Vizhinjam: Has Trivandrum Lost The Battle?
On Aug 03, 2012
The tender of the Welspun-led consortium for the port operating contract of the proposed Vizhinjam Trans-shipment Container Terminal stands cancelled as of Wednesday last. In return, the Chief Minister has assured that the project would be re-tendered after the port gets the approval from the Union Environmental Ministry, which is expected in November this year.
The Environmental Ministry has been studying the environmental impact on the region by the upcoming trans-shipment container terminal for the past one year. It was concluded that the coming up of the Vizhinjam harbour would cause massive erosion from the northern side of the shoreline, which would get accumulated towards the southern side. In other words, the coming up of the harbour could result in the erosion of Kovalam, the international tourist destination, and in destroying the booming health tourism around the Poovar region.
Vizhinjam was one of the most important ports for trade and commerce at a global level many centuries ago. Then, as the ships changed from being wind-operated to machine, operated and shifted their ocean paths accordingly, Vizhinjam slowly sank into oblivion. During this time, the state and the nation as a whole was busy trying to free itself from the clutches of oppressors and in building an ideal constitution post independence.
After decades of reformation, overcoming many genuine threats at democracy, India finally began to 'shine' in the late nineties. The amount of container traffic in the nation's limited number of ports dotting its vast 7500-kilometre shoreline began to show tremendous increase. The need became acute for the nation to have a trans-shipment container port, as the cost and delay in dis-embarking the containers in Singapore, Colombo and Dubai was becoming a serious issue hindering the growth of the country.
It was the time when the Indian economy was surging forward and the need for development was genuine and complete with the availability of all necessary funds. Vizhinjam, with its natural features and historical background, found the voice to demand the identity that was taken away from it over the centuries; a demand, which at present to implement would cost around Rs.4,000 crores.
India has a total of 13 ports enlisted under the 'major' category . Kochi is one among them. In 2005, Dubai Ports World (DP World) announced that it had come to terms with the Cochin Ports Trust to build a trans-shipment container terminal in Vallarpadam at a cost of Rs.3,000 crores. The fist stage of the port was commissioned in February 2011, with a handling capacity of one million TEUs (Twenty-foot Equivalent Units) per annum.
Vallarapdam is set to become the gateway to South India and a genuine threat to Colombo and Singapore, which generate sizable revenue by disembarking containers for India. Vallarpadam is dear to the nation and more so to DP World to ascertain their global supremacy as operators of over 60 major shipment terminals across six continents.
In case of the Vizhinjam port, it is the government which has to amass a major share of the huge sum required. What makes it worse for Vizhinjam is that it does possess features - natural, geographical and historical, that could pose a legitimate threat to Vallarpadam and DP World.
The move to promote Vizhinjam as a cruise terminal as well, along with being a trans-shipment terminal, was abandoned after considering the local community living in rather insanitary conditions. The sanitary and hygienic conditions in the area are an issue that successive governments are yet to seriously deal with.
With the national economy no longer chugging forward with the pace of the late nineties and early 2000s, the money isn't coming the same way as it was, and it is clear that Trivandrum’s prospects of growth have been ignored. Vizhinjam still does find itself in the 187 minor and intermediate ports, and so some developmental aspects might be churned out about the port, but clearly not anything on the lines of being 'international' as was being envisioned.
Vizhinjam has a twin brother in Colachel in this regard, which was Tamil Nadu's pick for establishing a trans-shipment terminal. At the beginning stages Colachel was considered as Tamil Nadu's threat to Kerala's Vizhinjam. But the Colachel port too is yet to materialise, more or less for the same reasons.
And in the end, Trivandrum has managed to lose its ultimate bet towards the big leap, and has secured the tourism industry and the fishing community of the region. Vizhinjam gets shoved aside as the latest and perhaps the biggest dream to remain unfulfilled towards a future that there isn't for Trivandrum.