“Can you help us make townships with our land?” asks Ajay Pal Singh, a farmer who has lost 300 bighas of land to Builders facilitated by the Greater Noida Development Authority in Bhatta-Parsaul. Lost? Says Singh, the Government (yes! The land acquisition agency is a government department) acquired his multi-crop trans-yamuna land to convert into housing colonies and office buildings, as part of an urbanization program in Western UP, which outlines the Delhi- Taj Mahal express way as an urban corridor. Incidentally, this is also fertile farm land with irrigation, rainfall, with a river running through it.
Singh’s land was acquired at INR 800 per sq.m, and then re-sold by GNIDA at INR 15000 per sq.m, to builders and developers who in turn went ahead and have developed a concrete jungle selling properties at INR 50,000 per sq.m and above to consumers promising proximity to a Formula 1 race track, golf courses, possibly an airport, and of course, global lifestyles.
So what happens with the farmers?
First, they party! most land holdings are in the 100 acre spread so an average farm sells for Crores, buying expensive cars, houses, next, some of them get into politics, and then finally, blow up the money from selling inherited land, to find they have nothing left, while the developers have been laughing all the way to the bank. This story has repeated itself, ad infinitum, ad nauseam, across North India, one of my rural education projects are in the village of Carterpuri, which is a posh Gurgaon suburb, the conditions of farmers, who sold land in the 80’s for the colony to come up, are simply put, appalling. Most don’t work, some have become call center cab drivers ( explains some road rage, does it?), and others are living off their wives incomes, who work as household help. And these are communities which believe in keeping women indoors.
Satish Magar, now CMD, Magarpatta City, saw this happening in the late 80’s in and around Pune. He and his community, who held 430 acres of land, in the outskirts of Pune, realized that they would be fighting a losing battle against urbanization. The city municipal authorities had already notified their land as part of the city development plans and were allowing each farmer to sell their plots to real estate developers. Magar, then thought the unthinkable, How about pooling in the land of 85 – odd families, and creating a township for the next millennium. No Government, no real estate sharks, we’ll do it ourselves. The year was 1993!
Yesterday, I met Satish Magar, Ajay Pal Singh, and Ajit Tikait ( son of Mahendra Singh Tikait– the man who brought tractors with the promise to start ploughing Delhi’s boat club lawns, if the government didn’t listen- but that’s another story) among many other luminaries, at the Annual Lecture of BCF ( Business Community Foundation- a non-profit which creates a CSR connect between corporates and community causes). I have been associated with BCF in various capacities, for over 7 years now, and their executive director, Amita Joseph, never fails to invite me for the lecture, remind me and berate me when I miss, or arrive late J.
Satish Magar, started the session sharing the Magar Patta story in PowerPoint. A practiced play, which encapsulates the journey from getting the farmers together to sign on a blank piece of paper, allotting equity on the basis of land holdings, and then going ahead and building a New Millenium Township which gave the farmers over 10X return on investment, created 250 entrepreneurs from the farmers families to support the skill and services required in building and maintaining the facility , and today is being replicated by the company they floated, in two more projects around Pune, sounds like the stuff of Bollywood and dreams.
Implementing that vision, got Satish Magar, several awards in India, and global recognition. An articulate graduate from the Pune agricultural university, his conviction and drive also made him a darling of the media. But, that’s not what I found interesting! What really got me interested was how he
1. Managed to keep an entire community engaged with his dream for seven long years, before the Pune authorities gave him permission to turn agricultural land into a real estate development,
2. How he managed to market and sell his vision to IT/ BPO companies ranging from IBM to Aviva to come and lease office spaces, which in turn drove demand for housing and services in his city.
Co-creating with the community
The first point is the crux of this process of co-creation. Magar said, “we have a local slang word for folks who sold their single plots- one yard minister!” That and the cultural impact of pooling farm produce, the Magars were sugarcane planters, who had collective memories of pooling and exposure into the value- add earnings in the sugar production chain. And as he told me, “The Amul example, was there for all of us to see”. What he did underplay was the change of paradigm, that got farmers to pool resources and then become shareholders in a real estate company, and then become entrepreneurs in the real estate space, learning new skills, managing new cash flows, and then scaling, some of them independent of the project and beyond. While, the outliers were strong- the factors that made it possible for the community to come together and face the challenge created by urbanization, what really got me thinking was the detailing of the journey through the seven-year wait before a single brick could be laid. “We realized urbanization is here to stay, more and more people will migrate to places and jobs which are more complex and with higher pay. The other factor, was that magic word, Liberalisation! Most of the bureaucrats of the time, didn’t know what to expect and so were willing to allow new experiments to happen,” says Magar. I agree! If one looks at unraveling the real story of India’s Liberalisation it will not just be Dr. Manmohan Singh’s Dream Team, but folks like N. Vittal, who championed the cause of telecom de-regulation and IT outsourcing, and the Pune district commissioner, among countless others, who made the story of Satish Magar possible.
Contrast that with the farmers’ agitation in Bhatta- Parsaul, some holding lands 3-5 times the size of the Magarpatta city, but without the leadership, zest or the community spirit which could have changed the way the story of urbanization worked in India’s liberal economy.
Marketing the vision- This was of obvious interest to me, not just because marketing and communications have been of interest to me since my print media journalism days. But, in the world that went and rose up via social media and networking to support Anna Hazare, and the Greater Noida farmers, how was the Magarpatta story told and sold before any of the above- print journalists, TV, online, or social media came in to support or discredit the story. Magar smiles, “I went everywhere that big builders go, and soon enough realized, they were sending agents and employees to sell their story, it just doesn’t have the conviction of being a farmer and investor.” Plus, because they were new in the game, they listened and listened hard. MagarPatta city generates power out of its waste, has solar water heating built-in, Cat 5 cabling built-in for internet and TV and every eco-friendly building practice in use today, planned and implemented in 2001. Where did that come from? From listening to visionaries who would become their customers, and advocates. Here then are the basics of social media communications, as practiced to perfection by Satish Magar.
- It’s not about tools, it’s about people
- It’s about listening, and listening hard enough to get important and valuable inputs and insights
- Making each constituent a co-creator in the process
In life, social media is not about leaders and followers, it’s about co-creation. Small wonder, that the Magars are now into two more projects, having been invited by farmers in Nanded, and Riverside, Pune, to replicate the experiment there.
while I was mulling about whether to blog about this, (there are two more posts, am still working on) I noted that the government had placed a NEW draft to replace the British colonial-era Land Acquisition Act, 1894, on their website. Jairam Ramesh, India’s rural development minister, announced the bill, earlier yesterday (Friday 29 July, 2011) building a possible case for land owners to get more money for the land they are dispossessed of, and some restrictions around multi-crop land sale, but no word on co-ownership, or co-creation. Looks like the expert committee didn’t look hard at the Magarpatta story, else Satish Magar would have told them, what he shared at the BCF Lecture.
- Land is not an infinite asset- they aren’t making any more of it these days- so it will go on appreciating
- For a farmer, land is inheritance, no one likes to part with family silver
- By pooling in land, the Magars made sure, they got an annuity income, in perpetuity from the land- their inheritance
- And created new livelihoods, which they chose, are profiting from, and are proud of
Finally, “It is not the government’s job to do business with land. Government’s job is to govern!” says Magar. I looked at the news reports on the draft, and didn’t see a single line which even hints at a model for creating land co-operatives of land owners, who can then work with realtors and corporate. Clearly, there’s more controversy awaiting!
Here’s the recorded webcast of Satish Magar’s presentation ! look forward to your comments and views!!