Palghar, Maharashtra’s newest district carved out of Thane last August, is poised to get an economic boost from an unlikely source: its sleepy, fishing coast. The next ‘major port’ of the country is slated come up some 4.5 nautical miles (about 8,300 metres) off Palghar’s Dahanu coast.
The idea of a port at Dahanu, to supplement a saturating Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust (JNPT), was floated two decades ago, but nothing came of it, primarily on resistance from local fishermen who feared for their livelihood. But the BJP governments at the Centre and state are determined to see the port up and buzzing. What is driving the project close to reality is not just that the shipping and road transport minister Nitin Gadkari is from Maharashtra, but new ways have been found as well to work around the hurdles that grounded the project.
In a first, the central government has made the state government an equity partner in the project to ensure faster completion of the port. Major ports are otherwise entirely under the central government. So the Dahanu port will be executed as a partnership between JNPT and the Maharashtra Maritime Board (MMB). JNPT will own 76% stake while MMB will hold 24%.
Again, this time around, the proposal is to build the port through reclaimed land, with hopes that it will find favour with the locals and avert green hassles. “There is already a functional road and railway connectivity from the proposed port location, so there is expected to be very little requirement of land for the port purpose. This land will also be made available through reclamation, so it will not require cutting of forests,” said a person with knowledge of the project.
Government officials told FE that the current location of the port does not pose a challenge for the fishing folks of the area, and the project plans have been tweaked a bit to prevent harm to environment and address concerns of the locals.
Though some reports suggest the port will come up on 2,500 acres of reclaimed land, JNPT is yet to estimate the actual requirement of land for the project. Detailed traffic study and appointment of consultants for advising on the project are under way. Preliminary reports suggest the port will have a capacity to handle 60-100 million tonne of cargo per annum, and would cost roughly R6,000 crore.
The Dahanu port, some 150 km away from Mumbai, will primarily handle ‘dirty cargo’ like coal, which is to be shifted out of the Mumbai port, along with some container handling.
Gadkari said the port will help power plants located in Maharashtra as they would get coal with faster turnarounds. A senior state official said power plants in northern Maharashtra, especially at Jalgaon and Nasik, could benefit the most because of their proximity to the port.
Palghar district boasts of India’s first atomic power plant located at Tarapur, apart from being home to industrial town of Boisar and Tarapur MIDC, one of Maharashtra’s largest industrial areas.
The two governments have set an ambitious deadline of completing the port within three years, but people in the port industry are sceptical. “Even if the environment and forest clearances come in fast, it will take at least 18-24 months for the work to begin,” said a senior official in the port sector. “Technical studies remain to be conducted, contractors have to be appointed, and these are time consuming processes,” the official said.
Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis said earlier in June that the issues surrounding the port for nearly two decades have been resolved and that the port was good to go. Maharashtra has, on its 720 km coastline, two major ports—JNPT and Mumbai Port—and three private ports of Dharamtar, Dighi and Jaigad. Indications are that the third major port will have a smooth sail, even if a little slow.