Kerala’s interests not protected in Adani Vizhinjam port agreement, says State Port Minister V.N. Vasavan

We went ahead with the work when the LDF government came into power in 2016 as it was not right to annul the agreement after the work began in 2015, says Vasavan

Updated - July 12, 2024 11:47 am IST

Published - July 11, 2024 10:10 pm IST

V.N. Vasavan, Kerala’s Minister of Ports.

V.N. Vasavan, Kerala’s Minister of Ports.

The successful berthing of a mother vessel called ‘San Fernando’, chartered by Maersk (AP Moller Group), Denmark, at the Vizhinjam international seaport, India’s first deepwater container transshipment port, has opened a new chapter in the maritime history of the country. On the day the first ship carrying containers from the Xiamen port in China to Vizhinjam docked here, Port Minister V.N. Vasavan spoke to The Hindu about a range of issues, including the chasing of a dream and the way ahead for the port.

Was the docking of the ship as planned?

Yes, the berthing of the mother vessel created a new chapter in the maritime history of the State and country. The road to the long-cherished dream was arduous. However, we could overcome all the challenges, including the protest spearheaded by a section and supported by the Opposition United Democratic Front (UDF) in Kerala, and the force majeure circumstances comprising Ockhi cyclone in 2017, flood in 2018, COVID-19 outbreak and non-availability of the raw materials etc.

Will the trial run prove the competitiveness of the port, as it has been billed as the first deepwater container port, and will it end the dependence of the EXIM community on foreign ports for transshipment?

Though the exercise is termed a trial run, it marks the commencement of the limited scale operations of the port. Soon after the departure of ‘San Fernando’ on Friday, another vessel with an approximate length of 400 metres, chartered by Mediterranean Shipping Company, will make a port of call here with a record volume of containers. This is the beginning, and there will be regular arrivals of mother vessels at frequent intervals and feeder vessels for transshipment here from now on.

When will we be able to officially commission the port, starting full-fledged operations?

The port developer, Adani Ports and Special Economic Zone Ltd (APSEZ), is hopeful of commissioning the port by the Onam festival (by the middle of September). However, the State is of the view that the commissioning can be done by either the end of September or October, ahead of the revised scheduled deadline of December, 2024.

There were allegations that the State was very slow in arranging ancillary facilities like roads and rail links required for full-fledged operations. What do you have to say about that?

It is not true. The initial 600 metre out of the 1,700 metre four-lane port approach road has been commissioned and work on the remaining stretch is in progress. Secondly, the Environment Impact Assessment survey and detailed project report preparation for rail link connectivity are over. The work on the 10.7 km rail link, including the 9.02 km long tunnel with a depth of 25-30 meters below the ground, will begin soon. Thirdly, this is a transshipment port where 85% of the cargo is routed through the sea to and from different destinations inside the country. We expect only 15% of cargo to be routed through land, including rail. However, the major works, including the 80-km four-lane Outer Ring Road (ORR) from Vizhinjam bypass to Parippally in Kollam, will be completed in a time-bound manner for which talks are underway with National Highways Authority of India (NHAI).

What about the allegations that the State government yielded to Adani by ending the arbitration proceedings halfway for not meeting the deadline by the concessionaire?

It is not true. The State decided to end the arbitration proceedings and enter a new tripartite agreement with the concessionaire on July 27 to make available the viability gap fund (VGF) of ?817.80 crore offered by the Central government to the Adani Vizhinjam Port Private Ltd. (AVPPL). Further, the port developer was told to finish the second and third phases of the port development, which were to be completed by 2045 with an investment of ?10,000 crore, by 2028.?

The UDF has registered a protest against the function to be organised on Friday for not inviting the leaders of UDF and accepting their role in the port construction. Your comments.

It is a political stunt. If one goes through the records of the port, it was the government headed by E.K. Nayanar that appointed a committee to set up a port in the public sector. It’s true that the Left Democratic Front (LDF) had opposed the agreement signed by UDF with port concessionaire during the 2011–2016 period, as we still believe that the agreement has not protected the interests of the State, although the State invested around 66% of the project cost. The Centre’s lone contribution is the VGF. However, we went ahead with the work when the LDF government came into power in 2016 as it was not right to annul the agreement after the work started in 2015.

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