The Journey of the Logistics Industry in India

Logistics Industry

Ideally the concept of logistics needing transport of goods took off when the place of production shifted miles away from the place of consumption. This wasn’t the case till the time India was a country of villages with everything being produced and consumed within the village itself. With the need to grow came the need to expand both markets and production. Coupled to this was the fact that production itself had grown much larger in size and had to be moved from being created in home-factories to factories/ production centres in dedicated industrial areas.

This brought in the need for transport starting with small vehicles including bullock-carts, cycle-rickshaws, handcarts to motorised transport vehicle which could be a three-wheeled small carrier to a multi-axle, multi-tonnage trucks and rigs.

In India the journey of pure transport of goods without the need for warehousing and go-downs started in the pre-independence days with the likes of Human-pulled rickshaws, Cycle rickshaws, Bullock carts/Horse carriages etc being the standard ware within the city and across small distances between tows. Of these today only the cycle rickshaws are still around, and given their non-polluting nature, could pull along for quite some time. The other two being laborious to animal and human, have either been banned completely or substantially.

As for transport between cities of items like cotton, farm produce etc., the main source of transport were the railways given our British masters preferred to give prominence to railways than to road transport. From the hinterlands, cotton and farm produce would be hauled by animal transport to the nearest railways station/ yard and then loaded onto the train for further journey mostly up to bigger commercial destinations like Delhi, Mumbai and Chennai (then Madras). As for transport between cities, they were pitiably negligible given that India in those times was an out-and-out agrarian subsistence economy with villages taking care of themselves. Roads did exist but for very short distances like Mumbai to Pune. For longer distances like Mumbai to Delhi & Madras, there was hardly any user with roads being used to transport stuff for the Britishers outside the country.

Independence brought change! And what change! In the name of a road only remnants of the GT road (from Chittagong in Bangladesh to Kabul in Afghanistan!) existed. Subsequently newer roads connecting all the state capitals to Delhi and Mumbai took place which in the recent years have all been bifurcated into 4-laned one-way roads with talks of most being converted to 6-8 lane expressways with speeds in excess of 100 kms an hour.

With roads came vehicles, especially trucks. From the time of independence into the 70s, there were three main truck manufacturers, namely Tatas with their tie-up with Mercedes, Ashok Leyland, an off-shoot of British Leyland, Firodias of Pune with their brand Bajaj-Tempo, Standard Motors of Chennai to name a few. These companies and subsequent ones in that era bought dated foreign technologies complete with their dies, casts and drawings and made them in India for the Indian users.

It was the opening up of the economy in 1991 which finally brought much-needed change with companies existing and new doing a complete rejig of their models to suit Indian needs. Tata’s came out with their own series of trucks right from 9 MTs capacity to 24 to even 40 MTs multiaxles. Not to be outdone, AL too tied up with Iveco and Hino for new tech and engines respectively and has been giving India some of its best and most powerful of machines. In time, newer companies like AMW, Volvo and Scania too entered the scene. Not to be left out, LCV makers like M & M and Eicher too are in the truck and LCV fray. Today the transport part of the logistics industry in India is full of vehicles which fill practically every need in every weight scale from a few kgs to a upto +50 MTs! And this isn’t changing anytime soon given that roads are improving with better and bigger ones being planned and constructed.

If you thought the Indian logistics industry was all road transport, you shouldn’t be excused! With the concept of subsistence production be it of industry and agriculture being all but dead, India is today the largest producer of fruits, veggies, milk and eggs. And we aren’t even talking about stuff made in factories across the country! All this calls for a proper supply chain which itself changes with what is being handled. Farm produce and meats obviously need a separate category of handling as compared to furniture, clothes and machinery including automotive like cars and bikes. For these came a new paradigm, the warehouse!

What was earliest four walls, a dirt floor and corrugated sheets for a ceiling with even ten thousand feel of covered area considered big, has undergone a sea change! Temperature controlled, dust and vermin free with each with a capacity close to 1 million (10 lacs) sq ft, this is one serious business one really wants to be in and create the right impression. In India, warehousing, the other element of the Logistics trade came about in the end of 90s when business in general stated to increase exponentially along with trading, packing and repacking of goods before sale. At that point of time, it was the old-faithful-turn-new-bride go-down to warehouse which worked simply because nothing else seemed to work.

With the departing of the previous millenia, the old too started to die-out with logistics companies like Singapore’s Sembawang, APL Logistics and clutch of export-oriented warehouse operators making thei presence felt with large warehouses which had seemingly better facilities than most Indian homes! With them arriving, the industry sat up and took notice. What was till then facility only meant for export shipments was being demanded for local movements as well!

What really brought the biggest change in logistics in India was a system of transaction which depended completely on the mix of warehousing and transport to survive and never had its own shops, showrooms and storage. No prices for guessing this one! It was the digital-age revolution called e-commerce front-ended by foreign and Indian entities including Amazon, Flipkart, Snapdeal, Paytm to name the top ones. With the promise to bring you anything from an ant to an elephant, their logistics set-up is like none that the world has ever seen with entire warehouses of a few million sq feet being constructed at regular intervals (in the absence of the silly city-specific octroi tax and advent of GST instead!) to facilitate movement of goods ordered online. Add to this the need for transport from as small as a bike to as big as one to haul a 45’ closed-bodied container!

And this, dear readers isn’t the end of the Logistics journey. With India still to make an indelible impression in the road and rail infrastructure and talks to include varied other mode of logistics including inland waterways, coastal shipping, use of de dirigible being talked about, India is staring at the cusp of another great, great revolution in the logistics industry which promises to be as interesting as that which has happened till now!


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