Maharashtra’s Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust (JNPT), which handles more than half of India’s shipping cargo, has decided to build a satellite port at Wadhwan near Dahanu, bordering Gujarat. The new port, which will cost 10,000 crore to build, will ease congestion at JNPT, which is close to Mumbai.

Union shipping minister Nitin Gadkari confirmed the development on Thursday.

JNPT will hold a 74% stake in the proposed port project while the Maharashtra Maritime Board (MMB), owned by the state government, will hold the rest. Both entities are expected to sign a memorandum of understanding (MoU) in this regard on Friday.

According to a senior official in the chief minister’s office, Vijaydurg in Ratanagiri district and Wadhwan in Palghar district were shortlisted for the new port. Draught at both places was 20m each, which would allow bigger ships to dock. “However, the Wadhwan site was chosen because of its connectivity with the Western Railway network, which is a double-line network unlike Konkan Railway, which is a single-line network," said the official, who requested anonymity.

JNPT loaded a record 4.46 million standard containers in 2014-15, up from 4.16 million the previous year.

A person close to the development said the proposed port will have a capacity of 40-60 million tonnes. JNPT will build the port and invite private firms to operate it. Proximity to the upcoming dedicated freight corridor and Delhi-Mumbai industrial corridor will ensure captive cargo for the port, he added.

In 1998, the Maharashtra government had given a mandate to erstwhile Peninsular and Oriental Australia Ports Pvt. Ltd (now Dubai Ports World) to develop Wadhwan. The project did not take off due to protests over environment norms, fishing dynamics and possible displacement of Mumbai’s dock workers.

“The government is aware of the past problems of Dahanu. It has tweaked the Dahanu port project in such a way that it will not hamper the environment. We are expecting to complete construction in five years, including securing necessary environmental clearances," the person mentioned above said.

“Maharashtra needs an alternative port as JNPT is already congested. JNPT, as an organization, is just 25 years old and one cannot leave this young organization without any future," a leading port consultant said, requesting anonymity. He said the state needs ports other than JNPT to handle cargo, adding that the government has the huge task of securing environment clearances and convincing the local population.

The Dahanu port project was estimated to cost $950 million in the 1990s. Praveen Patil, president of the Anti-Wadhwan Port Project Action Committee, which led the earlier agitation against the project said, “We are hearing stories about the government wanting to revive the project. We have not been officially told anything. If the government tries to push the project once again, we will oppose it; just like last time, we will block the government’s attempt to thrust the project on us."

Another senior official from the state government, who did not want to be named, said the difference between the previous proposal and the current one is that the new one will require minimal land acquisition. “This time, the plan is to reclaim land from the sea. We have identified the area between the ridge and the sea shore for reclamation so there will be no opposition from locals. Secondly, this time around, the port will be used only for container traffic; so there will be no dirty cargo like coal or iron ore which causes pollution, which will help us to secure environmental clearance," he added.

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