New Delhi: With the Mamata Banerjee government in West Bengal approving the issuance of a letter of intent to the Adani group Monday, for the development of the Tajpur port, India’s eastern region is set to become a hub of trade and investment. The deep sea port is expected to ensure smoother access to neighboring countries like Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan, shipping sector analysts told ThePrint.
The West Bengal Maritime Board will soon hand the letter of intent to Adani Ports and Special Economic Zone (APSEZ), India’s largest port operators and a wholly owned subsidiary of Adani Ports. The development of the port would entail an investment of Rs 25,000 crore.
APSEZ was the highest bidder against the Request for Proposal floated for the development of the port by the West Bengal government’s Department of Industry, Commerce and Enterprises last October. But since then the state government had gone slow on approving the letter of intent to APSEZ. The letter of intent will be followed by the formal award of contract to Adani Ports.
The approval for the letter of intent comes close on the heels of a Supreme Court ruling on 5 September, which observed that the Adani Group’s disqualification from a port project in Visakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh, should not be treated as an “ineligibility” that bars it from bidding for other port projects.
While Tajpur will be the second-biggest port in West Bengal, after the Kolkata Port — now known as the Syama Prasad Mookerjee Port (SMP) — it will be Bengal’s first greenfield port in close to half-a-century. A greenfield project is one in which construction happens on unused land, where there is no need to remodel or demolish an existing structure.
In addition to SMP, which is a major port, there are a handful of minor ports too in the state. SMP handled 61.36 million tonnes (MT) of cargo traffic during 2020-21 — the fifth-highest among the 12 major ports in India. It also handled the highest number of vessels during this period.
Besides SMP, other major ports in the eastern region include the Paradip port in Odisha.
According to the West Bengal government and maritime sector experts, the Tajpur deep sea port will act as a maritime gateway for not only the state, but the entire eastern region. Firhad Hakim, state urban development minister, told ThePrint that a tide of development is set to hit Bengal through the Tajpur Port.
“This is indeed a historic moment for Bengal, it will bring massive employment opportunities and a wave of progress in Bengal. The CM will very soon hold an event and serve the letter of intent. We will get to see the first deep sea port in Bengal,” he said.
APSEZ had also emerged as the highest bidder in February 2021 for the mechanisation of a berth in the Haldia Dock Complex in public private partnership mode. But they are yet to be awarded the contract by the Syama Prasad Mookerjee Port Trust.
‘Not just a port but a port-led development’
Tajpur Port is located near Tajpur in West Bengal’s Purba Medinipur district, some 200 km from Kolkata. It will enable a large ‘capesize’, the largest class of cargo vessels of one lakh dry weight in tons (DWT), to call on the port. Maritime experts said this is significant as the shallow draft has constrained larger ships to call on ports in the state.
The Tajpur Port will have a deep draft of 12.1 metre with an 18 km channel. A tidal support of 3.9 m leading to a net 16 m draft facility will enable large capesize vessels to call on the port.
Industry experts said that Tajpur is not just a port but a “port-led development”.
“Close to 1,000 odd acres of land will be given (to Adani) along with the port for setting up industries and other port-led development. The magnitude of investment is also quite significant,” said Jagannarayan Padmanabhan, director and practice leader, consulting, transport, mobility and logistics, Crisil Market Intelligence & Analytics.
Padmanabhan added that, in the medium term, the port can facilitate a lot of coastal development.
“For instance, if from West Bengal, you want to go to Chennai, Kerala, Maharashtra… you now have an additional option, which can happen. It could facilitate development on the eastern freight development corridor, which goes through Amritsar (in Punjab) to Dankuni (in West Bengal). With the Tajpur Port coming through, the integration from Dankuni to Kolkata could be taken up for further consideration,” said Padmanabhan.
“It could facilitate a lot of exports…there is an abundance of coal, iron ore and other minerals in that belt. It could give a huge impetus to the overall development of the state. Also, when a port comes across, there will also be improvement in the road infrastructure, your rail infrastructure will also be upgraded,” he added.
A statement issued by the West Bengal government said that, overall, the project would involve an investment of Rs 25,000 crore. Besides, it would create 25,000 jobs directly and over one lakh jobs indirectly.
According to Padmanabhan, it’s very important for the state that the deep sea port comes through. “It’s a maritime gateway. Access to our neighbouring countries, like Bangladesh, becomes a lot easier when you have your own port,” he said.
He added that from the coastline perspective, in West Bengal it will be difficult to squeeze in any more such ports in the coastline due to technical issues, like heavy siltation of the Hooghly river. “Although you have a coastline, you can’t have a deep water port. The Tajpur Port in that coastline is a major port.”
Maritime sector experts told ThePrint that after a long time, a state maritime board was bidding out an entire port for development. They said it’s significant since it can give confidence to other state governments to take up similar projects.
(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)