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Centre-Bengal government tussle over stake in proposed deep sea port near Tajpur

While the Centre wants 74% stake, the Mamata Banerjee administration wants to limit it to 26%.

cities Updated: Mar 15, 2017 20:40 IST
The Tajpur beach may undergo a radical change if the project comes up.(HT Photo)

Kolkata Port Trust (KoPT) chairman M T Krishna Babu will meet West Bengal chief secretary Basudeb Banerjee on Thursday to press for 74% share for the shipping ministry in the proposed deep-sea port that the state government wants to develop.

“The shipping ministry wants majority share. This message has been conveyed to the state government. I’ll take it up with the chief secretary during our meeting on Thursday. The ministry does not want to play a minor role,” Krishna Babu said on Wednesday.

Read: India, Iran and Afghanistan sign Chabahar port agreement

Bengal is the only state in the eastern coast of the country that does not have a deep sea port which is reckoned to be crucial in the economic development of the state. Both Kolkata and Haldia ports that are operated by KoPT are battling a lot of roadblocks the most prominent of which is declining draft of the Hooghly river.

Earlier, the Bengal government proposed 26% share to the shipping ministry. They planned to invite bids from international players in maritime trade for the majority share.

Tajpur is now a minor tourist destination near the Bengal-Odisha border. The port will be built at a spot a few kms into the sea. (HT Photo)

According to sources in the state government, the total cost of the project in two phases has been estimated at about Rs 5,800 crore, of which nearly Rs 5,000 crore will be required for the first phase. Last year the state finance minister Amit Mitra said they want to make it operational by 2019.

While idea of the Tajpur port had received support from industry body Bengal Chamber of Commerce and Industries, a silent tussle was going on between the Centre and the state government over the stake.

The shipping ministry has said that they will back out from the proposed Sagar port – which has been in the pipelines for nearly 15 years – should the Tajpur port comes up. They argued the Sagar port will no longer be viable if the Tajpur project materialises.

Read: Why the Chabahar Port agreement kills two birds with one stone

Tajpur also enjoys better connectivity than Sagar, requiring less investment for infrastructural development.

“There is no question of the state government agreeing to the proposal of the Centre enjooying a 76% stake,” a senior Trinamool Congress leader who has knowledge of the state’s plan about Tajpur port told HT.

The leader said that should the Centre decide against picking up a stake in the Tajpur project, the state government will develop it in partnership with private players, with the latter holding majority share.

“Should the shipping ministry back out from the Tajpur project, the state government will go ahead with its original plan of building roads and infrastructural linkages, while the private party winning the tender will bear all other cost,” the Trinamool MP said.

Read: New trade route via Pakistan’s Gwadar port opened

According to a shipping ministry official, the state’s model would yield little revenue for the state government. “When private parties bear majority of the cost, they propose to share 0.5% to 2.5% of the revenue earned, whereas the government earns about 25% of the revenue when it has the majority share,” a shipping ministry official said.

Shipping ministry officials also hinted that the prospect of the Rs 12,000 crore Sagar port project – which already received the Public Investment Board’s nod for Rs 515 crore grant – stands bleak at the present juncture.

First Published: Mar 15, 2017 20:40 IST