Bengaluru: The Union government is weighing a proposal to re-define the limits of Mumbai Port Trust to help Mukesh Ambani-owned Reliance Logistics and Ports Pvt. Ltd get the right of way for a shipping channel and break the logjam over a new port the firm plans to build at Rewas in Maharashtra’s Raigad district on the country’s western coast with an investment of over 6,000 crore.

One of the key features of the planned port is that it will have a 27.75km-long and 300m-wide exclusive approach channel for the traffic meant for Rewas, located a few kilometres from Mumbai port. This would ensure minimal waiting time for ships in the channel.

However, 17km of the 27.75km-long navigational channel of Rewas falls within the limit of Mumbai port, one of the 13 owned by the Union government. Mumbai port has to agree to share this portion of its water with the new port to allow free passage of ships calling at Rewas port to load and unload cargo.

The Maharashtra Maritime Board (MMB), the state government agency tasked with developing its ports, had earlier requested Mumbai port to grant the right of way to Rewas port for developing an approach channel through Mumbai port’s waters for 17km.

Mumbai port said the issue of giving permission for an approach channel to Rewas port within its limits would depend upon both sides agreeing to certain terms and conditions. “In spite of several rounds of discussions, Mumbai port and Rewas Port Ltd could not mutually agree to the terms and conditions for the right of way," a Maharashtra government official briefed on the matter said, asking not to be named. Mint couldn’t ascertain the terms and conditions.

The Maharashtra government has now approached the Union government for allowing delimitation of existing port limits of the Mumbai Port Trust so that the development of Rewas port can be taken up, minister of state for shipping P. Radhakrishnan told Parliament on 11 December in a written reply to a question in the Lok Sabha.

“Delimiting the port limits of Mumbai Port Trust will help solve the right of way issue," a spokesman for MMB said. “Redefining the limits of Mumbai port will help Reliance immediately start dredging the channel and constructing the new port, which has been delayed by over six years," this person said, adding that the planned port has secured all statutory approvals including the key environment clearance.

Reliance Logistics and Ports, a unit of Reliance Industries Ltd (RIL), holds a 55% stake in Rewas Ports Ltd, the company formed to develop and operate an all-weather deep-draught (depth) port at Rewas. Jai Corp. Ltd has a 10% stake in the port venture while Amma Lines Ltd holds a 24% stake. The balance equity of 11% is held by MMB.

A spokesman for RIL directed queries to Jai Corp., which in turn directed them to Rewas Ports Ltd.

“There is nothing common between the channels of Rewas and Mumbai ports," said a spokesman for Rewas Ports Ltd. “Ours will be an independent channel which will be dredged and maintained by us. The water on which a portion of the shipping channel is to be bored was given to Mumbai Port Trust many decades ago by the Maharashtra government. Coastal water is a state subject. But when they are requested to reciprocate by giving some portion of the water back to the state government for developing Rewas, Mumbai Port Trust is not reciprocating," he added.

“Right of way is a key issue that has blocked the development of Rewas port," the spokesman added. “A delimitation of Mumbai port limits will solve the problem."

This has been done in the past.

“There are precedents on delimitation in other Union government-owned ports such as Kolkata and Kandla," a spokesperson for the shipping ministry said.

The previous United Progressive Alliance government had rejected requests for delimitation of Mumbai port limits, he added.

The first phase of the new port to be constructed on inter-tidal and government land, involving nine cargo-handling berths with a capacity to handle 66 million tones (mt) of cargo a year, was to start operations on a 50-year contract beginning October 2010. An agreement to develop and operate the port was signed in 2002.

MMB has transferred 839 hectares of inter-tidal zone (ITZ) land required for the project to Rewas Ports Ltd.

ITZ is the area between the land and sea that is covered by water at high tide and uncovered at low tide. The ITZ land given to the port developer should be used only for port and allied activities, according to the port privatization policy of the Maharashtra government.

Rewas will have facilities to handle containers, dry and liquid bulk, general cargo and automobiles.

In the second phase, Rewas plan to add 16 more berths, taking the total cargo handling capacity to 198 mt.

In the third and final phase, the port’s master plan provides for adding 45 more berths, expanding the total capacity to 457 mt. The port will have a depth of 14.5m in the first phase, which would be increased to 16m in the second and 20m in the third phase.

India, Asia’s third biggest economy, plans to raise cargo handling capacity at its ports to 3.13 billion tonnes by 2020 from 1.16 billion tonnes with an investment of 3 trillion, according to the shipping ministry.

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