Published On : Wed, Jul 13th, 2016

MIHAN critical – though two Docs desparately trying life savers

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Nagpur: “Keep about 100 acres for Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd in MIHAN. It is interested in coming here” says C.M. Devendra Fadnavis in a board meeting of MIHAN. If true, this would be great news for Nagpur and MIHAN – but knowledgeable opine privately that it is wishful thinking.

“Why would HAL come to Nagpur? It has ample land in Banglore, Nasik, Hyderabad, Lucknow and Kanpur. It has created an entire aerospace hub in A.P.” An Aeronautical expert comments.

Some weeks ago, Union Minister Gadkari created a flutter by declaring that Ramdev Baba’s Patanjali was going to set up a manufacturing hub in 100 acres of MIHAN and offer employment to hundreds of local people.

The truth was Ramdevbaba had demanded land at Rs. 10 lakh per acre just outside SEZ area of MIHAN where current market rates are Rs. 1 crore per acre! (Now a tender is being floated for 230 acres of land to build a ‘Herbal Food Park’ where the base price will be kept at Rs. 25 lakhs per acre. The ONLY interested party as of now is Patanjali, though they are trying to entice other players like Dabur and Himalaya also. This is also just 1/4th the market price, but MIHAN officials hasten to add that the land being offered is not ‘developed’ and hence can be offered cheap.)

In meeting after meeting regarding MIHAN, both the CM and Gadkari are trying hard to enthuse investors and build up and create a positive sentiment about this ‘multi modal international cargo hub and airport’ at Nagpur which is an idea that had looked great on paper 20 years ago but lost its sheen during the long procedural delay and changed international scenario.

In a series of interviews that Nitin Gadkari gave on completion of Modi Goverment’s two years in office, he was asked why MIHAN had not been able to fulfill its promise of creating 50,000 jobs  annually as he had promised during so many power point presentations. His reply was that 13,000 jobs have been created and the situation is going to improve rapidly.

The truth is that today 9000 people are employed within and outside the SEZ, there has been a Rs. 7000 crores investment and there are just one or two new projects in the pipeline. Shapoorji Pallonji , the real estate giants, who was supposed to build 15 software complex’ has completed just one and space in it still lies practically unsold.

The W building of MIHAN has fared much better and 70 to 80 % of office space has been taken on lease/ bought. But when NT team visited the premise recently we saw the sorry picture of building leaking in many places and ridiculous little plastic buckets trying hard to contain the water!

The MIHAN office itself situated on 1st floor of B wing has  leaking water right outside its front door. There are hardly 8 – 10 full time employees visible inside. Many of them are retired, post 60 years of age ‘Consultants’ who have worked in Government sectors and for whom such situations are normal.

“Buildings will leak when rains come. They always have and they always will” is their defense. It does not matter to them that many Software companies have offices inside and house sophisticated equipment that needs protection from moisture.

So what is going wrong with this prestigious project that was supposed to change the fate of Nagpur and Vidarbha?

Many things, like:

  • The Nagpur Airport which was supposed to be at the heart of MIHAN has still not been privatized, though on paper this decision was taken many years ago. It is now jointly being managed by Airport Authority of India, a Central Govt. body and MADC, state run. Both know that their days are numbered since privatization is on the cards. We were told last year that August 2015 was the deadline but nothing has materialized yet. Insiders opine that no private player is really interested in taking on this responsibility of making Nagpur an international hub. “Where will the passengers come from?” They ask. Which foreign airlines are willing to add Nagpur to their destinations? Meanwhile, newer designs in commercial airlines ensures that they can do long hauls without having to land for fuel. So Nagpur as a port for refueling is not relevant anymore.
  • The organization is practically headless. The M.D. Vishwas Patil sits in Mumbai and MIHAN is an ‘additional charge’ for him. He also heads SRA – Slum Rehabilitation Activity which must be keeping him amply busy in Mumbai itself. He also has many cultural ‘interests’ and could be seen most evenings on cable TV judging a “Lavani dance competition”. MIHAN and Nagpur Airport projects at this stage need an active, 100% involved leader who can be available locally to solve problems and offer guidance. (Just look at the example of Nagpur metro).
  • There is a lacunae of other staff too. The backbone of any organization are the people working for it. Like we mentioned above, there are hardly a handful of full time employees, and most of them work like typical Government officers, except a notable few. Very few. Otherwise it is pens down by 5.30 and homeward bound by 6.
  • The H.O. for MADC, the nodal agency running MIHAN being in Mumbai, the active and enthusiastic Marketing guys also have to be in Mumbai much of the time leaving the Nagpur office faceless.
  • Stalled projects like First City, where over 500 customers have invested crores of hard earned savings and are now running from pillar to post, and even have two cases going on in the high Court to salvage something do not augur well for public sentiment.
  • AIIMS has been given land no doubt but the planning and execution is still light years away. As a face saving exercise they are going to take over ESIC hospital in the city to begin their operations. But if AIIMS Nagpur is not buiilt on the lines of the Delhi institute, it being there will not make much difference. Another general hospital will make its appearance to be lost in the crowd.
  • The CARE – Hopkins teaching hospital that was to come up in the original plan and treat many expat patients too died a natural death a decade ago when Lehman Brothers failed in USA. Now Care is asking for land outside SEZ to build a hospital for local people but there is still many a slip between lip and cup.

The main issue here is that, nationally and internationally, Nagpur is just not being seen as a serious destination for Business, let alone export oriented business that the MIHAN SEZ demands.

Newer states like Telengana are already far ahead as lucrative destinations. One just has to see the advertising blitzkrieg that was unleashed on TV in June by the CM of that state. Any potential investor is given the royal treatment with officers welcoming him at the airport personally and a red carpet treatment at every level. Other Southern states like Tamilnadu and Karnataka are also very dynamic in such activities. Mamata Banerjee has also now cleaned up her act and wooing investments assiduously. In this scenario, Nagpur as a destination is sadly but factually on par with Tier 3 cities like Madurai and Coimbatore. Though Nagpur is touted as the 3rd biggest city of Maharashtra and second capital of the state, smaller cities like Aurangabad and Nasik are far ahead industrially.

Perception of this area also is still poor. Ask industries in Butibori who are keen to move away, or already have. They complain there is paucity of trained labour and available labour is lazy and not disciplined.

The main problem still is that local politicians from whom a united leadership is required is missing. They just do not seem to exhibit the zeal needed. Without naming names, we can point out that a personage who is an important Minister in charge of an important portfolio was a trade union leader just 2-3 years ago and instrumental in engineering a strike in a big company.

Even in MIHAN political interference slows down legitimate work. Industrialists, Corporates approach Gadkari or Fadnavis directly and often rash promises are extracted which cannot be implemented. The IAS lobby, again sitting and meeting in Mumbai, often finds many such proposals untenable.

Vidarbha suffers. What was once the proud capital of Central Provinces, Nagpur has to bear the ignonimity of seeing former ‘sister cities’ like Raipur and indore developing more rapidly.

p.s. – When the undersigned later went to Nagpur’s grandest 5 star hotel that is stone’s throw away from MIHAN she was greeted with loud ‘band baja’. A noisy, big wedding was underway with bride being from Wani and groom from Karanja. The whole hotel had been taken over for the affair… G.M. of the hotel was very happy with business. “I have many such weddings lined up back to back.” That is ONE business that does very well in Nagpur it seems – Weddings!!

By way of Corporate guests we did see – one solo gentleman from some foreign land sitting by himself and having dinner.

…. Sunita Mudaliar Associate Editor