Maharashtra Day: What Makes Pune The Unsung Star Of The India Story

Aashish Chandorkar

May 01, 2024, 01:10 PM | Updated 01:10 PM IST

Pune boasts a diverse economic profile.
Pune boasts a diverse economic profile.
  • Maharashtra Day is a time to appreciate Pune's vital role in India's economic growth.
  • Maharashtra and Gujarat contribute roughly half of India’s total merchandise goods exports. In fact, the top four districts in terms of goods exports — Jamnagar, Surat, Mumbai Suburban and Mumbai are all from these two states.

    Pune district in Maharashtra and Kancheepuram district in Tamil Nadu tend to be neck-and-neck in terms of India’s export share, with both districts contributing about 3 per cent to the total, vying for the fifth spot.

    Both Gujarat and Maharashtra — two economic powerhouse states celebrate their formation day today (1 May), emerging out of the erstwhile Bombay state 64 years ago. 

    Maharashtra continues to contribute significantly to India’s growth today and the one district that can provide significant marginal upside to this process is Pune.

    The reason is quite simple — Pune has a multifaceted economic persona. Home to a range of industries, well placed to participate in the industries of the future and a hub for global services — the city brings a unique value proposition that differentiates the city from other urban clusters — Indian as well as global. 

    Pune had been an industrial destination even before independence. But in the 1950s, as the institutions like the National Institute of Virology, National Chemical Laboratory, National Defence Academy and Hindustan Antibiotics among others were set up in Pune, the city became an important hub of defence, engineering and pharmaceutical manufacturing as well.

    This competency was further bolstered when European firms, especially from then West Germany, Sweden and Switzerland found Pune to be a good base for their manufacturing operations. 

    Being an educational hub, Pune was home to strong talent while Mumbai, India’s commercial capital, was close by. 

    The biggest manifestation of this growth was when Mercedes-Benz set shop in Pune in 1994. Choosing the city as its India base, the luxury brand has come a long way since, now exporting its flagship GLE model to its home markets in Europe from Pune.

    John Deere, the American farm equipment major, was another notable name to choose Pune as its base a couple of decades ago. Today, the firm exports fully built tractors to the United States and Europe from Pune. 

    The interesting trifecta of defence, engineering and pharmaceutical manufacturing has since continued and evolved, with cutting edge work happening at the various intersections of these domains. 

    Today, firms like Bharat Forge, from Pune, are supplying new weapon systems to the Indian armed forces as well as to export markets. Baba Kalyani, the Managing Director of Bharat Forge has emerged as a key name in taking the defence-industrial complex further as the current government focuses on defence aatmanirbharta.

    On the other hand, there are ambitious startups like Sagar Defence Engineering, which are supplying critical equipment to the Indian Navy. The armed forces are using this equipment for bolstering defence capabilities against arch rivals like China and Pakistan. Recently, when INS Kolkata rescued a hijacked Pakistani fishing boat off the coast of Somalia, the drones used in the operation came from this firm.

    Pharmaceutical industry is another area where Pune has excelled. 

    Pune’s capabilities were at the forefront of India’s Covid-19 battle. The National Institute of Virology was instrumental in sequencing the virus and at the forefront of patient sample testing. The Pune-based MyLab became the first firm to gets its Covid-19 test equipment validated, helping reduce the cost and scale the prevalence of sample testing.

    And then there are also firms like Serum Institute of India, which have become international leaders in vaccine manufacturing, expanding their contract manufacturing as well as product capabilities rapidly. 

    Pune also took handsomely to India’s software revolution, emerging as a key hub for the service sector starting at the turn of this century. It is home to India’s largest information technology (IT) services firms, which employ a large number of software talent and were instrumental in the city’s rapid area and population expansion in the last decade.

    In the contemporary era, Pune has been home to unicorns like Druva, ElasticRun, ExpressBees, FirstCry, Icertis, MindTickle and Rebel Foods. Technology behemoth Google recently came to Pune as well.

    It is also home to many global capabilities centres (GCC), the new trend that is strengthening India's position as a leading service exports hub. 

    The British bank HSBC was one of the first ones to set up a GCC in Pune. Today, from Barclays to BP to Roche, global business leaders are increasingly finding their way to Pune.

    Pune also plays a critical role in realising the gains of the flagship Production Linked Incentive (PLI) programmes. 

    Firms like Ericsson and Jabil are contributing to the Narendra Modi government’s vision of attaining aatmanirbharta in critical sectors. In the new age industries too, Pune has a big role to play. For example, the electric vehicle industry has players like Pinnacle Industries investing in Pune.

    Pune’s model of economic expansion is one where the government, industry and academia have worked closely over the years to position the city in a unique and attractive manner. The next industrial clusters can take key lessons from this experience. 

    The city is home to comprehensive national capabilities on a range and scale tough to emulate and brings critical foreign exchange to the country as a big export destination.

    Maharashtra Day is an apt occasion to raise a toast to the tremendous contribution Pune has made over the years to India’s economic well being.

    Aashish Chandorkar is Counsellor at the Permanent Mission of India to the World Trade Organization in Geneva. He took up this role in September 2021. He writes on public policy in his personal capacity.

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