Alternate Industrial & Freight Corridor for Punjab & Haryana

By Inderjit Singh Jaijee

The route of these corridors (Mumbai to Dadri) passes through Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Haryana. On the representation by Punjab it has now been extended to Ludhiana via Chandigarh. Chandigarh is not Punjab. This appears to be a concession to the recently set up Baddi area of Himachal Pradesh as an industrial complex.

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 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 increased benefits in the short term perspective 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 rational 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 the agriculture. On the other hand the land along the proposed alternate corridor passes through middle Haryana, is semi arid land where the water is highly saline and not suitable for agriculture. In the Punjab section of 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 images of an impending desertification in the very near future. Another advantage in choosing an alternate corridor, as indicated in the map, is the cost of land acquisition which is much lower.

The alternate route would serve almost all the important towns in both the states of Punjab and Haryana. This 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 laborers who are committing suicide in thousands.

The proposed alignment travels along the middle of both Haryana and Punjab drawing maximum benefit of industry on both sides. This travels along Delhi, Rohtak, Jind, Narwana, Tohana and Jakhal in Haryana, in Punjab it goes through Sunam, Dhuri, Malerkotla, Ludhiana, Jalandhar and Amritsar. This passes through the middle of Haryana and Punjab and is well served by railway network and 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. A 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 serve as a backbone to the network of strategic defense roads along the Indo-Pak border.

Over the past few years, commerce and industry has 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.

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.

The government slashed the representation of the Punjabis in the Army by introducing proportional representation of states as the basis of recruitment. The Army had been an avenue of employment for young rural men of Punjab and Haryana. The absence of this employment avenue has contributed to the epidemic of suicides.

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. Pressure of these two states is perhaps also responsible for slowing the efforts to reviving the northern export trade.

Since the time the corridor plan was thought out, our relations with the northwestern state of Pakistan have undergone a sea-change. Democratization of Pakistan has made trading with our neighbor not only possible but eminent. In response to this opportunity the corridor project route needs to be revised.

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. Even a direct flight from Delhi to Lahore takes two hours and costs Rs 6,675 whereas via Dubai, it takes Rs 57,250. Unofficial trade was estimated at 1-6 billion with the opening of the border, it is expected to zoom way beyond the projected unofficial trade. Amritsar to Lahore is a mere 50 km and Hussainiwala border from Ferozepur is just as close.

These figures do not include trade advantages of trans-Pakistan trade with Central Asia and beyond or 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 led only inward to the Gangetic plain, has once again become the gateway of India.

The alternate corridor proposed would provide access to all the three main trading routes to Pakistan i.e. Hussainiwala, Attari and Dera Baba Nanak.

Presently cotton from Punjab was being exported to Karachi (Pakistan) via Kandla port, which was very expensive due to heavy transportation charges. It would make better sense to open the Indo-Pak border right from Dera Baba Nanak in Gurdaspur up to Hussainiwala in Ferozepur and set up duty free ports along the Indo-Pak border.

The concentration of industry along the GT road in both Haryana and Punjab provides alternate employment to the displaced rural labour. Consequently, rural suicides along this belt are very few. It is therefore necessary to improve industrial growth in the interior of these two states. This would facilitate even development.