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November 15, 1999


New port in Kerala may affect tourism, fear experts

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D Jose in Thiruvananthapuram

The southern Indian state of Kerala is planning to turn a port here into a major container trans-shipment terminal at a cost of Rs 20 billion ($461 million), a senior port official said.

An agreement to develop Vizhinjam as a transshipment port on build, operate and transfer basis was signed here today between the Kerala government and the Hyderabad-based Kumar’s Energy Corporation.

The agreement envisages the development of Vizhinjam as a commercial port with international standards to handle large-sized container mother vessels. The company has also plans to develop the port for oil, bulk, ro-ro and other traffic.

The tourism circles in the state are shaken by the move, as they fear that it would adversely affect Kovalam. “Kovalam is the biggest attraction in Kerala for international tourists. Once a major port comes close to it, the foreign tourists would be reluctant to visit Kovalam,” said Baby Mathew, managing director of the Somatheeram Ayurvedic Resorts at Vizhinjam.

He told that the pollution caused by the port operations and the emergence of industrial clusters around the port would kill Kovalam. This might also affect Kerala’s overall tourism prospects since Kovalam is the biggest attraction for foreign tourists in the state at present.

“It is up to the government to decide whether they want pollution-free tourism or polluting industries in a region where nature has been so benevolent,” Mathew said.

He said that the government should compare the benefits while developing Vizhinjam as a major commercial port. The port would not only pose threat to Kovalam, but also other ports in the country and outside such as Colombo and Singapore.

The Kerala government is planning to develop the port with most modern international facilities so that it can attract a substantial chunk of the container traffic now flowing to Colombo and Singapore.

The Cochin Port would also be forced to rework its strategy for developing a container trans-shipment terminal at Vallarpadam in the light of the move to develop Vizhinjam ahead of Kochi.

The Vallarpadam project, which was hanging fire for more than a decade, got life recently when the National Shipping Board gave the go-ahead. Vizhinjam has several geographical and natural advantages to become one of the major ports on the West Coast of India. It would be only ten miles from the international shipping routes besides having a natural depth of 20 metres within one nautical mile from the shore. Minimum littoral movement and suspended sedimentation in the area provides it the scope to emerge as the deepest port on the West Coast of India.

A major advantage in Vizhinjam is that its depth can be maintained without incurring heavy maintenance or dredging. Vizhinjam can attract a substantial chunk of traffic from the West and Sri Lanka traffic.

Vizhinjam had a chequered history since it was declared as a port in February 1977. It was opened for cargo traffic only in 1991. The port had to wait till July 1992 to be declared as a customs port.

The plan to develop the port itself was bogged down in intrigues. The memorandum of understanding for developing it as a trans-shipment port was signed in 1995. Port officials said that they have overcome all the intrigues and the preliminary work on the port would be launched as per the Rs 20 billion master plan.

Kumar Energy Corporation has identified a firm in the UK for financial and technical collaboration. Kerala port department director Capt S Vijayan Pillai said that the government and the company were determined to speed up the works. The government would be providing 500 acres of land for the development.

The port official said that the company would develop the port in phases and operate for an initial period of 30 years or till the investments and a mutually agreed rate of return is recovered.

Pillai said that the development of the port would boost the economic growth of the region. It will generate employment opportunities to thousands of technical, skilled and unskilled personnel. Many large and medium-sized industries would be developed in and around Thiruvananthapuram once the port starts handling international traffic, Pillai said.

He added that Vizhinjam would become an important centre for overseas trade. The emergence of Vizhinjam as a commercial port can definitely hit the tourism prospects of Kovalam, sources said.



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