When E Rajesh Kumar took charge as the new chairman of the Mormugao Port Trust last week, he would have immediately recognised the scale of the task ahead of him. A natural port buffeted by controversy over its expansion plans and losses, it does not make for a pretty picture. During his visit to the State in March this year to inaugurate an inland ferry service between the port town and Old Goa, Union Shipping Minister Nitin Gadkari went as far as to say that the continuous losses could result in its eventual closure.
The deputy chairman GP Rai who met with the Herald was quite frank when he said the challenge ahead was to increase traffic through the port which would improve the financial conditions of the port and more importantly addressing the environmental issues and meet the interested local parties who had expressed their fears and quell it.
With regards to capacity at present, he said the port could handle up to 20 million of which 15 million would be for JSW and 5 million for Adani. In future he expected a power plant to come from Kudgi and they expected the coal for it to go from this port. With regards pollution, he claimed they had tracked records for two years and it had not exceeded the limits. The monitoring stations, he said were directly controlled by the control boards. The team from IIT Mumbai would resume their study from November on what was it that was contributing to the pollution, dust or any other particles. By March they would know what exactly what was happening.
Rai said “We have a state-of-the-art facility for coal handling and we are confident we are not polluting Vasco city.”
He claimed the pollution stayed within the port and with the port surrounded by hills, it dissipates over the hills. This study would confirm it.
The plans for the next five years involved getting more companies to use the port. The port had signed a letter of intent with Vedanta and they were waiting for the environmental clearance. They already had JSW and Adani and now with Vedanta once the clearance comes in they will start their work. That then leaves only two berths 10 and 11. There is a cargo potential of about 6 million tonnes from those two berths. This would be all bulk goods like granite, steel coils and woods chips. The granite would come from Karnataka, steel from JSW. This year the steel passing through had dropped because there was a huge increase in domestic demand. Otherwise, he said they would have handled around 2 million tonnes this year too. The total potential of the port he said was 60 million tonnes and if iron ores of around 20 million tonnes came through they would reach 50 million tonnes but now since it was not there they would hang between 20 and 30 million tonnes.
The revised estimates and budget estimates for 2018-19 and 2019-20 have been prepared and placed for approval of the board. The budget estimate for operating revenue for 2018-19 is estimated at Rs 553.33 crore and the revised estimate was penned at Rs 385.48 crore and for 2019-20 the budget estimate was pegged at Rs 459.10 crore.
He said “We cannot focus on one kind of goods. Yes coal is very important but if iron ore comes, it will definitely be there. After that steel coil, wood chips, bauxite and we are concentrating on cruises. As per the chairman of Mumbai Port Trust it will reach 100 cruises in two or three years’ time. Domestic has already started and we have learned another two cruise liners have expressed interesting in starting service. Now we have a total of 40 cruises every year and it is expected to touch 100. Cruise lines from America, Germany dock in Goa.”
In all this, how does Goa benefit? The deputy chairman said the State benefitted in a different way. Mainly by way of custom taxes, details of which he was not privy too but he claimed compared to the size of Goa the port bus\iness was substantial. More importantly there were thousands of people who worked either in the port or in jobs in companies that conducted business with the port. Around 2700 employees were employed at the port and around 400 pensioners still benefited from the port.
With regards to looking at new avenues the port was looking at the estate at its disposal. They were contemplating hotel projects there. In Baina in Vasco where around 5 to acres of land was not being used and he said presently he did not know how it would happen but once the feasibility report was compiled it would fall into place.
Speaking of challenges, he said as the year passed by the wage bill was increasing and this was adding around Rs 3 to 4 crore a year and business had to be generated to keep the port running. He said “Revenue is just not increasing, for over 100 years it was an iron ore port and that has stopped. It is a very big blow for the port. I will say, in this age, this is not an area for a port. Port means, you need a lot of area, there should be port related industries, SEZ should come up. The new concept is that you import something, process it in the free zone located in the port and export it. This is going to happen in JNPT. In Goa tourism is very important and we are not supposed to spoil the place which could affect tourism.”
The port he ended by saying was a natural port but the road ahead would have to be tackled with vision. [H]