The Bengal government had, earlier this week, announced with a lot of fanfare the awarding of the overly ambitious Tajpur Port project to the Adani Ports & Special Economic Zone Ltd (APSEZ).
State urban development minister Firhad Hakim announced Monday that the state cabinet had approved APSEZ’s bid to develop the greenfield port at Tajpur with an investment of Rs 25,000 crore.
This will be the largest investment in Bengal in decades and chief minister Mamata Banerjee is showcasing it as proof of Bengal earning investors’ confidence and emerging as an attractive investment destination.
The proposed port:
Tajpur, a small seaside destination about 170 kilometers southwest of Kolkata, is quite underdeveloped at present.
It is a little over five kilometres off National Highway 116B and the nearest railway station–Ramnagar, is about nine kilometres away. A very narrow and congested road with densely populated settlements on both sides connects Tajpur to NH 116B.
Tajpur has a deep draft–’depth’ in layman’s terms–of 12.1 metres. During high tide, the water level goes up by 3.9 metres, and this will give the proposed port a net 16 metres draft facility. That means large ‘capesize’ ships with upto one lakh dead weight tonnage can dock at Tajpur.
Deadweight tonnage (DWT) is the total weight of a vessel, including that of its cargo, fuel, passengers, machinery, other equipment and fixtures.
Huge ships are called ‘capesize’ vessels because they cannot sail through the Panama canal and have to sail around the Cape of Good Hope to sail between the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans.
Bengal’s existing ports–Haldia and Kolkata–do not have that depth (or ‘draft’) and can accommodate only smaller vessels.
APSEZ is supposed to invest Rs 15,000 crore to build the port and another Rs 10,000 crore in port-related infrastructure development.
The state government will hand over 125 acres of seafront to APSEZ to build the port and another 1000 acres about four kilometres away for building related infrastructure and industrial facilities.
The state government has announced that the port will provide direct employment to 25,000 people and indirect employment to another one lakh.
Why the Tajpur port is important for Mamata Banerjee:
Despite her best efforts, Mamata Banerjee has been unsuccessful in attracting big ticket investments to Bengal over the last eleven years that she has been in power.
Big investors have given the state a wide berth and remain unconvinced of Bengal having turned industrial-friendly under Mamata Banerjee.
Over the past decade, flashy investment jamborees organised by Mamata Banerjee have attracted only a few investments in the small and medium-scale sectors.
Mamata Banerjee realises that without big industries or projects coming up in the state, Bengal’s finances will not improve and unemployment will continue to rise. That will push her into a tough political corner and harm her electoral prospects in the very near future.
She desperately needs a mega project to convince potential investors that Bengal is a safe and attractive place to invest in. A mega project like Tajpur port can act as a magnet for other investors to come to Bengal.
Why the Tajpur port project it is unlikely to happen:
These are a few important and tangible reasons for the entire project unlikely to get off the ground:
Dhamra & Pradip ports are nearby: The proposed Tajpur port will have to compete with two thriving ports–the Dhamra port which is also run by Adani and the Paradip port operated by the Union Government.
Dhamra is less than 200 kilometres away from Tajpur while Paradip is about 290 kilometres away.
Both Dhamra and Paradip are deep sea ports and berth the largest capesize vessels. Both have excellent infrastructure and are connected by six and eight-lane highways and by rail.
According to Union Ports & Shipping Ministry officials, both Dhamra and Paradip ports can handle more traffic and are also very well-equipped to add to their existing capacities to handle more traffic in future.
That will leave little cargo for Tajpur to handle even in future.
Also, both are located in Odisha where the industrial climate and infrastructure is much better than Bengal.
Dhamra and Paradip are already catering to exports from and imports by the mineral rich hinterlands of Odisha, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Bihar and the industrial belts in the neighbouring states. Tajpur, despite the tall claims by the Bengal government, will never get much traffic.