State of the Economy 2019

Growth Inhibitor

In Ankleshwar, feisty MSMEs that survived the Chinese onslaught say that the fight against red tapism is harder

Photographs by Soumik Kar

In an ideal situation, life ought to have come full circle for Ankleshwar. This industrial town situated between Surat and Vadodara has had a tough period starting 2010 after it earned the dubious distinction of being termed a “critically polluted zone.”

By this time, the effect of Chinese chemical manufacturers was already showing. The spectre of pollution meant sales were declining and that coupled with the Chinese onslaught meant there was little to look forward to. It was only in the end of 2016, a good six years later, when the moratorium on expansion and additional investment was lifted. Suddenly, life was back to normal or so the entrepreneurs here believed.

Today, China does not even find a mention in conversations. Once the government there decided to get tough on pollution norms, Ankleshwar was back on its feet. Chemicals is the biggest story here accounting for 900 of the 1,800 units, with a bulk of that serving industries such as pharmaceuticals, dyes and dye intermediates, pesticides, textiles and plastics. That makes the zone home to companies such as Sun Pharma, Lupin, Glenmark and Asian Paints.

It was at the initiative of the Gujarat Industrial Development Corporation (GIDC) that the industrial estate in Ankleshwar came up in the early 1970s. The 1980s and the subsequent decade was when the biggies started to come in. Though this area was always associated with pollution, it was not till the turn of the century that the voices of protest began to get lounder.   

The positive impact of knocking off the pollution tag is yet to be felt though. Most units are running at optimum capacity, with a worry that more demand cannot be met. That is not a reflection of the competence of the entrepreneur, but of a difficult bureaucracy. Mahesh Patel, president of Ankleshwar Industries Association (AIA), laughs when asked about the challenges he confronts. “Nothing relates to China or the lack of demand. It is all left to the government,” he says. There is a feeling that the joy of getting back to business could be short-lived. The situation

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