Vizhinjam Port – Harbouring hopes of brighter days

The Vizhinjam International Deepwater Multipurpose Seaport is set to develop Thiruvananthapuram into a port city. The primary growth impetus for some of the leading cities across the world has come from their ports, the most notable being London. In Kochi’s development, the port had played a significant role and continues to be a key growth driver.

The State capital is also hoping for the same thrust now that the first phase of the Vizhinjam deepwater seaport project is heading for completion. Vizhinjam International Seaport Limited (VISL) is the special purpose vehicle (SPV) set up to create infrastructure facilities for the seaport.

While the project is on the Mulloor-Vizhinjam coastal belt, many of the infrastructure facilities such as warehouses are to come up in the neighbouring Kottukal and Karumkulam panchayats. These, along with the ancillary industries, are expected to generate employment.

A 15-km radius of the seaport will get the immediate benefits. Residents of Vizhinjam, Mulloor, Poovar, Karumkulam, and Kottukal hope that the project will alter the face of the city and suburbs that will provide port employees with social infrastructure ranging from residential accommodation to schooling to recreation. Further, a number of services required by the port have to be developed and sustained.

Urban planners say these could be in the nature of shipping agents and liner services, logistics and transport services, warehousing, ship repair, and core infrastructure such as drinking water, power, and good roads. The feasibility of introducing maritime clusters, successful in the ports in Singapore, Rotterdam, and London, is also being looked into at Vizhinjam.

Forex savings

Located at the southern tip of India, Vizhinjam offers a natural water depth of 20 to 24 metres within a distance of a nautical mile from the coast. Just 10 nautical miles away are the international shipping lanes handling almost 30% of the world’s maritime trade. Another attraction is the minimal maintenance dredging since there is hardly any littoral movement along the coast to deposit sediments within the port. “The seaport will be a game changer as it will wean away a lion’s share of Indian transhipment cargo, now being handled at Colombo port,” says Managing Director and CEO, VISL, Jayakumar.

Indian exporters and importers would be able to move their cargo without incurring the additional cost of transhipment in Colombo, Dubai, Salalah, and Singapore. “The country will save more than ₹1,500 crore as foreign exchange annually if the transhipment is made in Vizhinjam,” points out Jayakumar.

The first phase of Vizhinjam port is planned with a container handling capacity of one million TEU (twenty foot equivalent units) with 800 m berth length with future expansion plans to three million TEU/2000 m berth length in successive phases. The first phase of the project, estimated to cost ₹7,700 crore, would be capable of handling the largest container vessel (23,500 TEUs capacity).

Since the container yard and related port facilities are set up in the land reclaimed from sea, there are hardly any rehabilitation issues at Vizhinjam. However, fisherfolk and others who lost their livelihood are being taken care of by government.

The Kerala government had inked a concession agreement on August 17, 2015 with Adani Vizhinjam Port Private Limited (AVPPL) of the Ahmedabad-based Adani Ports and Special Economic Zone in August 2015 for the development and operation of the Vizhinjam seaport on Design, Build, Finance, Operate, Transfer (DBFOT) basis, for an initial period of 40 years.

First in PPP model

This is the first port project in the country being executed in public private partnership (PPP) model with viability gap funding (VGF) from the Union government and the first such initiative in Kerala. The PPP share of the project is ₹4,089 crore and the VGF from the Centre is ₹818 crore. The port operator has sought ₹1,635 crore as grant.

In 1991, it was M.V. Raghavan, a Minister in the State Cabinet, who took the initiative to develop Vizhinjam into a seaport. He conveyed to the local people the project’s possibilities during the tenure of K. Karunakaran as Chief Minister.

MoU in 1995

A major milestone was crossed when a Memorandum of Understanding was signed in 1995 by the A.K. Antony government. The project got momentum when VISL was set up in 2004 when Mr. Raghavan was the Ports Minister. Currently, the board has seven Ministers, including the Chief Minister, the local MP, Chief Secretary, Finance and Ports Secretaries.

The project was launched on December 5, 2015 when Oommen Chandy was the Chief Minister and K. Babu, the Ports Minister. It has progressed under the tenure of present Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, who is also VISL Chairman, and Ports Minister Ramachandran Kadannappally.

The State has been making available requisite infrastructure, ensuring hassle-free connectivity to the port, and making available round-the-clock power and water.

Road, rail links

The upcoming four-lane 43-km National Highway 66 Bypass from Kazhakuttam via Mukkola to Karode in Tamil Nadu will be handy for the seaport traffic. The 2-km approach road to the seaport is from Thalakode junction on the NH 66 bypass after Mukkola. The 80-km four-lane Outer Ring Road (ORR), estimated at ₹4,868 crore, from the Vizhinjam bypass to Parippally, with a link from Vencode to Mangalapuram under Outer Area Growth Corridor will be another road link to seaport.

A 10.7-km railway line, including a 9.02-km tunnel, has been proposed to connect the seaport to the railway network. The tunnel, to be executed by Konkan Railway Corporation Ltd (KRCL) from near Balaramapuram station on the Kanyakumari-Thiruvananthapuram railway line, will be the second longest railway tunnel in the country.

Proximity to airport

The proposed railway line from Balaramapuram to Vizhinjam will be a single line and will be sufficient for the movement of 9 to 10 rakes daily through the corridor for 20 years, according to the KRCL.

The proximity of the seaport to Kovalam beach and the Thiruvananthapuram international airport will be exploited by the AVPL. If the East Coast Economic Corridor is extended to Vizhinjam, it will add impetus to maritime trade.

Vizhinjam seaport will enhance India’s ability to handle both transhipment and gateway cargo while establishing a strong supply chain network in Kerala and nearby regions, adds Dr. Jayakumar. Besides, the port will facilitate country’s maritime trade and boost the development of maritime clusters by opening up new supply chain networks, which would propel the socio-economic growth of the entire region.

Source: The Hindu