Bajaj Auto irked by Maharashtra response in lifting lockdown

Murali Gopalan Mumbai | Updated on May 06, 2020

Rajiv Baja, MD, Bajaj Auto   -  PAUL NORONHA

Supply chain not set right, curfew implementation not practical, says Rajiv Bajaj

Bajaj Auto’s Managing Director Rajiv Bajaj makes no bones about saying that Maharashtra today has “one of the least cohesive and effective responses” towards lifting the lockdown.

His reaction stems from the numerous hurdles the company’s Chakan plant near Pune is up against while attempting to restart operations, as prescribed by the State government in Lockdown 3.0. For one, according to Bajaj, the local police is “misinterpreting the 7 pm - 7 am curfew” rule and this is something that needs to be corrected.

Beyond Chakan, there is a dire need to get the supply chain system up and running soon. This encompasses component makers in the sensitive areas of Bhosari, Pirangut, Hinjewadi and Satara, which are part of the Pune automotive ecosystem. Nothing has been done to facilitate this process and valuable time has been lost, said Bajaj.

Clearly, the State government is paranoid about the rising number of Covid-19 infections — Maharashtra accounts for a lion’s share of the India tally. Bajaj, however, has reiterated that he will continue to reject this “talk of numbers of cases being higher” in the State.

Understanding the numbers

To start with, “we don’t even know whether we are comparing like-to-like”, a clear reference to the number of cases tested per capita of population. “Moreover, I see higher positive cases, provided deaths are minimal, as a welcome sign of herd immunity being built,” Bajaj told BusinessLine.

Unfortunately, he added, the State administration sees it exactly the opposite, “as a deterioration”. In the process, this erroneously “drives them around in circles chasing their own tails”.

As a result, continued Bajaj, “they will never climb out of this hole of a lockdown that they have dug themselves into” unless they come to terms with reality, basis facts. “They have put all science aside and are reacting to the anxiety in the galleries when they should instead have been educating the galleries better, basis logic,” he said.

Bajaj’s leadership team has constantly kept him apprised of the situation at Chakan, where there are major problems to reckon with. With no people movement permitted between 7 pm and 7 am, the second shift at the plant is in jeopardy. This simply means that social distancing in one shift becomes a challenge.

‘Utter confusion’

Clearly, there is “utter confusion” among the authorities in Maharashtra with each hierarchical layer “hell-bent” on exercising its individual powers. For instance, a collector issues one set of instructions and the MIDC (Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation) another set while the municipal commissioners amend everything for their respective areas. Additionally, police commissioners are “on another trip” while police station heads are busy implementing “their own things” in their jurisdiction.

This view was seconded by the head of a top component supplier, who said: “There is no unity of command in Maharashtra…the police think they are municipal commissioners and the collectors believe they are the bosses.”

This confusing state of affairs extends to Waluj, Aurangabad, where Bajaj Auto’s other plant in Maharashtra is located . Here, the MIDC took three days to have its website up but the glitches continued.

Even after it gave the go-ahead for restarting industries, the collector refused to allow transport for workers and insisted that factories provide them lodging facilities within the premises. This back-and-forth only resulted in needless loss of time extending to nearly a week.

What’s needed

An ideal scenario, from Bajaj Auto’s viewpoint, should see collectors issuing clear guidelines for containment and non-containment zones. Municipal commissioners should only have the authority to define such zones in their jurisdictions while every other authority should follow the guidelines without taking arbitrary decisions.

The silver lining, according to Bajaj, is that things are a lot “smoother and efficient” in Pantnagar, Uttarakhand, where its third plant is located. There is very little of the heavy-handed bureaucracy of Maharashtra and applications are easy to understand and okayed almost overnight. The plant is buzzing with activity and the supply chain is also in place.

According to the two-wheeler maker, all approvals in Uttarakhand are comprehensive, including permission for supporting activities such as inbound/outbound logistics, warehousing operations and so on. By the end of the day, an industrialised State like Maharashtra has lost out on the efficiency stakes to a newcomer like Uttarakahand which is far more nimble and pragmatic, said industry experts.

Published on May 06, 2020

Follow us on Telegram, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and Linkedin. You can also download our Android App or IOS App.

This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor