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Sagarmala project in muddy waters

June 28, 2004 09:58 IST

The much-hyped Sagarmala project, which envisages integrated development of ports, shipping and inland water transport, appears to be losing steam. 
 
While a formal Cabinet approval is still awaited, the shipping ministry has asked for a paltry Rs 25 crore (Rs 250 million) as budgetary support in 2004-05 for the Rs 100,000 crore (Rs 1,000 billion) project. The ministry has also not been able to identify the specific projects under the scheme. 
 
Moreover, according to the annual Plan for 2004-05, no amount has been set for internal generation for the Sagarmala project, which means the entire outlay will be provided by the Centre. 
 
Explaining the meagre outlay for the project, a ministry official said this year funds would mainly be used for setting up maritime educational institutes and research and development facilities. 
 
The ministry will also seek Rs 10 crore (Rs 100 million) support for the Sethusamudram ship canal project, which envisages linking Gulf of Mannar and the Palk Bay to provide a continuous navigable sea route along the east coast. Soon after taking over, Roads, Highways and Shipping Minister TR Baalu had promised to put the project on the fast track. 
 
Sethusamudram, which has been hanging fire for the past five years, is yet to get environmental clearance. However, with the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute submitting its report to the Tamil Nadu government, the project was expected to be cleared soon, the minister indicated. 
 
Under the Sagarmala project, Rs 55,000 crore (Rs 550 billion) was to be invested in the port sector, Rs 35,000 crore (Rs 350 billion) earmarked for the development of the shipping sector and Rs 15,000 crore (Rs 150 billion) for inland waterways. 
 
The rest was kept aside to be spent on maritime training and procuring navigational aids. 
 
The project was to be financed through the public-private partnership route, with the government contributing 15 per cent of the total investment of Rs 100,000 crore. 
 
The government planned to raise resources through the maritime development cess of Rs 50 per tonne of cargo carried at all ports, which would amount to Rs 2,000 crore (Rs 20 billion) a year, based on 409 million tonnes of throughput registered during 2002-03.

Vishaka Zadoo in New Delhi