Wednesday, 15 January 2014 undiscovered treasure grove.

Adjacent to the Arabian sea, on the foothills of Trivandrum, lies a god-blessed natural port called Vizhinjam. Engineers are still speculating as to how Vizhinjam has been naturally blessed with all the attributes of a world-class deep seaport. This port has the capacity to bring huge monetary gains to the Union government...a value of 1000 crores can be saved by opening up this port. Vizhinjam lies on the most important trade route of the nautical world, merely 10-12 nautical miles from the very busy route of Persian Gulf-Malacca which formulates a third of the entire sea traffic!! The port, surprisingly has a depth of 20m to as close as 1 nautical mile away from it.....something that is extremely rare and almost implausible. Added to this is the low littoral drift, which means that very little maintenance in the form of dredging would be required during it's operational years. Vizhinjam is located way out of the city-limits and thus, has lavish space to synchronize the creation of an 'a la mode' port. At the same's acceptable proximity to the city and the transport hubs like airport and railway station is an added pro. Once the port opens up, the Indian exporters will not have to depend on foreign ports for trans shipments. Further, the central position of the port enables it to cater to the needs of both the east and west. On a quick glance, Vizhinjam seems to be a god-intended port facility, that only needs a touch of human magic to facilitate it's glory. The above said bullets are the conventional features of a world class port that has the calibre to be known around the world. But the hindrances are innumerable, and coupled with political, environmental and social pressure...Vizhinjam is set on a rocky course ahead.

The entire mantle of implementation of this project, has been deposited to a special-purpose company, named Vizhinjam International Seaport Limited. This is a fully government-owned company responsible for a final investment of 1 billion dollars that will see this project reaching the finishing line. The initial drive, was to build the port with a PPP system...where we would see a partnership between the private sector and public sector. The PPP however failed to see daylight as both the rounds of bidding were a failure. As the Chinese company who won the first bid, failed to get security clearance....Lanco group who won the second round of bidding, withdrew after legal pressure from another corporate giant....Zoom developers. The major reason for this falling-apart was the general idea that the port was un-viable on an economic yardstick. Ultimately, the government decided to take the responsibility and set up VISL. The second obstacle at the table was the bidding for the operator's role. When the bidding concluded, Welspun emerged as the eligible proprietor and demanded a 480 crore grant. After negotiations with the state government, they reduced the requested amount to 400 crore. However, the state government declined the grant, stating that their was no economic rationale for the state in such a deal. As the money was blocked on the table, the next step was the clearance from the centre. This historic clearance was made on the 3rd of December, 2013 to the escalated delight of the people of Kerala, who have been waiting for this holygrail to provide impetus to the state's economic condition. The total expenditure for the project, is pegged at Rs 6595 crores. But if mathematics prevails...then the port shall regain this initial amount within 7 years! Then what is preventing our elected masters from pushing the button? There are more than just one monsters, trying to rip this master plan apart.

The first is of course the archaic laziness and lack of effort from the side of the government. The people crave for the port to bring a sea-change in an otherwise hapless territory. There is always a conception, that a single luminous body can light others around it. This analogy works for Vizhinjam too. Once the port is erected, and the trade oils in....the surrounding area also develops automatically and prospers. This is very much needed as the Vizhinjam area lacks proper organisation and cultural and educational progression. Being out of urban limits, Vizhinjam has a rural trace, that it has never been able to shed. This project however shall bring about high intensity changes in the society focussed on Vizhinjam. As the trade smoothens; hotels, restaurants, schools, hospitals, even urban-centric blocks like malls and multiplexes may come up in Vizhinjam. This is quite contrary to the present scenes in Vizhinjam. The sea port project shall fill the social isolation of the fishermen community there....and also erase the conventional imagery of squalor and suffocation. There used to be a time...when the name Vizhinjam used to stink in itself. But the general development and the anticipated project has made a face-lift of this area. Now Vizhinjam strikes a note of hope and giganticness. Redtapism has groped this project, and it's making snail-strides through each floor of our impossible administration. Clearance after clearance, seal after seal, deliberation after's mind boggles to think as to why this 'no-brainer' is eating so much time.

The next challenge is much more serious. The natives of Vizhinjam are entirely dependant on fishing, and the subsequent selling in the local market. The propping up of this port shall hamper this gateway of fishing as the government shall set up a perimeter around the port that shall eat up a lot of fishing area. The market ground shall also be acquired by the government, thus, literally throwing hundreds of their jobs. But the point to be realised, is that these people shall get much better job opportunities, IF the port comes up in quick time. The Kerala government has shown zero interest to fulfil this project, as the pressure from international organisations like the World bank increases. While the Union government has dumbed it's hand on the issue, the state government remains static. It seems like nobody of administrative prominence is interested in making this dream, a reality.

The final challenge is not popularly known. It has been turned down many a times...but the fact is true. The Indian Union, in general has shown a good deed of backlash to the Southern peninsula. The obvious ignorance towards their development and progress has often been brought out to the public. The same is the case of Vizhinjam too. Lying in the far southern point of India.....Vizhinjam doesn't ring a bell, even in the most seasoned politicians of India. Added to this, Trivandrum has been ostracised by the state of Kerala, despite it's capital status. In all matters ranging from the presence of the high court, to metros, to subways....Trivandrum has been dumbed at the cost of Cochin. And here too, a certain animosity to the idea of Trivandrum overtaking Cochin, might have crept in. This sort of intra-national hostility is not good for democracy, or for our ambitious plans ahead. Cynicism has tapered this star studded project and has set I back many a miles. What is to be the 8th wonder....what is to be the backbone of Indian commerce; may end up being yet another 'proposed plan' that dusts in mid-air. Just thinking about this destruction of potential....makes an optimistic Indian tremble in his guts. So lets hope that Vizhinjam turns into reality in the days to come....and that Indian growth story will sketch in the days to come.


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