Other States

Japan’s cold chain for Singur

Japan’s Consul General in Kolkata Masayuki Taga, fifth from right, with the KRT team.

Japan’s Consul General in Kolkata Masayuki Taga, fifth from right, with the KRT team.  

CM expected to officially inaugurate project in January

On the day the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) cadre were busy preparing for a mega-rally of farmers from Singur in Hooghly district to Kolkata, earlier the month, a middle-aged man in a midnight-blue suit was busy scanning the quality of vegetables stored outside a large warehouse. The man, however, is not a vegetable expert but the Consul General of Japan in Kolkata, Masayuki Taga. Mr .Taga arrived in Singur, a census town about 40 kilometres from Kolkata, early to visit the large farmers’ market named after Tapasi Malik, the girl killed during Singur’s 2006 land agitation.

About three years back, the State finalised a project with 92-year old Japanese warehousing-cum-transportation logistics company Kawasaki Rikuso Transportation (KRT) to set up a cold chain network. The KRT facility, funded by Japan International Cooperation Agency, has been made operational within three years of initial discussion. It is Bengal’s first Japanese project in two decades.

“The idea is to ensure that farmers can store the unsold vegetables for up to four days in the warehouse. If it remains reasonably fresh, they can get a better price,” said Mr. Taga.

The key problems of the farm sector is over-production in particular seasons, less storage space, and periodic slow disposal, a reason why Nashik's onion growers recently sold 750 kilogrammes of onion at ₹1,064. As per a 2015 National Centre for Cold-chain Development (NCCD) report, India needs “70,000 pack-houses, each equipped with a pre-cooler dispatch room for onwards transport links”, whereas the country has about “250 such pack-houses.”

In Singur, the Japanese project, manned by Indian and Japanese experts, is housed in two large and cold rooms that stores unsold vegetables of the day. The produce is sorted, pre-cooled and taken out in two to four days to the market. “The temperature and movement of the individuals in the rooms can be monitored from Japan,” said Kaoru Kambe, manager of the KRT president’s office.

“While the objective is to ensure that the post-harvest loss is arrested, the key problem of implementing it is massive electricity consumption in the warehouse, which KRT has solved by using solar power,” said Gautam Mukherjee, the Joint Director of the State’s Agricultural Marketing Department. Giant solar panels are fitted to the warehouse, not only to meet electricity requirement, but also to add to the grid of State’s power distribution company, said Suman Brahma, the lead engineer.

The panels are, incidentally, procured from a Tata Group company. About a decade back, the Tata’s automobile unit had to leave Singur following the land agitation movement that catapulted Mamata Banerjee to power. “We do not deny that the political significance of the place has brough the Japanese here,” said a senior bureaucrat on condition of anonymity.

‘Farmers crisis the same’

A middle level Singur farmer, Shyamal Koley, said that they, too, encounter “a Nashik-like situation” in Singur.

“Last year, when the bottle gourd price dropped, we were getting ₹4 at the farm level and now it is ₹11 or ₹12…this is largely due to over-production,” he said. “If the produce can be frozen, moved to Kolkata, shipped out quickly and reach the export market fast, then the vegetables can survive, and so can the farmer,” said Mr. Koley. He, however, complained that they have “too little or no idea” about how the cold chain network works.

There are 184 farmers’ markets in Bengal, like the one in Singur.

“But many of these markets are closer to the large [retail] outlets. KRT does not need to work [there]. But many dozens of farmers’ markets are also not connected with the large consumer market. KRT may play a major role in those markets,” Mr. Mukherjee said. Officials believe that Singur’s pilot project will be “a giant commercial success”, thus addressing distribution bottlenecks not only in Bengal but the entire east India, connected to the north of South Asia and parts of Southeast Asia.

“In view of this massive market, we planned to set up similar facilities in north Bengal, from where the produce can be transported to the Siliguri Airport and flown to neighbouring countries,” Mr. Taga said.

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Printable version | Apr 4, 2020 10:47:45 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/japans-cold-chain-for-singur/article25735979.ece

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