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17 Apr 2022  |   05:52am IST

DRIVING DOWN THE LOGISTICS LANE ON THE SUPER HIGHWAY

Alexandre Moniz Barbosa

Goa has been pushing the idea of a logistics hub and it already does have some of the infrastructure that would be required. Despite the protests, the State developing its second greenfield international airport at Mopa, is developing National Highway 66, linking it to the upcoming airport at Mopa, is widening the National Highway 4A, adding a second line to the existing South Central Railway line that connects the port at Mormugao to the rest of the country. These are all indications that Goa is in the process of taking forward its plan to develop as a logistics hub.

Former Union Industries Minister, Suresh Prabhu, in October 2020, speaking at the meeting of the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) conference on logistics suggested that Goa would be the ideal location for a logistics hub as, within a compact area it had an international airport, a sea port, an excellent road and railway network, all the ingredients that make up such a hub. This wasn’t the first time Prabhu had suggested this. In 2018, when he headed the Union Industries Ministry, he had already announced that Goa would be converted into a logistics hub. Chief Minister, Dr Pramod Sawant, speaking at the same meeting had agreed and said that a logistics hub could work as a catalyst for Goa’s economic growth. There were two interesting points that Sawant made there – one that the Mopa airport will be a cargo hub and the other that the deliberations at the meeting would help Goa develop a roadmap for a multimodal logistics hub that would be a game changer for the State and in turn spur employment.

To understand further that these are not mere statements, but there has been some thinking on the matter already, one has to glance at the Union government’s cargo policy which was unveiled in January 2019 and which aims at making cargo drive the country’s economy ahead. As per the policy, international cargo comprises 60 per cent of the total air cargo handled in the country, logging a growth of 15.6 per cent in the previous fiscal, while domestic cargo grew by over 8 per cent, which reflects the skewed modal mix, in which roads account for over 60 per cent of cargo transportation as compared to the global average of around 30 per cent.

Simultaneously, outside the confines of the CII meeting, the people were voicing their protests to the second railway line on the South Western Railway and the widening of the highway as both these projects, in addition to the power transmission project at Mollem would lead to thousands of trees being cut. The Save Mollem movement was growing and soon led to sit-ins and candlelight night vigils on the railway tracks to prevent the work of laying a second track. Those protests have got one victory, the Supreme Court recently accepted the report of the Central Empowered Committee on the route of the power transmission lines.

There has been speculation of Goa emerging as a logistics hub for long. The site logisticsindia.in had in June 2020 reported on how Goa could aspire to this. The Mopa airport and the expansion of the railway and highway network are crucial to this plan, but there is more as the State government in 2018 had allotted 14,380 square meters of land in Verna Industrial Estate to Konkan Maritime Cluster, that aims to improve core strength of it 49 units and make them more competitive. The maritime cluster is a move to boost the ship-building industry in the State and bring in the culture of clusters in other businesses too. For a logistics hub the inland waterways attain crucial importance and this has already drawn objection from the people. Herein comes the Sagarmala Project in which the cost estimate was put to Rs 8 lakh crore for the completion of the entire project. Out of this Rs 8 lakh crore, almost Rs 2.5 lakh crore has been invested till now. The figure is increasing and the major task of the government is on how to involve and bring in private investment. But there is opposition to this project in the State.

Other than the maritime cluster, already existing at Balli, in South Goa, is the Concor Multi Modal Logistics Park that was set up in 2018 following a memorandum of understanding between Konkan Railways Corporation and Container Corporation of India (CONCOR). The logistics park is meant to handle domestic and exim container traffic, besides being equipped to handle commodities transported by open and covered wagons. A 5000 square metre customs bonded warehousing space has also been created but until February 2021 this was not functional since it had not got customs certification to handle import and export business, despite an inspection of the facility having been conducted some six months earlier. As a result, CONCOR was handling domestic movement of pig iron and food grains.

Importantly, a logistics hub requires land in large quantity and that is not available in the State. The article in logisticsindia.in is clear that for Goa to become a logistics hub and attain export-led growth, ‘land requirement will increase among different sectors besides manufacturing, while warehousing will become a major concern. The government will have to holistically plan the development for the coming 20 years and indicate which lands could be utilised for different sectors manufacturing, technology, tourism, education, entertainment, food and agriculture, logistics, etc.’ Will a logistics hub, therefore, be an ideal alternative for Goa?

In addition, Goa has a large pharmaceutical industry, with almost all major companies in the country having a manufacturing unit in the State. Yet, though Mormugao Port Trust has been approved as a designated port under the Drugs and Cosmetics Act, pharmaceutical traffic at the port is still low, and much of it is routed through the Nhava Sheva port in Maharashtra. If Goa does consider a logistics hub, container traffic of the pharmaceutical industry could play a major role in building up the port’s profitability.

Since a logistics hub is still at the proposal stage with no proper direction, there has been no environment impact assessment conducted as yet. Given Goa’s very fragile eco-system and high environmental awareness, such an unbiased study is essential. Since it will raise the amount of transportation it will lead to increased levels of air and noise pollution on the routes and last week this column had cautioned about just that. Goa has environmental concerns, but it also requires industry to support the economy, it has to find the middle path.

Alexandre Moniz Barbosa is Editor, Herald. He tweets at @monizbarbosa