A poll promise made by Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee to set up two new ports in the state has hit a roadblock with the Union Shipping Ministry rejecting the proposal, raising concerns related to the sediment flux in the Bay of Bengal, navigation and economic viability. The issue has become a fresh cause of friction, affecting the already strained relations between the state and the Centre.
The ports were supposed to come up in Tajpur, East Midnapore, and Sagar Island, South-24 Parganas. However, earlier this week, the Shipping Ministry wrote to the state government expressing its apprehensions. In response, Bengal countered that the proposed Tajpur port will create an estimated 2,000 direct and 6,000 indirect jobs. It further pointed out that BJP-ruled states such as Gujarat had built multiple ports.
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A source in the Union ministry said that the matter reached a point where neither the state nor Centre seem keen to relent, and the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) had to intervene.
“The principal secretary of the concerned department in the state government will be meeting Shipping Ministry officials to try and resolve the matter,” said the source.
Earlier in June, the state government had identified an area in Tajpur to set up a new minor deep-sea port at an estimated cost of Rs 4,231 crore, with an 18.8-km sea channel, capable of handling around 60,000 tonnes of cargo. The government said they would spend Rs 150 crore, while remaining expenses would be borne by the company building the port.
The Sagar port has been on the anvil for over 15 years, with an aim to supplement operations in Kolkata and Haldia which can’t handle large ships due to the shallow draught (depth of water required to float a ship) of the Hooghly river. If the government were to go ahead with the Tajpur port, the Union Shipping Ministry maintains that the Sagar port would become unviable. In August, it had written to the state seeking their opinion on scrapping the Sagar plan and going ahead with the Tajpur port.
“There are a number of issues of viability. The Centre has already budgeted Rs 12,000 crore for development of related infrastructure such as roads and railway connectivity for the Sagar port. But if the state were to go ahead with the Tajpur port, this would become unviable. Moreover, this might also put jobs of workers at the existing Haldia Dock Complex, run by the Centre-controlled Kolkata Port Trust (KoPT) under risk,” said an official of the KoPT on condition of anonymity.
The Centre has raised concerns regarding the economic viability of multiple ports in the same area, the large sediment flux in the Bay of Bengal which has already rendered the existing Haldia port, with its shallow draught, completely dependent on maintenance dredging, and issues of navigation.
Suvendu Adhikari, TMC MP from Nandigram, said, “How is it that Gujarat can have so many ports, but when it comes to Bengal, there are problems?”
The state government has remained unfazed with the Centre’s refusal, with Finance Minister Amit Mitra announcing that the state was expecting an investment of Rs 16,000 crore for the proposed deep-sea port at Tajpur and would be inviting expression of interest by October.
Sources said a furious Mamata had made it clear to the Centre that she would not relent.