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Raj: Barmer's journey from 'zero industrial potential' to state's front-runner district

By Ians English
Google Oneindia News
 In 2004, Cairn India discovered the Mangala oil field, considered the country's biggest such on land.
Barmer, Oct 16: Once known as "kala pani" where government employees were sent on punishment postings, Rajasthan's Barmer district situated along the India-Pakistan border and part of Thar desert is today witnessing transformational changes.

The discovery of hydrocarbon reserves and the fastest growing production profile have catapulted Barmer to among the state's front-runner districts.

The transformational journey from the bottom of the development ladder to the top traverses a decade. In 2004, Cairn India discovered the Mangala oil field, considered the country's biggest such on land. Before this, the government's annual economical surveys categorised Barmer as a district with "zero industrial potential". But things have taken a 180 degree swing since then. The once sleepy and dusty town is today competing with metros, perhaps not in ambiance but definitely in terms of house rent and land price.

Recalling the old days, Om Prakash Ojha of Jodhpur told IANS: "My father was in the police service and I still remember those two most difficult years of my student life when he was transferred to Barmer. It was a place where managing every basic necessity of life was a challenge. There was no pure water to drink, no decent place to stay, no market and no means of transportation."

Today, villages of this district are witnessing a silent water revolution. Gone are the days when it was infamous as "Kala Pani" due to the scarcity of potable water. The production of crude oil and the utilization of latest technology have provided an out-of-the-box solution to the problem: drinking water facility at just the swipe of a card at Any Time Water machines.

"It gives us immense satisfaction to witness that the community where we work is developing at such pace. We expect this growth journey to continue in coming decades," Nilesh Jain, head of Corporate Social Responsibility at Cairn India, told IANS.

Cairn's prolific Barmer oilfield has contributed over Rs. 35,000 crore ($6 billion) to the government's exchequer in taxes and profits since production started five years ago. Crude oil production from the block has helped in reducing the import bill by Rs.119,000 crore till the March 31 end of fiscal 2013-14. For a nation that imports more than 70 percent of its oil requirements, the output from the Barmer oilfield accounts for close to 25 percent of domestic crude production.

The discovery of Mangala has transformed the socio-economic landscape of the region as well. Landowners who were dependent on sporadic rainfall to sow and harvest the bajra (peral millet) crop have seen their fortunes rise by selling their land to Cairn and also to the Jindal Group's JSW, which operates a huge power plant in the district.

Driven by the entrepreneurial spirit of the local community, the service economy has been booming. "Barmer, which used to have a couple of hotels in 2003, now boasts of 18 hotels," said Pravin Sodha of Sanchal Fort - a newly-constructed hotel with a heritage look. This is the first sign of the growing tourist industry in the district, which otherwise doesn't have much to offer to tourists.

"We are trying to develop activity-based tourism here and the presence of oil companies assures us of fair business round the year," Sodha added.

"There used to be only ATM in the town about 6-7 years back. Now, almost all private and nationalised banks have opened their branches and ATMs in the city," Vikram Singh Taratra, a local resident who has seen the city transforming over the years, told IANS.

One is even surprised to see almost 2,000-2,500 taxis, including over 300 Toyota Innova maxicabs, plying on the narrow roads of the city. "These cabs are being used by the corporate houses that have come here in the last few years to carry their employees from one place to another," Taratra added.

Land and real state property rates in Barmer are higher than in state capital Jaipur.

"If you want to buy property or are looking for a house on rent, then it may come as a shock for you. Rent of a double bed room house may go as high as Rs.20,000-Rs.40,000 per month and a three-bedroom house between Rs.40,000 and Rs.60,000 a month, Ramesh Kumar, a local property dealer, told IANS.


(Anil Sharma can be contacted at anil.s@ians.in)

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