MIHAN – Based on a false premise falls with a dominoes effect on the rest of the city

Let’s face it, MIHAN, acronym for Multi-Modal International Hub Airport at Nagpur, was based on a faulty premise to begin with.

It sounded fantastic on paper and in 3 D presentations no doubt, and it had us fantasizing, hoping and beginning to believe that finally NAGPUR HAD ARRIVED!!

For some heady years of the beginning, 2005 – 2009, MIHAN was quoted to be the largest development activity of India. I remember attending a presentation in those years when we were told by local politicians, one of who is Union Minister now, that “Nagpur should not be compared to Pune, Hyderabad or even Mumbai now, it should be compared to London, Berlin or Singapore, we were soon going to be up on par with these international cities.”

But like we understand in hindsight, the premise, contained in the name MIHAN itself was faulty; it did not take into consideration many ground realities and facts.

Fact Number one – The wheels of Indian bureaucracy move slowly and to their own whims and fancy. (Adding to this problem, almost 90% bureaucrats dealing with MIHAN still sit in Mumbai, including the M.D. Nagpur is far away for them priority wise, time wise and even inclination wise. Remember Vishwas Patil – the last M.D.?? We could catch him on TV judging ‘Lavanis’ but not in MIHAN office, Nagpur! And for some reason best known to them, 80% MADC/ MIHAN staff that does sit in Nagpur consists of Retirees, people in their 60s and 70s when for the salaries they are offered, they could very well get young, energetic people.)

Fact Number two – The Aviation industry is one of the fastest growing in the world. Flying time and fuel capacities of Jets and Airbuses is constantly being upgraded and enhanced.

With these two facts put together the MIHAN premise crumbled like nine pins.

What was the premise?

The simple theory was this – over 250 international flights cross over Nagpur everyday flying from one part of the world to another. They need to land somewhere to get fuel, so why not Nagpur? And then, why not make Nagpur a destination for MROs ( Maintenance and Repairs) of these aeroplanes too?

And if planes were going to land in Nagpur – in a new and huge International Airport – why not make it attractive for foreigners to come here? Thus came the idea of Medical Tourism. MIHAN would have a Health City that would be built with international collaboration, and would have state of the art facilities and be Teaching (Medical) colleges too. Since the hospitals would be in the SEZ, even visas wouldn’t be required for foreigners! But for those who wanted to linger after their surgeries/ treatment, there would be the famed Tiger tourism of Central India. (With Pench and Tadoba and Kanha, why not??)

The international planes would be primarily for carrying cargo though. So Export- only industries would be set up in the SEZ. Thus the “multi modal international hub”.

How and Why the premise crumbled?

As one can see, the soul of the whole project was the International airport that should have come up within a short stipulated time. It never did…it hasn’t happened even now! How could it when so many agencies were sharing responsibility?

Maharashtra State government’s Maharashtra Airport Development Corporation (MADC) was formed in joint partnerships with equal shares from City and Industrial Development Corporation (CIDCO), Nagpur Improvement Trust(NIT), Mahrashtra Industrial Development Corporation (MIDC), Mahrashtra State Road Transport Corporation (MSRTC) and Nagpur Municipal Corporation(NMC).

MADC had to further collaborate with Civil Aviation Ministry, at New Delhi, International Airport Authority of India and Indian Railways – for rail connectivity with the ‘dry international hub’.

And meanwhile, new and modern planes came up that do not need to refuel at all and can fly long hauls without landing!

The whole idea behind MIHAN went bust with that!!

In the case of MIHAN well begun remained half done!!

The hype and the publicity that this project garnered at first found many takers. Boeing showed interest in forming and running the MRO. John Hopkins Hospital of USA committed to partnering with Care Hospitals group of India in the Health City and Teaching Hospital. Indian Airforce proposed to bring the Gajraj project near the International Airport. And an international consortium was formed to build the First City inside SEZ.

Most Software giants of India like TCS, Satyam, Wipro, Infosys etc. seemed willing to come to Nagpur.

A short lived Housing Boom was created

We quote from a Business Article of that time posted in Rediff.com:

‘The great Nagpur boom

Spurred on by the Multi-modal International Hub Airport at Nagpur, Nagpur is turning hungry for commercial and residential spaces.

The city of Nagpur is literally the centre of India and this strategic location is the reason why the Multi-modal International Hub Airport at Nagpur might be very successful.

Proof of this can already be seen in the interest shown by global aviation major Boeing for setting up its $100 million regional maintenance, repair and overhaul facility for its aircraft. This is expected to create upto 3,000 highly paid jobs and another 30,000 jobs indirectly.

Ask anyone from the city and they will tell you both MIHAN and the Boeing MRO are fuelling the real estate growth in the city — commercial, retail and residential.

What were open fields around the MIHAN periphery are still open fields but ownership has shifted to local and national developers.

According to estimates, land in a radius of about 20-25 km around MIHAN has been acquired already by various small and big investors. International real estate funds (British and Indonesian realty funds) too are looking for big land parcels of 150 acres and above, in and around Nagpur city.’

Big Projects that were launched in Nagpur then

The Empress Mall and Empress City were planned to occupy the huge space in the heart of the city where once the Empress Mill was located. It was to have, apart from the shopping mall and residential areas, a five star Hotel built by Taj and a software park too. Apartments at Empress City opened to very high – and unrealistic – rates of Rs. 4500 per square feet!

Then there was the First City and Sahara City too, which sold well as soon as bookings were opened and marketed aggressively.

Overnight many Developers and Builders mushroomed selling ‘plots just for investment’ all around MIHAN – even up to 10 – 20 Kms away!! People who lived in Nagpur then will remember the numerous hoardings that came up around Wardha road then advertising these ‘Phantom layouts’. They made fantastic promises and common people of the city lapped them up. Everyone and their aunt dreamed of becoming instantly rich!

(Many did become very rich – the Developers. So many of them subsequently built mansions with swimming pools et al! )

Soon the bubble burst taking many down in its wake

As soon as investors and speculators, including Boeing, sensed that the project was not happening as per plan they began backing out. (The MRO is completely owned by Air India now which is already floundering. Indian planes continue going to Dubai and other foreign destinations for repairs and overhaul.)

At the same time the scenario changed internationally too. The Lehman Brothers real estate and banking scam brought almost the entire US economy down to its knees. John Hopkins backed out of the Health City project and Care Hospital has had their Rs. 8 crores EMD stuck ever since then! (All their alternate proposals were struck down – even by the present Government.)

Who have borne the brunt?

Common middle class and upper middle class people who booked properties in Empress City, First City, Sahara City etc. etc.

Ensara, another Mega project coming up in Besa is a non starter too. Many have booked in their commercial and residential properties too.)

Not one of these places has delivered as promised. Apartments in some parts of Empress city have been built at least, Sahara remains half complete and First City hasn’t taken off at all. (People who have invested in it reported to Nagpur Today that they have taken loans and some of them finished making payments on their EMIs too with nothing to show in hand!)

Lower middle class people who invested in ‘plots’ in private layouts near MIHAN.

The saddest of the lot are Nagpur youngsters and their parents who had begun dreaming of finding employment in Nagpur at long last.

Every year, we still see at least half a dozen families who sell their lovingly built homes / ancestral properties in Nagpur to follow their children to Pune, Hyderabad or even Nasik…

This story will continue till we can become masters of our own destiny….till we get Vidarbha.

By Sunita Mudaliar
Ex Editor