanks to the fact that Detroit’s auto industry collapsed eventually- so let’s work on keeping that jinx away!). 

Enter, the giant machines!

Aptly named ‘Auto cluster’, this automobile hub located in and around Chinchwad, Talegaon and Chakan initially welcomed the manufacturing plants of companies like Bajaj Auto and Tata Motors. The arrival of the auto manufacturing sector in Pune is said to have kick-started the city’s industrial revolution and the city has flourished industrially ever since. Apart from automobile manufacturing, Pune also saw the rise of several government and private companies alike which manufactured a plethora of goods ranging from antibiotics to heavy industrial machinery and these industries eventually made up the MIDC (Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation) area in the outskirts of Pune.

The industries thus brought about a great demand for employment. Be it the shop floor workers, their supervisors or the company managers- Pune was tasked with supplying and housing these employees. As a result, the areas of Pimpri and Chinchwad saw a massive migration of semi-skilled and skilled workers and the real estate in these areas benefited greatly thanks to this influx of people. PCMC (Pimpri Chinchwad Municipal Corporation) was formed in 1982 to bring these industrial and residential areas under a uniform civic body.

The decades from the 1960s to the early 2000s also saw the uniform trend of engineers graduating from COEP and getting a job at one of the industries in Pune!

Make way for the R&D!

Now that the city became well-versed with manufacturing, companies soon began exploring the areas of research and development. R&D also became popular in the aftermath of the 1991 reforms for two reasons- one, reduced red-tapism paved the way for the local enthusiasts to start researching within the company without much ado; and two, increased foreign competition made the local companies realise that providing newer, better products is the only way to survive in this race and that R&D was the only solution in this case. As a result, some companies survived the 1991 turmoil but others never recovered and had to wind up their loss-making operations. Whatever might be the case with the local industries, the industrial areas saw a steady rise in the number of both local and foreign manufacturing units emerging nonetheless. 

This journey of indegenous R&D is especially evident once you compare the older versions of a company’s product with the newer ones. Comparing the Bajaj Chetak from the pre-1991 era (that is, if you could ever lay your hands on one- Pun intended!) with a 21st century Bajaj Chetak e-scooter highlights this indegenous evolution. A similar comparison can be made between the older and newer Tata cars, say, by comparing Tata Indica with Tata Harrier. Tata Motors acquired JLR (Jaguar Land Rover) in 2008 and Bajaj Auto picked up a 14.5% stake in KTM in 2007. Today, Bajaj Auto International Holdings BV holds 49.9% stake in PTW Holding AG (KTM group’s parent company). Bajaj Auto launched the KTM bike in India and they also manufacture select KTM bikes at their Chakan plant which are exported globally. Thus is the evolution of R&D in the Indian brands- both in terms of their products and their business strategies as well!

This is what it’s like today-

As the industries in Pune continue to flourish, Pune is also fast acquiring the reputation of being an IT city, which is another revolution in itself. Pune continues to attract the potential labour force and as a consequence, the real estate here is also doing well. However, just like any other developing country, India is dealing with problems like poverty and these problems are obviously bothering Pune as well. Ideally, a bigger labour intensive manufacturing sector would have been an Economist’s solution to this problem but India’s development trajectory is rather unique. We leaped from the primary (agriculture) to the tertiary sector (service sector) without building a strong manufacturing base which failed to create the desired middle class required in a developing country. And with a rise in India’s unorganised and informal workforce, the prospect of alleviating poverty via a labour intensive manufacturing sector remains rather hazy. 

However, a ‘healthy concoction’ of things like support to emerging businesses, investor friendly and sustainable business policies, encouragement for manufacturing locally via initiatives like ‘Make In India’ should hopefully start a new revolution, not just in Pune, but in India, which further empowers the local manufacturing and ultimately helps India develop faster!

Madhura Joshi


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