The Italian entrepreneur, Signor Maglioni, who established the Hotel Palm Beach, in 1914 at Gopalpur, close to Berhampur, surely saw opportunity amidst the flourishing economic activity in the area. It was the first Beach Resort of the country and drew people from all around. Gopalpur was a thriving Port and was open to both foreign and coastal trade. Myrabolans were destined to London and Antwerp; Hemp to London while Rice was to Colombo and Galle and Oilseeds and Turmeric to Colombo. Arecanuts landed from Penang; Coconut oil from Galle, while Matches arrived from Christiania and Hamberg. Refined oil came from Colombo; Spirits & Wines from UK. There was sizeable traffic to/from Yangon (formerly known as Rangoon). The Port was of great use to the Army during both World Wars as the eastern post for strategy operations in respect of Yangon. Palm Beach Hotel naturally had brisk footfalls. Sea and River fisheries formed an important industry in Ganjam coast. Around the year 1900, there used to be 21 fish curing yards on the coast and their outturn was greater than any of the coastal Districts of India except two in the west coast. In 1903-04, nearly 3000 tons of fish were salted in these curing yards.
City of Berhampur had a population of 61,000 in 1950 when Vishakhapatnam city had just over a lakh of population. While the Andhra coastal city in 2021 is a thriving metropolis with a population of over 2.2 million, Berhampur, known for its exquisite silk Patta Sarees for centuries, has a population of just over four lakhs in 2021. The city, however, continues to be one of the most important commercial centres of the state, displaying varieties of micro level entrepreneurial skill of its industrious inhabitants through products ranging from Silk, Pickles, Papad to Brass and Horn works. It's the major Mango hub of the state and hosts many well patronised Restaurants serving ethnic food. The city is also home to a Government Medical College - MKCG, and the renowned Khallikote College. Berhampur University is close by.
Berhampur is close to the Port, close to a few exquisitely serene Beaches; close to the Chilka Lake. Many important tourist spots too are nearby. These include Bhetnoi village, home to over 7000 Krushnasara Mruga ( Black Buck) only 70 kilometers away; the scenic Taptapani (85 kms) in the cradle of the lush-green rolling hills of the Eastern Ghats; the picturesque Jirang (115 kms) township with its a thriving Tibetan population; Tara Tarini Temple (34 kms). The nearby Jaugada hosts the famous Rock Inscription of Emperor Ashoka.
The city’s huge potential for growth, however, remains untapped. Compared to the thriving economic activities during good part of the 19th and early part of the 20th centuries that had ramifications even offshore through movement of people and merchandise, there has been a steady slowdown. The GST Collections of 2020-21 from the district has been only Rs 118.96 crores as against collection of Rs 133.84 crore for Koraput, Rs 178.74 crore for Rayagada; Rs 150.11 crore for Dhenkanal, leaving aside many more areas of the state reporting much higher collections like Paradip (Rs 532.76 crores) and Jajpur (Rs 426.95 crores). This is an indicator of the prevailing moderate industrial activities in the district.
The Gopalpur Steel project couldn’t takeoff. Land acquired for the project remained unutilised for years. The land was subsequently converted to an industrial park. The Park enjoys multi-modal logistics advantage with Rail, Road and Port connectivity; it also has access to a significant export catchment comprising East-Asian countries. Gopalpur SEZ has adequate availability of skilled manpower with the presence of ITI, technical and skill development institutes in the district. Besides generating substantial employment opportunities, Gopalpur Industrial Park could contribute to the all-round socio-economic development of the region. Despite these obvious advantages, industries have been rather shy of the area. In the meantime, however, a ferro-chrome plant has come up at Gopalpur. It is the first greenfield ferro-chrome unit of Tata Steel in India. A Tea packaging unit of the Tata Group has also come up recently in the Industrial Park. More Industries should come early.
Air connectivity would help. If there are serious impediments to making the Rangeilunda air-strip a dependable facility, an alternative site needs to be selected immediately. About 1000 acres of land within a radius of 50 kms of the city would serve the purpose. The city must have a functional airport within two years with air connections with cities like Hyderabad, Bangalore, Chennai, Delhi and Mumbai. Possibility of running regular passenger ships from/to Gopalpur- Kolkata, Gopalpur-Port Blair and, if possible, Gopalpur-Yangon should be explored. Government needs to facilitate setting up of for a few Corporate Hospitals—a critical need for the region. The city needs to improve its housing stock. This could be possible through participation of renowned real estate developers. A land bank, to start with, of 1000 acres, seems necessary where modern residential units, schools, hospitals and hotels could come up.
There is great scope for non-polluting industries including software industries in the area. The Blue waters of Tampara, the Chilka Lake and exquisitely charming beaches up to the state’s border, provide huge space and opportunities for new hotels and recreational tourism. Berhampur needs a Railway Terminal facility as well. This will enable Trains to originate and terminate at the city. This would substantially improve connectivity with important Indian cities. For improving marketing opportunities for local products, dedicated e-marketing platforms need to be developed.
Civil society has to play a proactive role in unlocking the huge potential of the Silk City through a representative forum which should chalk out a blueprint for a holistic development of the city and work towards its early realisation.
(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are the author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same. The author can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)
More From The Author: Power Starved Homes In The Powerful City Bhubaneswar