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Surat collector Aayush Oak puts migrants’ issues on top priority

| Updated: September 10, 2021 17:37

Aayush Sanjeev Oak, a young IAS of Gujarat 2011 cadre is the Collector of Surat. Born to an architect father and a mother who once worked in the banking sector in Pune, Oak never thought of pursuing what his parents did. Even his parents were supportive enough to let him choose his own path.

He was once a science student who hardly thought about civil services while growing up. “After my graduation, I got a job offer from a Bengaluru-based IT company. I accepted the offer and for eight months I attended their pre-service training and also pursued preparation for civil services. Soon I realised one can’t do both. Today if I weren’t an IAS, I would be definitely working somewhere in the IT or automobile industry.”

Keeping patience for three years

“When my friends were either flying abroad for further studies, shifting to metro cities, or joining multi-national companies, I was at home studying all day. I wanted to give my 100 percent and so, I chose to focus on civil services preparation and leave everything else. There was no family pressure to earn but you do have second thoughts as three years is a long time. Somehow, I sustained the period.”

City of migrants

There’s probably no district in Gujarat from where people haven’t migrated to Surat for work. Surat also has migrants from at least 21 states from across India: nearly 2.5 lakh people from Orissa, about 10 lakh from the Saurashtra region, 3 lakh from UP, around 2 lakh from Bihar and Jharkhand, 1 lakh from Rajasthan and about 50,000 from Telangana, and West Bengal. 

This is a primary reason that migrant issues have topped Oak’s list of priorities. He said, “One of the issues I want to emphasise is the migrant’s problem in the city. Even my processors have worked on this and I’m just carrying forward the legacy.”

Oak added, “Government has to provide a lot of basic services to migrants in an efficient way. In comparison to females, the male population is higher in Surat as most men leave their families in villages and migrate here for work opportunities in the diamond and textile industry. Due to lack of Aadhar verification, many lose out on receiving basic food grains but due to One Nation, One Ration this problem is getting solved. If a person migrates from Odisha to Surat and he has an Aadhar card he becomes a direct beneficiary to avail food grains from any fair price shop in Surat. He doesn’t have to get the location changed in his Aadhar to get the facility.”

There are seven lac Odia workers engaged in different forms of work in Surat – most of whom are from the Ganjam district. The Odisha state government has little information about these workers. This became evident when during the COVID-19 lockdown, nearly two lakh migrants returned to their villages from Surat. These workers are employed mostly in activities like textile manufacturing, dyeing and printing, power loom, embroidery, cutting and packing of cloth, construction, diamond cutting and polishing, among others.

“It is difficult for the local administration to issue new ration cards to migrants on an immediate basis as they are large in number. Due to One Nation, One Ration the person starts getting the benefit of ration card in just 3-4 working days.”  Oak said.

Dichotomy of development in a single state

Having worked as a collector in both places, Surat and Amreli, Aayush talks about the dichotomy of development in a single state. The prosperous become more prosperous and the poor become poorer. “When we talk about Surat and Amreli, we can’t negate historical and geographical reasons that determine the presence of these cities. Surat has always been well connected to Mumbai, has good rainfall, even British and Dutch explored Surat’s port. In a short span of 75 years, we can’t undo or ignore the 2000 years of history that Surat has. 

On the other hand, Amreli has seen both absentees’ landlords and Gaekwards. “It is a drought-prone area, geographically set aside from historical roots of transportation. There is a lot of migration from Saurashtra to Surat. During my tenure in Amreli, I saw how the cotton and groundnut industry is booming in the place. Oil mills, ginning mills and growing entrepreneurship. Infact, the pace of development in Saurashtra is better than in Surat. Surat is an ocean and every development looks like a drop in the ocean. Surat has a saturation point, Saurashtra doesn’t.”

Shifting the trade from Mumbai to Surat

Surat-people are solution-oriented believes Oak. He emphasised two major projects that will alter the city’s progress graph in the years to come. “In comparison to Ahmedabad, Surat has a lesser advanced airport. But over 350 crores project to upgrade the airport will triple the passenger handling facility in coming two years. This also helps boost business.”

Another project is Surat Diamond Bourse, with it Surat is all set to become a diamond trading hub. Surat manufactures more than 90% of the diamonds in the world with an annual turnover of 1.5 lakh crore. Most of them have their offices at Mumbai’s BDB for trading diamonds to their international clientele. Diamantaires will have to no longer fly to Mumbai as the Bourse in Khajod will avail all facilities. The initiative is expected to bring in a turnover of over two lakh crores annually.

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