Days after the city’s first cruise liner, MB Angriya, sailed to Goa, Mumbai Port Trust Chairman Sanjay Bhatia tells about upcoming projects, development of the eastern water front and how the city needs a breath of fresh air.
Q: What has been the response to the Mumbai-Goa cruise ship since its launch on October 20?
A: I understand that the response has been very good. There is so much excitement among people to travel on the cruise. In India, hardly anyone goes on a cruise and if they do, they travel on the international ones. Records state that almost 2.5 lakh people travel on international cruises every year. I expect more Indians to opt for the domestic one as it has generated a lot of positive response.
After people complained about high rates, the starting rates were slashed by Rs 1,000 to Rs 6,000. They are going to do three trips per week where they will park the ship at domestic cruise terminal for cleaning and maintenance purposes. The cruise is required to pay the MPT the port dues, berth hire and water charges. While last year, as many as 50,000 passengers took the international cruise, this number will increase to 1 lakh by this year and almost 2 lakh by next year.
Due to the success of this cruise, more shipping players will be encouraged. While the pilot is always a problem, I am sure more cruises will come on board. In April, two bigger ships are supposed to start operations – one of them with a capacity of 2,500 and will start from the International Cruise Terminal. They will also cater to the domestic route. The more the ships, the better it is for us.
A: The Mumbai Port Trust has ordered an inquiry into the boat MRM-1 carrying journalists and political leaders which capsized on October 24 as it did not have clearance. What has been the result of the inquiry?
A: I have asked the Port Marine Chief Deputy Conservator to inquire into the incident. I have not discussed the results but will do soon. Ships are properly monitored. We always provide a pilot on the ship. There is a tug boat and also a highway. There is Vessel Traffic Service (VTS) tower too that guides them. So, all ships and boats are under proper surveillance.
Q: What has been the progress of passenger capacity and operational handling at the International Cruise Terminal?
A: Many international ships conduct operations from there. On the international front, we expect the number of ships to increase to 300 in the next 2-3 years. On the domestic route, we have the Angriya ship. We are getting a good response from domestic ship players. As far as ship building is concerned, we had a dry dock called the Hughes which would repair up to 35 ships every year. However, we have given it to the Cochin ship building yard which would repair up to 80-90 ships per year.
Q: When is the Mumbai-Alibaug Ro-Ro service expected to launch?
A: Mumbai’s terminal (Bhaucha Dhakka) and also the Mandwa’s are ready. We are waiting for the boats to arrive. While a bidder has come on board, some court matter is on. As soon as it is over, we are expecting another ship to arrive in 60 days. The boats will be able to carry 50 cars, 10 buses and around 250 passengers. It will relax the road traffic, especially during monsoon. These will go till Mandwa during monsoon as well. Plan is on to build three floating restaurants, out of which two will be launched on November 17. These will be docked at the Gateway of India and Marine Drive. The third will also be parked at the Gateway side.
Q: What is the operating cost of the Port Trust?
A: We have recorded an operating profit of Rs 350 crore, but we are also suffering a loss of Rs 700 crore due to the payment of pension to about 37,000 former employees. The MPT has stopped hiring since 2003. To resolve this, we are trying to build a pension fund, which can be solely reserved for the purpose. While the pension size is about Rs 12,000 crore, we allocate about Rs 800 crore every year. We have collected about Rs 8,400 crore through our revenues and we will collect the remaining amount in the coming financial years. After we achieve the target, the pension will continue to be disbursed from the fund and our operating profit will become real.
Q: What are the other upcoming projects that will be launched soon?
A: Water taxis should start by next month. We have invited applications and the boats will carry up to 30-40 passengers in it. A person will be able to board from the domestic cruise terminal and will go till Nerul, Dharmtal, Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust. While the fares of the water taxi have not been decided, it will be economical and cheaper than the taxis.
Also, there are three gardens coming up in the city. Sagar Upvan garden at Colaba is being developed by Tata Trust. It will be opened in the next six months. Another Eco Park for mangrove is being developed at Sewri for which we have already appointed a consultant. It is particularly built to save the mangrove species in the garden. We will build some stilts where people can sit and appreciate the mangroves. We are also developing a big central garden for which we have invited tenders to appoint an international consultant. We are doing marine studies on it. The gardens are being built so that the city gets some lung space.
Sea planes depends upon development of jetties at Marine Drive and we have the tenders ready. We are in discussions with the BMC to find space for this. We are also working on a boat club – Marina – where we have appointed an international consultant. MPT is working on 25 projects worth Rs 8,000 crore. Many of them are PPP projects so revenue will be generated.