Faced with weather-battered roads and spells of monsoon rain, truck and trailer operators have been spending sleepless hours on the nine-km stretch from the ‘zero gate' of Chennai Port Trust (ChPT) to the Ernavur junction for the past few days. However, on two occasions in recent days, truck movement came to a standstill for hours for a different reason – VIP visits.
On Saturday, the movement of container and other vehicles was halted completely for five hours from noon to 17.20 hours as was container rail traffic for a short while to facilitate a visit by Prime Minister's adviser T.K.A. Nair. Earlier this month, there was a three-hour halt to accommodate visiting Parliamentary Committee members.
Talking to The Hindu, ChPT deputy chairman, P.C. Parida said Mr. Nair was in the city to inspect all the three ports – Chennai, Ennore and L&T's Kattupalli unit – based on a request from Japanese investors on the need for improving the hinterland connectivity with these ports and seeking better road connectivity to Bangalore.
As several Japanese firms have set up bases in and around Chennai, they are likely to start exporting soon. Worried about the bad roads, the matter was taken up at the Prime Minister's level and hence, Mr. Nair was sent to Chennai, to learn about the port's capability, said a Port official on condition of anonymity.
At Ennore and Kattupalli ports, Mr. Nair was briefed about the new projects. From Ennore, he was taken to Chennai Port around 2 p.m. by sea on a launch. He had discussions with ChPT officials and visited the first container terminal around 5 p.m. and stayed there for 15 minutes. Traffic resumed at ChPT zero gate around 5.20 p.m., but by that time several hundreds of containers and trailers had piled up till Ernavur junction.
Mr. Nair had come to study the new Chennai-Bangalore industrial corridor and to ensure that trade was not put to hardship due to lack of infrastructural facilities.
Hearing that the VIP had entered the port through the sea, after they were made to wait unnecessarily on a rainy day, the truck drivers and trailer operators voiced their protest vehemently. Although ChPT top officials and CISF personnel were informed about the suspension of truck and trailer movement by their colleagues at 1.30 p.m, the higher-ups were silent until Mr. Nair left the venue at 5.30 p.m.
Mr. Parida said the traffic was suspended only for half-an-hour, while a CISF spokesman said suspension was a normal practice and it was done for genuine security reasons. However, a spokesman for the first container terminal said traffic was halted from 12.00 p.m. to 5.20 p.m.
“The whole idea here was to show case ChPT as a clean port sans congestion. It was done by the top officials by suspending the entire movement for five hours. We are already paying congestion surcharge, and acts such as these would add to our cost,” said port users.
A chamber representative said: “What an irony! He came to study the congestion and yet his visit caused congestion. Whether he knew about it or not is a different question.”