With a favourable feasibility report by its side, the Kolkata Port Trust is to develop Sagar Island, the pilgrimage centre about 100 km south of Kolkata city, as a major port.
After years of planning and discussions, the Union shipping ministry has decided to develop the port facility on the western side of the island. This follows a directive from the Prime Minister’s Office to finalise two new ports, in West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh, in the agenda to push infrastructure development.
Yet, all this is happening even as there is huge scepticism on the viability of the port. The nitty-gritty of the arrangements are still being worked out between the state and the central government. Sagar Island could be commissioned as a satellite port or the project could be a joint venture between the state and the central governments.
A section of port officials have drawn a lot of flak for bringing up issues regarding Sagar Island in the past, with a senior official even getting suspended. It is learnt that RITES had pointed out several flaws with the location where the port facility is being planned earlier this year; it had said the area was under the influence of ‘strong currents/wind and exposed to waves’ and the experts also apprehended that ‘maneuvering of vessels and berthing on open coast may be difficult’.
However, “It has gone back on its own report, since there is a lot of political pressure and vested interests to make this port. It will never be able to take off,” said a senior Kolkata Port official who did not wish to be named.
In its current report, RITES has proposed a two-phased development. The first phase, to include land reclamation and development of nine berths at a 2.1-km stretch, would be completed by 2017, the fresh report mentions. The total cost estimated for Phase-I is Rs 4,800 crore. The second phase, for which the deadline has been kept till 2036-37, would have another 11 berths and cost around Rs 2,800 crore. The funds for the project are expected to be raised through the public-private investment route. There is also a plan to develop rail and road infrastructure to provide hinterland connectivity.
The idea of having a Sagar Island port was mooted to have a sea-facing facility which provides deeper draft, given the fact that Kolkata is a riverine port where dredging continues to be a big issue.