Conceived 3 decades ago, Kerala’s Vizhinjam port to be a reality by 2023

Published on Feb 13, 2022 11:52 PM IST

Kerala ports minister Ahammad Devarkoil who visited the site last week said work is in full swing and the project will keep its date.

The Vizhinjam port with 20-metre natural depth will be the country’s first mother port. (Vivek R Nair/ HT Photo)
The Vizhinjam port with 20-metre natural depth will be the country’s first mother port. (Vivek R Nair/ HT Photo)
ByRamesh Babu I Edited by Shilpa Ambardar, Thiruvananthapuram

A dream to reality, the country’s first mother port will be showcased in Vizhinjam (south Kerala) next year. Conceived three decades ago, the port with 20-metre natural depth and 12 nautical miles away from the international ship channel, is expected to be commissioned in October 2023.

Kerala ports minister Ahammad Devarkoil who visited the site last week said work is in full swing and the project will keep its date. “The project will change the face of south India. We have cleared all the bottlenecks, including shortage of granite stones,” he said.

As of now, the country is dependent heavily on Colombo, Singapore and Dubai mother ports for transhipment of heavy cargos incurring additional cost and time , but once Vizhinjam, 16 km south of state capital, is commissioned it will bridge the gap. “Once it is fully functional, the largest mother ship of the world can be anchored here easily,” said a port official, on anonymity, adding five mother ships can be berthed on the port at one time.

“It will be a milestone in the maritime history of the country. The country will save crores of rupees in foreign exchange. And it will be cost-effective and time efficient for both, importers and exporters. We are at the gateway to the dream,” said Adani Vizhinjam Port Limited CEO Rajesh Jha. Exporters and importers can move their cargo without additional cost and speed and it will be a big boost to the manufacturing sector in the country, he said.

He said another advantage of the Vizhinjam port is it needs minimum dredging as there is hardly any littoral movement (the drift refers to movement of entrained sand grains in the direction of the longshore current) along the coast to deposit sediments. In major ports, continuous dredging involves a lot of expenditure.

A cruise terminal, modern fishing harbour and a maritime cluster form the part of the project. Since growth of many world class cities like London, Singapore and Rotterdam revolved around ports, Vizhinjam is on the threshold of massive development, urban planners vouch. There is a ten-fold increase in land prices in the coastal town once the port work started, they said.

All major roads in the vicinity are getting developed and there will be a separate freight corridor. Besides this, Konkan Railway will also be developing an underground railway line from Balaramapuram (on Thiruvananthapuram-Kanyakumari stretch) to the port city. Once completed, it will be second longest tunnel in the country. Presently, the 11.26-kilometre Pir Punjal tunnel is Jammu is the longest tunnel.

A natural port, during the reign of erstwhile Travancore dynasty, Diwan C P Ramaswamy Iyer (1936- 1947) realised the potential of the deep seaport but failed to take off. The idea was revived in 1990s when M V Raghavan was port minister but the idea failed to move ahead. When A K Antony was the chief minister (CM) a global tender was floated and a firm — Zoom Developers — showed interest but later the government had to cancel the bidding after it found Chinese investment in it. Cases were filed one after the other and an international conspiracy was also sniffed to delay the project. Local fishermen were also provoked regularly, which was followed by a series of protests and litigations.

In 2014, another tender was floated when Oommen Chandy was the CM and Adani group was the sole bidder. In 2015, Adani Vizhinjam Port Private Limited entered into an agreement with the state government to construct and maintain the port for 40 years. Under the private public partnership agreement, the Adani group will design, build, finance, operate and transfer the project at 7,525 crore.The project was expected to be completed by 2019 but delayed due to cyclone Ockhi in 2017 and Cyclone Tauktae last year. Later, shortage of granite rocks for breakwater and pandemic added to its woes, officials familiar with the development said.

The local fishing community often created stir saying breakwater and constructions will rob them of their livelihood and some religious groups and political parties also fanned the flames of the protests. Detractors of the port even said that the large-scale sea reclamation and breakwater stretches submerged the nearby beaches.

Despite all the obstacles, the firm managed to win confidence of the stakeholders with many corporate social responsibility (CSR) schemes. The Adani Vizhinjam Port Limited said it has spent 50.56 for CSR activities in last five years. “There will be overall development once it functions and we hope local people’s aspirations will be fulfilled,” said Kovalam legislator M Vincent.

The mother company Adani Ports and Special Economic Zone Limited is the largest ports operator in the country accounting for nearly one-fourth of the cargo movement controlling 13 domestic sea ports. The group has also entered into aviations sector developing many airports, including Thiruvananthapuram.

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