Meenas low-profile announcement last week that the extension would help the port launch trans-loading facilities in six months and revive its sagging business has provoked Orissa government officials to call the move a hush-hush affair. The Dhamra Port, being jointly developed by Tata Steel and Larsen & Toubro, is located close to the border with West Bengal. Orissa government officials fear that the expanded Kolkata port could eat into the business of Dhamra Port and threaten its future, besides putting the future of ports planned at Bichitrapur, Chaumuhan, Bahabalpur, Chandipur, Inchudi and Chudamani in peril.
The move extends Kolkata Port Trusts limit 181 km south, nudging the border of the Dhamra Port. Orissa government officials say that they were kept in the dark about the extension and came to know of it only this week.
The Union government has already made the official gazette notification announcing the extension of the port limit. Following this, Orissa chief secretary BK Patnaik has shot off a letter to shipping secretary K Mohandas, urging him to withdraw the notification.
The letter calls the decision illogical and unreasonable. The chief secretary states that the extension will kill at least five port sites, which are in various stages of development. He says the state government had identified the port sites and notified the port limits earlier. The letter adds that the shipping ministry decision was against the spirit of the Minor Port Policy of the Government of India.
The ministry should have consulted the Orissa government before notifying the port limit, said a senior official. He said the extension was aimed at covering a tranquil waterfront down south near Dhamra Port. The tranquil water front will facilitate trans-shipment of cargo for the riverine Kolkata Port, he added.
In Kolkata, Meena explained why the extension was necessary for the survival of Kolkata port, which is facing heavy siltation and falling draft. Since big-size vessels cant come approach the port, goods have to be trans-loaded at Sandheads, a point on the high seas off Bay of Bengal. However, at Sandheads, trans-loading can happen only for six-seven months because the sea gets rough during monsoons. Now, a sheltered zone has been identified closer to the Orissa border so that trans-loading can go on uninterrupted, enabling big vessels to call on the twin dock complexes of Haldia and Kolkata, he said. The Kolkata Dock System (KDS) handled traffic of 13.045 million tonnes in 2009-2010 against 12.428 million tonnes in 2008-2009, registering a growth of 5%. According to government officials in Orissa, the extension has sealed the fate of at least five potential port sites in Orissa. Traffic to Dhamra Port will be hit too, they said. The Dhamra Port will have 27 million tonne per annum cargo handling capacity in the first phase of the project, which will later go up to 109 million tonne. The Port will have facilities for handling export cargo of iron ore, steel coils, and steel plates/sheets and import cargo of coking coal, limestone etc. Dhamra Port has started trial operations and is expected to launch commercial operations very soon.