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Get the Route Right
–Delhi-Mumbai Corridor can revitalise region–

S Inderjit Singh Jaijee*

Last year the Government of India announced the establishment of a dedicated freight and industrial corridor covering the area from Mumbai to Dadri. An area approximately 150 kms wide (described as the “influence region”) has been identified on both sides of the corridor for development.

The route of these corridors (Mumbai to Dadri) passes through Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Haryana. On representation by Punjab it has now been extended to Ludhiana via Chandigarh.

The Yamuna provides the boundary between the states of Haryana and Uttar Pradesh on the eastern sides. The proposed route runs close to the Yamuna from Delhi to Karnal, a distance of approximately 150 kms. The land on the eastern side of this route from Delhi to Karnal is a narrow strip. The main trade would therefore come mainly from the western side.

This corridor is already developed and can handle increased cargo. Investing money on improving it may give some more benefits in the short term but developing an alternate route through the interior of both Haryana and Punjab would provide much higher returns and benefit a considerably larger section of the people. It would be much more inclusive.

After partition of India in1947, industrial development was denied to Punjab first on the rationale that it would be vulnerable to the enemy and later on the consideration of retaining Punjab as the bread basket of India. Whatever industrial growth took place was mainly around the periphery of Delhi. On the division of Punjab in 1966, these industrial areas went to Haryana. Here again, while the state of Haryana around Delhi and along the eastern end of the corridor benefited, the interior was left undeveloped.

The land along the corridor up to Karnal is highly fertile khadher land and should be reserved for agriculture. On the other hand, the land along the proposed alternate corridor passing through middle Haryana, is semi-arid land where the water is highly saline and not suitable for agriculture.

In the Punjab section of the proposed route the sub-soil water, apart from being saline, is receding. The average depletion rate is 30 to 40 cm and goes up to 1 metre in some places, conjuring up images of desertification in the very near future. Another advantage in choosing an alternate corridor is a lower cost of land acquisition.

The alternate route would serve almost all the important towns in both the states of Punjab and Haryana. It would have a shorter distance. It would help to strengthen and extend industrial growth around these towns. This in turn would generate employment and absorb surplus farm labourers who are committing suicide in thousands.

The proposed alignment travels along the middle of both Haryana and Punjab providing maximum benefit to industry on both sides. This travels along Delhi, Rohtak, Jind, Narwana, Tohana and Jakhal in Haryana, and in Punjab it goes through Sunam, Dhuri, Malerkotla, Ludhiana, Jalandhar and Amritsar.

It passes through the middle of Haryana and Punjab and is well served by the railway network through junctions at Rohtak, Jind, Narwana and Jakhal in Haryana, which link Bhiwani, Panipat, Kaithal and Hissar. In Punjab, Dhuri, Ludhiana and Jalandhar junctions connect Patiala, Bhatinda, Khanna, Gobindgarh, Ferozepur and Jammu. Connectivity by road is good but it requires further strengthening. An eight-lane road from Delhi to Rohtak has already been taken up. The corridor needs to be extended up to Ludhiana and the single rail track needs to be upgraded to a double track. No major obstacles such as rivers fall in the way of this route.

This proposed corridor would also serve as a backbone to the network of strategic defense roads along the Indo-Pak border.

Over the past few years, commerce and industry have grown at the rate of 8 to 9 per cent whereas growth rate in agriculture has been stagnating at around 1.5 to 3 per cent. 70 per cent of the population lives in the villages of rural India. Even in urban areas the actual beneficiaries of this development are not more than 4 to 5 per cent of the people.

In 1971, the Central government clamped a ceiling on rural land holdings but left urban holdings untouched. In addition, the government has been enforcing an unremunerative MSP regimen.

From ancient times North India was crossed by trade routes on a roughly north-west south-east axis that connected Central Asia with the Gangetic plains. With the division of the country in 1947 and the ensuing bitterness with Pakistan, this trade was disrupted. The northern trade was diverted through the ports of Gujarat and Maharashtra.

Since the time the corridor plan was thought out, our relations with Pakistan have undergone a sea-change. Democratisation of Pakistan has made trading with our neighbor not only possible but imminent. In response to this opportunity the corridor project route needs to be revised. The alternate corridor proposed would provide access to all the three main trading routes to Pakistan, i.e., Hussainewala, Attari and Dera Baba Nanak.

The northwest-southeast overland route is beneficial to the industrial growth of north India as it provides a two way trading opportunity and a much shorter distance. Unofficial trade is large, and with the opening up of the border, it is expected to increase dramatically. Amritsar to Lahore is a mere 50 km and the Hussainiwala border from Ferozepur is just as close.

In addition there are trade advantages of trans-Pakistan commerce with Central Asia and beyond, and fringe benefits such as growth of our goods transport sector or diversification of agriculture to cater to cross-border demand. Punjab, a land whose roads lead only inward to the Gangetic plain, can once again become the gateway of India.


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