Page last updated at 16:31 GMT, Sunday, 25 April 2010 17:31 UK

The contrasting fortunes of Indian car workers

By Brajesh Upadhyay
BBC News, Delhi

The deserted Nano factory in Singur
Tata Motors closed its factory in Singur after protests from local landowners

Roads bring hope and opportunities; they also bring doom and despair.

Bappa and Mahadevan are almost the same age and had similar dreams. Both are sons of farmers, yet trained to work as technicians in car factories.

Until a few years ago, what set them apart was geography. Now, it's also their future.

Bappa lives in Singur in eastern India, where a bitter political battle over land acquisition has forced one of the top car companies in India to shut up shop.

Bappa lost his job when the Tata factory closed

Mahadevan's village is close to Sriperumbudur near Chennai, which houses several auto giants and is known as India's Detroit.

Shattered dreams

Facing a four-lane highway in Singur is the now deserted but heavily secured Tata Motors factory, set up to produce the world's cheapest car, the Nano.

Spread over almost 900 acres of fertile farmland, the factory had assured farmers of jobs along with monetary compensation.

Bappa's family was one of those who gave land to the factory.

In return, they got money, while he got training as a technician followed by a job working on the Nano.

But there were thousands who were unhappy with the way the government had forced them to part with their multi-crop fertile land to make way for the factory, and soon a bitter political battle ensued.

As India embarks on the astounding task of building 20km of new roads every day from June, BBC Hindi has been on a journey across India to find out how this ambitious construction project may change the nation.

The Highway Hindustan team covered 2,500km, travelling along India's Golden Quadrilateral highway network which connects Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai.

Read their news story on how rapid improvement in India's pot-holed roads is crucial to its development.

Also read about how India's new highway to heaven means more and more Hindus are travelling to Varanasi.

The highway was a big advantage for Tata Motors, which ships its products all over India and the world.

But the cost of fighting the battle alongside the government was proving too much. It soon decided to shift to a friendlier state.

For Bappa, it was an abrupt end to a dream.

"It was like somebody snatched away a well laid out meal from my table," he says.

Bappa was getting a salary of 1700 Indian rupees ($38; £25) a month at Nano, but hardly spent anything as his village was close by and food and other expenses were subsidised.

Job creation

Facing another four-lane highway near Sriperumbudur is the Hyundai car factory that rolls out 2,200 cars every day.

Working on the state-of the-art assembly line are robots and trained youngsters from nearby rural areas, where farming is still the main occupation.

It was in one of these villages that Mahadevan used to run after cars as a child. Today, he works at Hyundai as a technician and plans to buy a car of his own.

Mahadevan works for Hyundai and plans to buy a car of his own

"The only problem is my children want to buy the i-20 [high end model]. I want the Santro [economy model]," he says with a smile.

Hyundai is spread over nearly 650 acres of land, part of which locals say was fertile farmland.

V Ramesh, a senior Hyundai executive, says the unit employs close to 10,000 people on the premises, but generates almost 100,000 jobs countrywide.

He says that after the four-lane highway was developed, the company decided to set up a second assembly line within the same complex.

"It's because of this company that more than 100 smaller companies have come up here to supply parts to us," says Mr Ramesh.

As the roads have improved, employees living as far as 80km (50 miles) away get company transport, and many workers commute from their villages.

Lost land

Those living close to the Nano factory had similar expectations.

An auto 'ecosystem' was just beginning to take shape. People bought land close to the highway for shops, roadside eateries and other auto-related commercial ventures.

Now, things have come to a standstill.

The land of agitated farmers is still locked behind barbed wires, the politicians are still making new promises and the compensation money is about to run out.

The Hyundai assembly line ner Sriperumbudur
Many young Indians prefer to work in factories than on farms

"Now we neither have a job, nor our farms," says Srikant, another farmer who lost his land.

Bappa says he wished these roads had never come to his village, or brought the car factory with them.

"Now they have shown me what life is like working in a factory, I can't think of going back to farming," says Bappa.

He says agriculture in India is full of uncertainties and it is better to work in a factory than slogging it out in the field.

In fact, it is this point that puts Bappa and Mahadevan on the same page. Youngsters in Mahadevan's village, too, now prefer factories to farming.

New technical institutions have mushroomed, opening the doors for them to get into companies like Hyundai, Ford, Nissan, Nokia, Samsung and Motorola that are sprouting along the highways.

A far cry from the deserted Tata factory on the four-lane highway in Singur.

Print Sponsor

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Sign in

BBC navigation

Copyright © 2016 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific