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Coastal Karnataka -- Will prosperity come in a box?

M. K. Anil

Neither nine years of liberalisation-privatisation nor the new millennium has brought much to make real Coastal Karnataka's dream of global interconnectedness.

As in other areas, things are no better at the New Mangalore Port. The port authorities have been consistently claiming that efforts are on to step up container traffic. Deliberations are also being conducted off and on for setting up a container termina l at the port. The Dubai Ports Authority, among others, has apparently evinced interest in the project. Meanwhile, the port authorities are also trying to woo exporters from the vicinity, especially the coffee growers, to use the container facility despi te higher freight costs.

To attract container traffic, the NMPT has announced several concessions, including 80-per cent remission to vessel-related charges such as port dues, pilotage and berth hire charges. As part of the measures to attract traffic, export containers would al so be allowed 30 days `free dwell time' at the container yard. Container vessels are to get priority berthing.

According to the port authorities, while there is `justifiable apprehension' in the minds of a few shippers regarding the higher container freight charges they would have to pay at the NMPT when compared to, say, the Kochi port, it is likely that the fre ight rates would come down, once import containers are also brought through New Mangalore Port. The port management is also `confident' that as the container traffic picks up, the additional vessel turnover arising from container vessels calling at the p ort would make up for the initial concessions announced by the port.

Container services -- a long-standing desire of the region's trading community which has had to incur `extra' expenditure operating through Chennai, Tuticorin, Kochi and other ports and has been claiming that resumption of container services a t the NMPT would lead to the `overall development of the hinterland' -- were suspended in July 1995. They were re-started this March.

The expansion of the refining capacity of Mangalore Refinery and Petrochemicals Ltd (MRPL) from three million tonnes per annum to nine million tonnes per annum also brought its own set of logistical dilemmas. The already-overburdened roads began to see t housands of huge tankers, making movement of `normal' traffic difficult and hazardous.

Meanwhile, preliminary work on a Rs 700-odd-crore 364-km product pipeline starting from the MRPL complex in Mangalore and ending at Tarabahalli near Bangalore is expected to commence soon. The estimated date for completion of the project is June 2001.

The proposed pipeline, however, has been a source of controversy in this region, with environmental groups and farmers' organisations demanding that the pipeline be laid next to the railway track to minimise the use of private agricultural land for the p roject. Moreover, the Pipeline Virodhi Samiti, an `umbrella organisation' formed to oppose the project, has also been consistently arguing that a pipeline through the ecologically-sensitive Western Ghats could have a disastrous impact on the environment.

The pipeline, which is to pass through 241 villages in Dakshina Kannada, Chikmagalur, Hassan, Mandya, Tumkur, and Bangalore districts and have a final capacity of 8.5 million tonnes per annum, would have a `tap-off point' at Hassan, from where petro-prod ucts can be transported to neighbouring areas. The pipeline would be used to transport motor spirit, superior kerosene oil, aviation turbine fuel, high speed diesel and naphtha from MRPL to Bangalore.

However, for the farmers it is a different story. Agricultural land would have to be `temporarily acquired' to lay the pipeline which, according to estimates, would affect over 10,000 people in Dakshina Kannada district alone. The pipeline is to also pas s through the Nethravati and Gurupura rivers and several other small rivulets.

The farmers, however, have decided to ensure that the gram panchayats concerned did not give the project the necessary clearances. They also said that any activity, which is an offshoot of industrial production, employs a minimum of 20 people and maintai ns machinery to transport products, would be considered an industrial activity, and, therefore, come under the provisions of the Industries Act. Under this Act, permission of the local gram panchayats is required for any industrial activity.

The farmers, who are beginning to feel that the new economic regime is tilted in favour of big industry, are apprehensive of the `fate' of the agricultural land would have to be `temporarily acquired' for the purpose under the Petroleum and Minerals Pipe line (Right of User in Land) Act of 1962. However, according to the authorities, the land would not be acquired permanently but would be returned to the owners `in its original condition' after completion of the project and `due compensation' would be gi ven for the temporarily loss of control.

The width of the land to be acquired along the 364-km stretch would be 18 metres, but the farmers have been notified that they would not be allowed to build any permanent structures or plant any trees whose roots go deep into the earth along the entire s tretch even after the land is handed back to them. But the authorities, on their part, continue to maintain that there would be `no change in the land-use patterns due to the project'.

The tardy progress in gauge conversion along the Mangalore-Hassan railway line has also proved to be another proverbial red rag for the bullish elite of the region. Much potential in terms of productive capacities -- especially in terms of earning foreign exchange -- is being wasted due to the lack of such a link, if the Kanara Chamber of Commerce and Industry is to be believed. However, now with the formation of `regional infrastructure development corporations -- K-RIDE for Karnatak a -- with Central, State and private participation, it is being hoped that the gauge completion work would be completed in the next couple of years.

As of now, this is where the story stands, with the old having been rendered defunct and the new yet to be born. The death knell has been sounded for the old `traditional' industries of coastal Karnataka and the logic of the new regime is still seeking a logistics of its own. And as Mangalore plucks itself out of the grassroots and spruces up to become yet another industrial `hub' -- next only to Bangalore -- the years to come are bound to be a period of violent transition. Till then, however, the elite of coastal Karnataka will have to satisfy itself with virtual reality.

(Concluded)

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Coastal Karnataka's logistical problems

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