There is utter confusion among Maharashtra authorities: Rajiv Bajaj

A few days after the ministry of home affairs (MHA) revised lockdown guidelines, several factories in Maharashtra have resumed operations. However, confusion, chaos and lack of coordination among the local authorities and the police with regard to interpretation of the guidelines are impacting operations, said Rajiv Bajaj, managing director (MD) at Bajaj Auto.

Bajaj Auto’s plants in Chakan and Aurangabad haven’t been able to achieve “meaningful production” despite getting the requisite approvals and complying with the government guidelines, Bajaj said.

He added, “Maharashtra on Wednesday seems to have one of the least cohesive and effective responses of the state’s administration towards lifting the lockdown.”

Both Chakan and Aurangabad make two wheelers and three wheelers that are exported to several continents across the world. Bajaj exports more than 40 per cent of its production. Unlike most other auto companies, which are domestic-market focused and have either started production in a small way or are gearing up to start, export commitments make it crucial for the Pune-based company to resume normalcy in production.

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According to Bajaj, the local police is “misinterpreting the 7 pm-7 am curfew” rule and this is something that needs to be corrected. With no people movement permitted during curfew hours, the second shift at the plant is in jeopardy. This simply means social distancing in one shift becomes a challenge, he pointed out.

Also, the operations are getting disrupted owing to supply chain issues as component makers in the sensitive areas of Bhosari, Pirangut, Hinjewadi and Satara, which are part of the Pune automotive ecosystem, remain shut.

“There is no general approval for industries to start in these areas yet. We are trying to get approvals for our vendors in these areas, but no success as yet,” said Bajaj. He alleged there is “confusion among the authorities in Maharashtra. Every authority seems hell-bent on exercising their power.”

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Citing an instance, he said while the collector issues one set of instructions, Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation (MIDC) issues another, municipal commissioners amend everything for their areas, police commissioners do their own thing and police station heads implement their own things in their jurisdiction.

“Ideally, collectors should issue clear guidelines for containment and non-containment zones, municipal commissioners should only have the authority to define such zones in their jurisdiction. Every other authority should follow guidelines, without any of their own discretions,” said Bajaj.

According to Bajaj, things are much smoother and efficient in Uttarakhand. The district magistrate issues guidelines, all follow it. “Maharashtra can and should show that it can do better than a newbie like Uttarakhand,” he added.

To be sure, in many ways, the challenges facing Bajaj owing to the very complex nature of auto manufacturing is unique to the company.

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Engineering company Thermax has not faced similar concerns in Maharashtra. In the state, Thermax has recieved permissions for its Solapur factory and will start operations shortly.

“We plan to operate it at single shift and hence the 7pm deadline would not be a concern,” said MS Unnikrishnan, MD and CEO at Thermax. Anup Nair, MD of Martin Engineering, which operates a factory in Phulgaon, close to Pune, added given his factory shifts are restricted to one, the time deadline is not a concern.

He also termed interactions over opening factories with the nearby police station as cordial.