In a major jolt to the Kolkata Port, its board of trustees decided on Friday scrap the proposed port facility at Sagar island in South 24 Parganas district citing "lack of funds and non-viability". The project had figured in Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee’s budget speech in Februray 2010, when he promised to provide funds.
The project was the first-of-its kind in India as KoPT was planning to come up with the port through the reclamation of riverbed. While the reclamation was expected to cost about Rs 200 crore, the total port facility was pegged at about Rs 5,000 crore. The plan was to reclaim 2000 acres of land for the project ranging 8 kilo metre stretch for developing a port facility.
Sagar Port was expected to find a solution to the perennial draft problems of the port. “We anticipated that there we will have a natural draft of 9 metre. But experts say that it is not viable and the shipping ministry has rejected it,” said a senior port official, who does not want to be named.
“We have decided to drop the project, as the shipping ministry was not ready to allot the money for it. They had asked us to internally finance the pilot project covering about 1 kilo metre stretch with 800 metre width, which may cost Rs 32 crore. KoPT, which is in a bad financial situation is unable to do that,” said Debashis Dutta, a member of the trust. There were also speculations that the state might takeover the project.
The project was facing allegations after the then Railways minister Mamata Banerjee and minister of state for shipping Mukul Roy laid the foundation stone for the dyke for reclamation of land at Sagar Island and the railway line connecting it in February 2011, much before the feasibility study from RITES, which is yet to be out.
“The project reclamation planned was through geo-tubes technology with 800 metre wide receptacles, in which the receptacles will be filled with the dredged silt of the river thus further proposing to ensure effective dredging in the river Hooghly. But even an interim report from the RITES had said that the project is not feasible in the Western area where KoPT was planning it and they had suggested it to be done in the Eastern side of Sagar island, as ‘Jambu Dweep’ can act as a cyclone barrier there,” said a top KoPT official.
When contacted RITES about the interim report it declined to comment. “The final feasibility report is under process. We are expecting to submit it by the end of this month,” Arvind Kumar, head (ports), RITES, said. KoPT was spending about Rs 10 crore for the feasibility study only.
According to the content in interim report to which Business Standard got access to, the railway PSU said, “Western Side could be vulnerable because (i) the wind is very strong (ii) water is very choppy (iii) cyclone prone area and not Sheltered (iv) Bedford and Lohachara Islands on the Western Side could be a possible threat to Sagar Port because of land erosion meaning that Dredging will still have to be done involving hundreds of crores of rupees.”
The project was also in news due to a tender floated by the port officials for the pilot project in April 2011 for Rs 27 crore, even though the location of the port at Sagar was not yet finalised. Again in August, KoPT innovated fresh tender with a revised estimate of Rs 32 crore. According to sources, Mackintosh Burn Limited, Maccaferri Environmental Solutions, and Emaskiara, a Malaysia-based company, participated in the tender.
“With the board deciding not to go ahead with the project, it will highlight the pathetic financial state of Kolkata Port,” said a KoPT official, who was allegedly suspended for raising the Sagar Port issue in public.