Vadhavan port becomes flashpoint between Centre, Maharashtra government

The proposed mega port at Vadhavan in the Palghar district of coastal Konkan region is emerging as a big flashpoint between BJP-led NDA government at the Centre and the Uddhav Thackeray-led Maha Vikas Aghadi government.

The proposed port is part of the ambitious Sagarmala Programme, the flagship project of the Ministry of Shipping. Vadhavan (or Wadhavan) is located in Dahanu tehsil of Palghar district nearly 140 km off downtown Mumbai.

The port – along the Arabian Sea — is needed because major upgrades and expansion in infrastructure are not possible in the Mumbai Port Trust and the Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust at Nhava Sheva across the harbour.

A delegation of the Vadhavan Bandar Virodhi Sangharsh Samiti (VBVSS) had met Thackeray last week, who gave them a patient hearing.

It may be recalled that in 1998, the Centre had initiated a port project in Vadhavan to be developed by shipping and logistics giant, P&O, however, it was shelved because of sti opposition from fisher folk of Maharashtra and Gujarat. The Dahanu Taluka Environment Protection Authority (DTEPA) was opposed to the project.

In 2015, aer the Narendra Modi-government came to power, the project was revived – and subsequently, an MoU was signed between JNPT and the Maharashtra Maritime Board (MMB), holding equity of 74 per cent and 26 per cent, respectively.

The project involves an investment of over Rs 65,544 crore – and will be developed under a ‘landlord model’ under a special purpose vehicle (SPV).

The MVA government feels that the Government of India and the JNPT, which would take lead in developing the port, is not keeping the state in the loop.

“Any development would be done with the consent of locals,” says state’s Urban Development Minister Eknath Shinde, who is a close aide of Thackeray.

According to VBVSS acting President Aniket Patil, the government has asked them to submit objections of the 17-gram sabhas that are opposing the project. The locals, who depend on fishing and agriculture, feel that their livelihood would be impacted.

The Ministry of Environment, Forest & Climate Change has approved the Terms of Reference for conducting Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and instructed JNPT to comply with all the conditions under Standard Terms of Reference as a part of environment clearance process which includes public hearing and approval of State Coastal Zone Management Authority (SCZMA).

Various agencies that are and will carry out studies include Central Water Power Research Centre, National Institute of Oceanography, Central Marine and Fisheries Research Institute and Indian Institute of Technology-Bombay.

The Vadhavan port has a natural dra of about 20 meters close to the shore, making it possible for it to handle bigger vessels at the port. Development of Vadhavan port will enable call of container vessels of 16,000-25,000 TEUs capacity, giving advantages of economies of scale & reducing logistics cost.