Loom-ing change: Godown growth jams Bhiwandi | India News

BHIWANDI: A trading town under the Mughal empire, Bhiwandi’s main occupations were fishing, agriculture and textiles. The cotton boom in Bombay in the 19th century transformed it into a hub for yarn that was carted to the city’s markets. The Ansaris and Momins of the United Provinces made their way down the old Bombay-Agra Road to set up base here. The next big shift came with the arrival of electricity — handlooms were replaced by power looms and, by the mid-1980s, this region of western India had more than half the power loom units in the country.
“There were around 8 lakh power loom units in Bhiwandi at one time,” says Urdu journalist Akhtar Azmi. With a population that predominantly comprised north Indian Muslims from the weaver community, Bhiwandi-Nizampur grew as a Congress stronghold. Residents of the old town, which makes up two of the six assembly segments, always determined the winner in Lok Sabha contests.

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However, in recent decades, the centre of gravity has shifted, both in industrial and political terms. Rising power tariffs, cheap imports and GST have wrecked the power loom industry. Units have dwindled from 8 lakh to 4 lakh and jobs are vanishing. The new economy has taken over.
Bhiwandi’s outlying rural areas are now home to the biggest warehousing hub in the country (and indeed one of Asia’s). Cargo lands at JNPT port in Mumbai, 50km away, from where it makes its way to warehouses that maintain inventories for companies and startups, especially those in garments, furniture and consumer durables. Warehousing in Bhiwandi dates back to 1985 when Mumbai introduced an octroi system for entry of goods into city limits. To save on taxes, Mumbai’s traders chose Bhiwandi as a storage centre since octroi was not charged in areas under gram panchayats.
Gradually, small godowns on the outskirts, in Kalher and Kasheli, grew and gave rise to an industry that employs 15 lakh people today; of these, 14 lakh are unskilled. Today, more than 30,000 small and big godowns are spread over 15 crore sq ft across 100 villages, said Sainath Tare, president of the Bhiwandi Builders and Developers Association. Traffic jams are a common sight on all main roads.
Sitting MP and Union minister of state for panchayati raj Kapil Patil, who banks on support from the gram panchayat areas, has informed voters that he has raised the issue of traffic with Union minister Nitin Gadkari and govt has started work on widening the Mumbai-Agra highway.
Both Centre and state appear mindful of Bhiwandi’s potential for generating employment. The state has issued a notifica tion to legalise with retrospective effect all warehouses built without permits through payment of a fine. “Also, godowns here will get up to 1% FSI, due to which people will be able to build 2-3 storey warehouses,” said Tare. “We also have plans to connect villages with a ring road to cut traffic on the Bhiwandi-Thane road,” said Patil.
These ambitious plans, however, do not quell discontent. Delays in infrastructure projects, poor healthcare services and growing water shortage have dented Patil’s image. The split in Shiv Sena and NCP — both have sizeable votes in Murbad, Kalyan West and Shahpur assembly segments — add to the surprise elements in the contest. Nilesh Sambare, who runs an NGO, is in the fray as Independent from the Kunbi community, which has 4.5 lakh voters, the biggest chunk after Muslims (5 lakh).
Bhiwandi East MLA Rais Shaikh told TOI, “This time the question is not who the candidate is. The anti-BJP alliance is united and with Congress, NCP(SP) and Sena (UBT) having joined hands, we are going to defeat BJP in Bhiwandi.”

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