Mumbai: The United Progressive Alliance government at the Centre proposes to build a Rs2,000 crore, modern deep-sea port, off the coast of West Bengal, in an effort to help larger ships land their goods in the state, from where they can be transported to the eastern and northeastern parts of the country through road or rail.
Currently, cargo originating from and headed for the Northeastern part of the country is serviced by ports such as Paradip in Orissa, Visakhapatnam in Andhra Pradesh and even Chennai, adding to the cost of importers and exporters and end-use customers.
“World over all ports are sea ports. But, Kolkata and Haldia are riverine ports (both are on the Hooghly). We want to set up a deep-draft sea port in West Bengal,” said shipping secretary A.K. Mohapatra, explaining why the state needs a sea port.
The channel of Kolkata and Haldia ports in West Bengal, that together handled 55.05 million tonnes of cargo for the year ended 31 March, require dredging throughout the year due to heavy siltation in the Hooghly river. The cargo traffic at the two ports has grown slowly over the years as modern and bigger ships are not able to call at them due to lack of depth.
A deep-draft port has an average draft of 16-17 metres in its channel enabling large ships such as Capesize bulk carriers (cargo carrying capacity of 80,000 tonnes and above) and Suezmax tankers (100,000-150,000 tonnes) to enter while fully laden.
“There is a definite requirement for a deep-draft sea port on the east coast in West Bengal,” said Kshitiz Bhaskar, head, port development at the Mumbai-based construction firm Gammon.
Several consulting firms have expressed interest in undertaking a feasibility study of the proposed port that will handle all types of cargo including containers.
“We will finalize a consultant soon who will undertake a feasibility study, prepare a detailed project report, and also assist the government in constructing the port,” said Mohapatra.
The government will invest in setting up the basic infrastructure for the port, while the cargo-handling facilities will be developed with private investments. This is in keeping with the current government policy; similar investments have been made by the private sector in Tuticorin, Visakhapatnam and Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust, among others.
Based on the consultant’s report, the government will finalize the “ideal location” for the new port.
“The proposed port will have good connectivity with the hinterland,” said Mohapatra. The government is yet to decide whether the new port will be set up under the Companies Act or under the Major Ports Trusts Act.
The Central government-owned ports at Kandla, Mumbai, Jawaharlal Nehru, Visakhapatnam, Kolkata, Haldia, Chennai, Cochin, Tuticorin, New Mangalore and Mormugao currently function as trusts according to a law framed by the government in 1963 called the Major Port Trusts Act.
The only exception to this rule is the Ennore port near Chennai, which has been set up as a government-owned corporate port under the Companies Act of 1956.
For over a decade, the Central government has been trying to corporatize the existing major ports by amending the Major Port Trusts Act.
A Bill to convert the major ports from a trustee set-up to a corporate structure has been stuck in Parliament as law makers appear to be divided on the issue.