Industrial installations worth over Rs 70,000 crore and people living in 123 villages on the Indo-Pak border district of Kutch are at risk as a severe cyclonic storm Nilofar threatens to hit the coast at Naliya, by Saturday.
In order to safeguard these units, including the country’s two biggest ports — Mundra and Kandla —, the local industries have been asked to suspend all activity 12 hours prior to the arrival of Nilofar, which is expected to make a landfall at Naliya, the western end of the district. The local administration has also planned to evacuate over 30,000 people from 123 villages in the district.
The administration is taking no chances given the loss of life in the 1998 and 2000 cyclones where Kandla port was devastated, and the salt and shipping industry was badly hit. Kutch, since then and after the tax holiday that followed the massive quake of 2001 has developed into a major industry hub and a busy port.
“We have planned to evacuate 30,000 people residing in “kaccha” houses in these villages. These villages are those located 0-15 kilometers from the shoreline,” said MS Patel, district collector of Kutch.
“Industries, especially those dealing with chemicals and petroleum products have also been asked to suspend operations,” he said adding that the three of the four NDRF teams have already arrived to assist the district administration. “We have asked all officials to move into interior areas and prepare for the storm,” Patel said. The administration has also requested for two companies of State Reserve Police.
The president of Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Kutch (CCIK), Rajesh Bhatt says, “We do not want to be caught napping. We have learnt our lessons from the cyclones of 1998 and 2000 when hundreds of lives were lost and the salt and shipping industry were hit the hardest. This time we are not taking any chances. So after a meeting with the district administration on Monday, we as an industry body we have advised the industrial units in and around Naliya to shut all production activities 12 hour prior to the cyclone.”
According to the industry body, the important installations of Sanghi Cements, Ultratech Cements, ABG Cements, mines of GMDC and the 290 MW Kutch Lignite Thermal Power Station (near Panandhro village), dot the region surrounding Naliya, where the wind speeds are expected to be reach between 100-125 kilometers per hour. These units, that are on the path the cyclone might possibly take, have been asked to suspended production.
“Several of these units have long chimneys, and we have asked them to ensure safety of the 60,000-odd direct and indirect workers employed with them. They have also been asked to stock rations for a week. We do not want to take any risk,” Bhatt said adding that the CCIK and the industries in the district were working in close coordination with the local administration that has kept food, water tankers and temporary shelters ready in anticipation of the cyclone.
In 1998 cyclone that hit the Gulf of Kutch, over 1173 people had lost their lives, 1774 persons went missing and losses to the tune of Rs 1865 crore were incurred. “During the 1998 cyclone, Kutch had only a handful of industries including the Kandla port, IFFCO, Ashapura Minechem. Today, Kutch has over Rs 70,000 crore worth of industrial installations, which includes 120 large industries and 2000 small-scale enterprises (SMEs). We are doing our best to protect the industrial assets and the people working in them,” Bhatt said adding that most of the industries have come in to the district after tax holidays were announced post-2001 earthquake.
Installations like 1200 MW Kutch wind park of Suzlon Group at Changdai (about 60 kilometers from Naliya) are likely to be in the way of the cyclonic storm. “We will be suspending power generation at the wind farm about three hours prior to the arrival of the storm. We expect the transmission lines to be suspended till the storm abates,” said an official from the company who did not wish to be named. The company’s maiden wind park that was initiated in 2005 includes 1200 windmills in a cluster of wind farm sites spread across Kutch namely Nanisindholi, Suthri, Jakhau, Amaliyara, Vanku, Lathedi, Jamanvada, Sinoi & Shikarpur.
Meanwhile, both Mundra and Kandla, the country’s biggest ports in terms of cargo volumes are taking precautionary steps. “We have already started preparing for the storm. Decisions about suspending operations will be taken as the storm nears. We are in constant touch with the district administration,” said a spokesperson for the Adani Port and Special Economic Zone (APSEZ) that operates the Mundra port.
“In 1998 cyclone, Kandla port was badly hit and had to remain closed for about 16 days. After that cyclone an internal action plan was prepared, which is being followed. We have already activated control rooms in Gandhidham, Vadinar and Kandla. On October 30, we will be converting some of our schools and community halls into temporary evacuation centres. We have also kept 12 buses ready,” said Sanjay Bhaty, PRO, Kandla Port Trust (KPT).