THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: A long-standing dream of Kerala has become a resounding reality with the arrival of the first large ship at Vizhinjam International Seaport in Thiruvananthapuram.
The project marks a milestone in the State’s infrastructural development – a big morale booster for the Pinarayi Vijayan-led Left Democratic Front (LDF) Government.
The timing of the first ship’s arrival is also significant. It has happened at a time when the Government is facing a veritable political storm. The development effectively silences the cynics and LDF-baiters who have been trumpeting day in and day out that this government is anti-development. It is a feather in the Government’s cap, exemplifying its development agenda.
The realization of the project faced heavy odds. As Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, who accorded a reception to the ship said, there were determined attempts by international lobbies to thwart the progress of the project. These lobbies were hyperactive during the construction of the port. As if this was not enough, some commercial lobbies were vehemently opposed to the coming up of a mother port at Vizhinjam. But their efforts came to a naught with the State Government succeeding in frustrating their nefarious designs.
The Vizhinjam port has many things to commend itself. Topping the list is its strategic location – just 10 nautical miles from the international shipping route connecting Europe, the Persia Gulf, and the Far East. In the days to come, Vizhinjam is set to become the largest private port in Kerala, enriching the State’s coffers in a big way. Apart from being the first exclusive transshipment port, Vizhinjam will also create history as the first semi-automated container terminal in the country – a global bunkering hub supplying clean and green fuel like hydrogen and ammonia.
Vizhinjam also has the potential to compete with leading ports in the world like Colombo, Singapore, Port Klang and Jebel Ali. The port boasts a natural draft of 18 metres, enabling it to dock some of the largest container ships in the word.
The ship’s arrival was also marred by a controversy sought to be created by the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF). The Youth Congress staged a protest at the entrance of the port by placing a board which read “Oommen Chandy International Seaport’. The YC’s claim was that it was former chief minister Oommen Chandy who made the port a reality. CPI(M) state secretary M V Govindan was, however, prompt in rejecting the UDF’s demand that the port be named after Chandy. Scoffing at such attempts, Govindan said the project was initiated during the time of the EK Nayanar Government. The initiative received a shot in the arm during the time of the VS Achuthanandan Government. The period saw the completion of the infrastructure work. The port would have remained with the Government but for the UDF Government’s decision to give its contract to the Adani group, under pressure from the then BJP Government. When protests were launched against the project, the UDF and the BJP opposed it. But the LDF made a strong pitch for it.
The Government also succeeded in persuading the Latin Church to drop its plan to boycott the programme. The Church cancelled its protest plan following the intervention of the LDF Government.
The work on the project began in December 2015. It was set to be completed in December 2019. However, the slow progress of the construction of breakwaters delayed the project. The deadline was further extended to 2024 because of the outbreak of Covid-19. The port will be developed mainly in four phases, and phase 1 is scheduled to be commissioned by May 2024 as per the revised deadline.
Meanwhile, the Adani group and the Special Economic Zone Limited (APSEZ) is planning to invest Rs 11,000 crore to complete phases II and III of the port. The group has invested Rs 3000 to Rs 5000 crore in the first phase, which is expected to be commissioned by December 4 this year. The arrival of the first ship at Vizhinjam is akin to the arrival of the first ship at Mundra port. The Vizhinjam project is expected to generate employment for over 5,500 people through direct and indirect jobs. The port could handle even 5 million TEU of cargo as against the original plan of 3 million TEU. The environmental clearance for the next phase will be obtained by April-May next year.
Moreover the development of the port will catalyse allied activities, too. For instance, the Union Government has given the green signal for a Rs 6200-crore ring road project linking Vizhinjam to other areas. The project will facilitate the growth of an industrial corridor alongside It.
The first ship which arrived at Vizhinjam, “Zhen Hua 15”, is anchored near the port. The docking of the first ship represents a significant milestone for a project which has been in the works for over three decades. The port is the latest addition to the State’s key development initiatives like the National Highway expansion, GAIL pipeline, Kochi Metro and Edamon-Kochi power highway. (IPA Service)