Kerala has been formally told by the central government that its proposed port in Vizhinjam cannot come up because of the involvement of Chinese companies.
"We have finally got a letter from New Delhi stating that the project cannot go ahead because of the Chinese companies," State Ports Minister M Vijayakumar said.
Kerala has been talking about the development of a world-class port at Vizhinjam near Kovalam for nearly a decade. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was to lay the foundation stone in February 2005.
But that did not happen after then Chief Minister Oommen Chandy suffered a fall in Davos, Switzerland, and elections to the assembly were announced soon after.
After that, the central government orally denied clearance to the port because two Chinese companies were part of a three-member consortium that won the tender to build the port.
Chief Minister VS Achuthanandan led an all-party delegation to New Delhi in ugust to urge the prime minister to grant clearance to the Rs 43.6 billion project.
But the central government did not revise its stand on the Chinese companies since they were also reportedly working on a port in Pakistan.
And now a port coming up in Tamil Nadu is causing the jitters to Kerala, which feels this will dim whatever attraction Vizhinjam held.
The Tamil Nadu port will be built at Colachel, just 40 km from Vizhinjam.
"The moment the tender for Colachel is announced, there will be no takers for Vizhinjam because of various favourable factors that Tamil Nadu has," said Elias John, the convenor of the Vizhinjam Mother Port Action Council.
The council is a conglomeration of several bodies demanding clearance for the Vizhinjam port. It includes various NGOs and religious groups as well.
But Vijayakumar insisted that Colachel would in no way affect Vizhinjam.
"In two weeks, the revised project report would be ready and in eight months the tender procedures would be completed (for Vizhinjam)," the minister said.
According to John, however, eight months could even sound the death-knell for Vizhinjam. His council has started a campaign to speed up the process.
"In Pondicherry they completed the tender formalities for a port in less than two months. We have launched a campaign to pressurise the Achuthanandan government to lay the foundation stone of the port on the first anniversary of their government on May 18," said John.
A major advantage Vizhinjam has over other ports in India is that it needs no dredging. Moreover, it lies very close to the international waters.
An area of 150 acres has been earmarked for the port and there would be no displacement of the local fishing population, according to the project proposal.