What is the Ghogha-Dahej ro-ro ferry?
The roll on, roll off (“ro-ro”) ferry will ply the Gulf of Khambhat between peninsular Saurashtra and South Gujarat. Ghogha in Saurashtra’s Bhavnagar district lies 17 nautical miles, or 32 km, across the gulf from Dahej in Bharuch district (see map). The ferry, the first of its kind in India, will be able to carry up to 100 vehicles (cars, buses and trucks) and 250 passengers between the two ports. An earlier attempt, made by a private firm with support from the state government, to launch a modern passenger ferry service (the “Kutch-Sagar Setu”) between Okha in Devbhumi Dwarka district and Mandavi in Kutch district across the Gulf of Kutch in 2016, had to be suspended after it faced technical and financial challenges.
When was the project conceptualised?
Prime Minister Narendra Modi told BJP workers in Ahmedabad on October 16 that the Congress had been promising a ro-ro ferry service across the Gulf of Khambhat (formerly Cambay) since the time of Balwantrai Mehta, Gujarat’s second Chief Minister (1963-65). Sources in the Gujarat Maritime Board (GMB) said the project started to take shape after 1995, when the state government came up with a ports policy. In the early 2000s, a feasibility survey by the London-based marine engineering consultancy firm Beckett Rankine was commissioned; its report came four years later. After the government accorded administrative and technical approvals, the GMB, the Gujarat government body in charge of marine and ports affairs along the state’s 1,600 km coastline, floated tenders for the project in 2011. Work orders were issued in December of that year.
Why is the project important?
Over the years, lakhs of people from the Saurashtra districts of Bhavnagar, Armeli and Rajkot have migrated to Surat in South Gujarat to work in the diamond and textiles industries. The shortest road distance between Bhavnagar and Surat is around 360 km, and the journey takes 8-10 hours. But Ghogha is just 25 km from Bhavnagar, and Dahej is 120 km from Surat — the ferry service can, therefore, cut the distance between the two cities to around 170 km, and the travel time by half.
The distance between Ghogha and Dahej, 32 km apart across the gulf, is 350 km by road. Buses run by the Gujarat State Road Transport Corporation and private operators are almost always packed, especially because rail traffic between the two cities is limited and the journey time-consuming. Ro-ro ferry operators have proposed Rs 850 as the one-way passenger fare, inclusive of pick-up and drop facilities from Surat and Bhavnagar, which is almost at par with prevalent bus fares. Just the ferry ride will take an hour and cost Rs 500. The transport of trucks will speed up goods movement as well.
How has the project progressed?
Then Chief Minister Modi laid the foundation stone in January 2012, around 10 months before the Assembly elections of that year. The engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) contract was awarded to Essar Projects India Ltd. GMB had given the contractor 15 months to build terminal buildings and infrastructure such as jetties, but work began only when the deadline was close. Just about 10% of work was completed until mid-2015, when GMB virtually took over from the contractor.
So, is the project complete now?
Not quite. The project involves construction of onshore terminal buildings at both Ghogha and Dahej, plus offshore facilities like a 511 metre-long rubble bund, 448 metre-long approach jetty, a 96 metre-long linkspan and a steel pontoon at Ghogha. The linkspan is supposed to be a 900-tonne steel structure designed to hinge from the approach jetty and land on the pontoon, which will be yoked to guide pillars. The long span will ensure smooth movement of passengers and vehicles across the tidal range of nine metres in the Gulf of Cambay, the second highest in the world.
In Dahej, the rubble bund is merely 100 m, and the approach jetty 50 m. The linkspan and pontoon are similar to those in Ghogha.
The onshore and offshore terminal and offshore facilities have been completed in Dahej. At Ghogha, the terminal is ready, but the offshore facility is not. The contractor attempted to launch the linkspan at Ghogha last month by bringing in a floating crane, but the operation remained unsuccessful. The dredging contractor hit hard strata at Ghogha, and rough monsoon seas prevented the mobilisation of other machinery. Technically, the project is 90% complete, say officers.
What then will the PM inaugurate?
The contractor is likely to make another attempt towards the end of the year to launch the linkspan at Ghogha by employing computer-controlled hydraulic jacks instead of a crane. To beat the Model Code of Conduct, however, the government modified the project in last week of September, and ordered the launch of a walkway in place of the linkspan at Ghogha. The walkway, weighing 62 tonnes and only 2 metres wide, was fabricated on a war footing, and was launched on October 14. The walkway will facilitate the movement of passengers only. The PM will inaugurate what GMB officers are calling phase I of the project, which will provide passenger ferry service only. Ro-ro service will start only after the linkspan, which will be 7 metres wide and will facilitate the movement of vehicles between the pontoon and jetty, is completed. Engineers will have to remove the walkway before re-attempting work on building the linkspan.
How much has the delay cost?
The ro-ro ferry service was planned to be rolled out in mid-2013, at an estimated cost, including the cost of dredging, of Rs 296 crore. Essar Projects had won the EPC contract, which did not involve dredging, by quoting Rs 223.53 crore. GMB had decided to award the dredging contract only after the terminal and offshore facilities were ready. When it finally floated the dredging tender in January this year, the lowest bid was Rs 197 crore, almost three times the earlier estimate of Rs 55 crore. The project cost now stands at Rs 614 crore. The central government has allocated Rs 117 crore for dredging work at both Ghogha and Dahej under the Sagarmala initiative.
How is the project politically important?
Surat’s diamond industry is controlled by Patidars who have migrated from Saurashtra. Patidars have been seeking OBC status and quota benefits in jobs; Surat has seen largescale violence, and a number of BJP events have been interrupted by protesters. Surat’s textile traders, too, have protested vehemently against the Goods and Services Tax. The ferry service could be seen as the BJP’s attempt to assuage them.