The government promised one job for every farmer family that gave up its land for the construction of Kia Motors, but two years down, there is no sign of employment.

Empty promises No jobs for Anantapurs locals who gave lands for Kia MotorsAll images: Shilpa Ranipeta and Nitin B
Delve Labour and Employment Thursday, June 20, 2019 - 14:18

It’s a hot Thursday morning on the outskirts of Penukonda, a small town in Anantapur district of Andhra Pradesh. As you drive north on the Bengaluru-Hyderabad highway, it’s a long stretch of barren hills and rocks, indicating the region’s water scarcity. That is until you cross Penukonda. While the heat gets no better, small settlements begin to appear, dotted with sign boards in Korean, leading up to a massive production plant sprawled across a whopping 2.1 square kilometres of land. This is the much-talked-about South Korean automobile maker Kia Motors plant.

Even as temperatures near 40 degrees Celsius at 9.30 am, there is a crowd waiting at the entrance of the newly-established plant. Resumes in hand, long lines of hopeful locals stand at the gate, hoping to get hired.

Copies of his resume in hand, a man stands with his 5-year-old son on the side of the road in the blazing sun. “I’ve come from Hindupur to apply for a job here. I’ve given my CV and they said they will call. I’ll be waiting,” he says.

Hardly a few kilometres away, K Nagesh and Veerazanna from Erramanchi village sit at their hangout spot ‘Gobi Point’, from where there is a clear view of Kia’s plant. They too hope to work at the plant one day.

Nagesh and Veerazanna are among the 400 families that gave their lands to the then Telugu Desam Party (TDP) government in 2017 for the construction of Kia’s plant, in return for a compensation of Rs 10.5 lakh per acre and a promise of a job for every youth in the family of the now ‘landless farmers’. Two years down the line, Kia’s production is in full-swing and it has unveiled its first compact SUV, 'Seltos'. But these landless farmers and their families now have no livelihood as the jobs that were promised by the TDP government never came.

“Around 400 farmers gave their lands for Kia and we were told by the state government that 12,000 jobs will be given to locals and first preference will be given to those who gave their lands, but no one has gotten a permanent job there,” Nagesh says.

A ray of hope in drought-prone Anantapur

Anantapur district in Andhra Pradesh is the most drought prone area in the state. This district, which has been drought prone for more than a century, receives the second lowest rainfall in the country. Between June 2018 and January 2019, the region received 47% deficient rainfall, with it witnessing its highest rainfall back in 2007-2008.

In fact, in October 2018, the state government declared all 63 mandals of Anantapur district drought-hit for the fifth consecutive year.

Making matters worse, agriculture in Anantapur district is entirely dependent on rainwater and borewells. And with water levels rapidly depleting, the region not only sees a high number of farmer suicides, but also sees high levels of migration to nearby towns and cities in search of livelihood.

With the then Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu bidding aggressively for investments in the state, Korean automobile major decided to set up its manufacturing unit in Anantapur district of AP after a two-year search across four states in the country. Andhra, was reportedly chosen over Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra with Naidu fielding the state as the most business-friendly in the country.

Not just that, Naidu also assured water supply to Kia in this drought-prone area by interlinking the Godavari and Krishna with the Pattiseema lift irrigation project. This would bring water to the Gandikota reservoir and then it would be diverted to Kia’s site.

Further, the then Andhra government also waived off the state goods and services tax (SGST) for the company for 22 years. While this was a loss to the state’s tax revenues, Naidu hoped this would develop an automobile ecosystem in the region and create thousands of jobs for people.

For a region that has been suffering, a Korean automobile company setting up a massive facility in the heart of the district was a welcome move. Kia’s plant sprawls over 536 acres of land and has been set up with an investment of over a billion US dollars. With production already underway, Kia plans to make over 3 lakh cars at this plant every year.

For locals, who have been struggling with deficit rainfall and meagre resources, Kia’s plant brought hope of development to the region. While construction was underway, Naidu, on several occasions said that Kia would become the single largest employer for this drought-prone region as it was set to employ 3,000 direct and 7,000 indirect jobs. And not just Kia, a number of ancillary companies were being set up to provide parts and accessories to Kia, which would also generate jobs for the locals. With several South Koreans also moving to Anantapur to work at Kia and at the various ancillary plants being set up, there was an expectation that it would lead to development of infrastructure to cater to their needs. This would include guest houses, restaurants, stores, etc.

“Penukonda is worst hit by drought and we face a lot of water problems too. And when such a big company came to a place like this, we had such high hopes, but not one local has benefited,” Nagesh claims.

Empty promises

Erramanchi alone has 500 educated youth holding commerce, engineering, MBA degrees who are unemployed, locals say. Of these, 400 are from families that gave their land to the government.

Speaking at an event in Anantapur in February 2018 after the plant was set up, Naidu had expressed confidence that the automobile giant would build one million vehicles every year, adding, "4,000 direct employment and 7,000 indirect employment (will be generated). A majority of the employees; more than 80 percent, will be from Anantapur district or from Andhra Pradesh. That is the biggest contribution from Kia Motors."

“Before Kia came, almost all of us were dependent on agriculture. But we don’t even have land anymore, neither do we have jobs. All we do is sit here, stare at the plant in hope,” another local says.

Most of them who had moved to Bengaluru, Chennai and Hyderabad to study and work there also returned in hopes of working for a reputed company, while being at home.

“There was no formal agreement from the government but only a promise of jobs, especially for land losers. But nothing was said on what type of jobs those would be. The government just said one job per family but didn’t specify what qualification. Now they're saying no skills, not enough education, not the right degree, etc,” Nagesh says.

They say that even the very few who have gotten jobs are for housekeeping, which is done by third-party agencies who take them on a contractual basis and then supply labour to Kia.

“But no local has been employed directly. Even the affiliate ancillaries aren’t giving them jobs. Even the housekeeping jobs are being given only through recommendation,” he claims.

A guesthouse for Korean migrants

The hope of employment and livelihood and a promise made by the TDP government still brings hundreds of people from neighbouring villages knocking on Kia’s doors every morning. But locals allege that most jobs are given to people coming from Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and even some from big cities, such as Hyderabad.

“They didn’t tell us what degrees were required. Now we hear that they prefer those who have done Polytechnic. Had we known, or had they told us, we would have studied that and prepared ourselves in time,” another local in Erramanchi says.

An ancillary unit

Uncertain employment

The story of Ammavarupalli, a village on the other side of Kia’s plant has a similar story to tell. Many farmers from this village too, gave up their lands for the construction of this plant.

“Many youngsters from our village who are well educated gave their resumes but haven’t gotten a call for jobs yet. We happened to approach some agencies and a handful of us have gotten a housekeeping job through them, but no one has been employed directly by Kia,” a local, who didn’t want to be named, said.

His friend Diwakar, who also works with him says that though they are doing a housekeeping job, their contract is set to end this month and there is no clarity of their employment post that.

“Since we joined, they keep saying that contract will change, but nothing has been conveyed to us. This is our last month and we don’t know what is going to happen next. We’re not paid also properly,” he alleges.

Even housekeeping jobs are not being sought by locals since they are on a contractual basis with meagre pay.

Those doing the housekeeping jobs are paid Rs 12,000 a month excluding various deductions. After all that is cut, locals say, they get roughly Rs 8,000-9,000 in hand.

“Today we will work and tomorrow they can tell us to leave. How can we depend on a job like that? What we want are permanent jobs,” Veerazanna says.

Protest and political pressure

However, these locals haven’t been sitting quiet. Erramanchi’s youth say that they have approached the Collector several times, and even staged two protests in January. But they are sent away with empty promises each time.

“We even went to meet the ex-Collector of Anantapur, Veerapandian. He kept saying come today, come tomorrow and only gave us false hopes. As of now they have asked us to wait till September, so we’re waiting to see what happens. In fact, there was a meeting recently. They called us for an interview and said they will call back, but we never got a call. I’m beginning to think that was just because of elections. During elections, even YSRCP held a strike here but the police didn’t allow us to join at the time,” Veerazanna says.

No obligations

While an official response from Kia Motors is awaited, sources in the know say that Kia's investment in Anantapur was purely a corporate one and offering jobs to locals or specifically the landless farmers wasn't part of the deal. 

"Job creation would happen as Kia would require local resources. But from a formal documented point of view, there was no inclusion of giving jobs to X number of people because of them giving land. We cannot hire someone who's not qualified enough for a technical role. However, we have held several job fairs and have hired locals. We also have a training center to upskill people as well. But can Kia guarantee jobs for everyone? I don't think so," a source said. 

But with YSRCP forming government in the state now, locals hope that the newly appointed MLA will do something about finding them employment.

In fact, while campaigning in Anantapur before Assembly Elections, Jagan said in a public meeting that the YSRCP would pass a Bill to reserve 75 percent jobs for local people if voted to power. He reportedly said that this would be applicable to both existing and new companies set up in the state.

Jagan, in the same meeting, also said that he will establish skill development centres for people who lack the required skills, which would be based on the industries present in their regions.

Speaking to TNM, Shankar Narayana, the current MLA of Penukonda says that CM Jagan Mohan Reddy is aware of the situation. He says that the promise made by the previous government of providing 75% jobs to locals will be implemented.

“Kia is saying that they are recruiting those with education in mechanical, electrical engineering and diploma holders. There are engineers among the locals too. We will approach the management very soon and ask them to recruit youth from these villages. We are confident that it will be done by the end of the year. Jagan is currently focusing on implementing ‘Navaratnalu’ (Jagan’s nine welfare schemes). Once he has some time, I will definitely take the matter to him again and we will finalise a resolution,” he says.

The youth have also been told that there is more construction set to happen and the Mandal Revenue Officer of Penukonda has told them to wait.

In fact, another 300 acres that was earmarked by the government is yet to be acquired. Locals allege that they will have to give away the lands at the same cost as earlier even if they don’t want to.

While these lands were sold at Rs 10.5 lakh per acre, locals claim that land prices have risen to nearly Rs 90 lakh to Rs 1 crore. But that too is of no benefit to them as they are bound to sell their lands to the government at the price that was fixed at Rs 10.5 lakh per acre in 2017 itself.

Despite all of this, locals continue to hold onto hope.

“We are ready to do any job they give us, even if it’s housekeeping and even if they pay us just Rs 10,000 a month. But it has to be a permanent job. We don’t want temporary contractual jobs where we always fear when we will become unemployed again,” Nagesh says.

TNM has reached out to Kia Motors and is yet to receive a response from them. The copy will be updated with the response as and when it comes.

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