It was on October 20, 2020 that Union Minister Shri Nitin Gadkari had set the ball rolling for India’s first international Multi-Modal Logistics Park (MMLP) to be built at a place called Jogighopa situated in Lower Assam’s Bongaigaon district, at an investment of Rs. 3,000 crore under the Bharatmala Project. The site is located about 150 km off Guwahati and is being developed on a 317 acre area of land by the river Brahmaputra. It is aimed at improving logistics efficiency and facilitate domestic and export-import trade both within and outside the region. This shall also help promote economic growth and enhance India’s trade competitiveness through an integrated, seamless, efficient, reliable and cost-effective logistics network, besides offering multi-modal connectivity by means of rail, road and waterways to the North-eastern states of India and beyond.
The Jogighopa MMLP Project is the first among 35 such MMLP projects that have been identified for implementation across the country. It is also the only one that will be funded completely by the Government of India. The Union Ministry of Road Transport and Highways has entrusted the National Highways and Infrastructure Development Corporation Limited (NHIDCL) with the responsibility of the development of the MMLP at Jogighopa. The Government of Assam has approved the transfer of 200 acres of land belonging to the Ashok Paper Mills for the purpose. A formal MoU signing ceremony also took place between NHIDCL and Ashok Paper Mills on October 20 during the inauguration of the Project.
Linked to the Eastern-Western Corridor via the Tulungia-Hapachara Highway connecting Guwahati and Goalpara, a project awarded for improvement to a four-lane highway, the Jogighopa MMLP is proposed to be developed in two different phases. It will be led by a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) that shall include officials from the Government of Assam, NHIDCL, and Ashok Paper Mills. Under Phase I of the Project which is scheduled to be completed by 2023, 102 acres of the MMLP will be developed along with the external rail and road connectivity, at an estimated total cost of Rs. 693.07 crore. Under Phase II, the remaining work of the logistics park will be taken up. However, Phase II is still in the project preparation stage and the project cost is yet to be finalised. The project timeline shows that Assam still has ample time at hand to draw up an actionable agenda aimed at making optimum utilisation of the infrastructure coming up at Jogighopa.
The principal components of the Project are:
- Development of an MMLP over 190 acres of land at the Ashok Paper Mill site;
- Developing a network of external roads and establishing railway connectivity to and from the MMLP and between the MMLP and the Inland Water Terminal (IWT). This includes doubling of the New Bongaigaon-Goalpara-Guwahati railway line, and upgradation of the Jogighopa river port of the Brahmaputra as an all-weather river port, and facilitating a seamless interchange between the three modes of transportation.
- Developing 40 acres of land of the IWT.
- A 3-km railway line to connect Jogighopa station to the multimodal park, another 3-km railway link which will connect it to the IWT, and the road to the newly developed Rupsi airport in Dhubri and Kokrajhar districts of Assam will be upgraded to a four-lane road for easier connectivity.
The underdeveloped logistics of Northeast India has been the primary reason behind the numerous delays that are caused in the business and transportation of finished products. It has also hindered the export and import of various products, including fresh fruits and vegetables of the region in the international market. These are perishable products that get easily damaged even before they can be exported and marketed in the domestic circuit beyond the Northeast.
Currently, Assam has only one container-handling facility at Amingaon in Guwahati which caters to the industrial units of Assam, Tripura, and Meghalaya. Hence, the logistics park at Jogighopa with its vantage location is expected to go a long way in filling up these lacunae, thereby facilitating the ease of doing business in the Northeast. It is because this hub will speed up the export-import facility of perishable items such as fruits and vegetables at a cost lesser than that compared to the present ones.
Assam and the other states of Northeast India have a huge untapped potential for the development of food-processing industries. The central government has already allocated Rs. 640 crore for assisting around 13,000 micro food enterprises in the state. Proper care must thus be taken to link some of these enterprises to the export market, keeping in mind the targeted end-users of the logistics hub. The food-processing units must also be integrated with different packaging units for enhancing their value-addition capacity.
In this context, the MMLP is expected to open up a wide range of opportunities for exporting goods from Assam and its neighbouring states to Bangladesh, Bhutan, and Nepal by reducing the logistics cost of handling containers in the region. On the part of the Assam government, it needs to decide on what its trade basket can offer to the buyers in these countries.
Even though India’s engagement with its neighbourhood has increased manifold, the state of Assam has not been able to reap the benefits of these enhanced bilateral and multilateral engagements, despite sharing its borders with both Bangladesh and Bhutan. According to data of the Landport Authority of India, the Integrated check-post at Petrapole in West Bengal accounts for about 70% of the trade exchanges between India and Bangladesh. Thus, Assam’s trade basket needs to be diversified with a view to exploring niche markets in the neighbouring countries so as to exploit the full potential of the massive logistics infrastructure that is coming up at Jogighopa.
On the investment front, the MMLP shall prove to be a game-changer as it will make the task easier for industrialists and big businesses to bring in raw materials and then transport the finished products to markets outside, while taking care of the cold-storage factor too. The MMLP will offer a single-point clearance platform for various government mandatory approvals like customs, excise, etc. and a wide range of facilities like warehouse, railway siding, yard facility, workshops, petrol pumps, truck parking, eating joints and accommodation, and water treatment plants, thereby helping in the smooth transportation of goods and products.
It will also help to reach out to the markets of the ASEAN countries under the ‘Act East Policy’ of the Government of India.
Besides the ancillary and downstream industries, the project will boost up economic activity in terms of employment and income-generation among the local residents here. It has been projected that the logistics park will generate around 20 lakh direct and indirect employment avenues which seems quite an achievable target. It is now the responsibility of the government to ensure that the work of the Jogighopa MMLP Project does not end up being like the several past development projects of the region which could not materialise for having failed to meet the deadline set for their completion.
In fact, one of the major factors which has, for a long time now, stood in the way of the overall development of the Northeast is that the region is a geographically landlocked one with poor communication networks. In order to rectify the follies of the previous Congress governments at both the Centre and the state, the stress is now being laid upon the improvement of connectivity links of Northeast India not only with the mainland but also with the neighbouring countries.
Assam being the gateway to the Northeast, the laying of the foundation for the country’s first international MMLP has generated hopes that it will give the state the much-required thrust to usher in development and progress on all fronts. A few suggestions in this regard can be made as follows:
- The state must rise to the occasion to showcase the MMLP to potential investors from outside and attract them to set up manufacturing units.
- The focus should also be equally laid on grooming local exporters for whom it will be much easier to identify the untapped areas for expanding the state’s export footprint.
- Locations of industries must be selected taking into consideration their connectivity from the industrial farm gates to the multimodal logistics hubs.
- The state government must ensure the convergence of various departments specifically, for coming up with a meticulous export strategy with the active participation of all government and non-government stakeholders.
- Banking and other financial institutions should also be roped in to enable easy financial support for first-generation exporters in the state.
While a few industrial projects crawled at snail’s pace in the state over the years, they were not just enough to usher in fast-paced development in the region. The lack of proper planning and requisite investments to execute the timely implementation of the plans, also acted as an obstruction for the state in meeting its development objectives. Hence, in order to enable the motor of development move faster, well thought-out plans and investments to execute the same is a must.
In this respect, In order to ensure that past history does not repeat itself again and the MMLP comes to its full fruition, the Government of Assam must make a judicious use of its time to increase its export potentials in all possible aspects. The state will definitely miss the bus if it waits for the logistics park at Jogighopa to first come up and then set out on its planning!
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