Union Shipping and Environment Secretaries to visit Chennai Port today

Every time a top government official visits the Chennai Port, new hope is kindled among stake-holders for the revival of connectivity projects that are either moving tardily or remain stalled for one reason or another. And often, such hope fades away soon after the visit.

Hopes are up once again, as on Friday, Shipping Secretary P.K. Sinha, along with Union Forest and Environment Secretary T. Chatterjee are due to visit ChPT to find ways to handle dusty cargoes such as coal and iron ore without affecting the environment.

As the Madras High Court had banned handling of dusty cargoes from October 2011 onwards, ChPT approached the Supreme Court. During the first week of April, the Supreme Court had appointed a seven-member committee, comprising Shipping Secretary, Environment Secretary, Tamil Nadu Chief Secretary, representatives of Central Pollution Control Board, Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board, National Environmental Engineering Research Institute and Indian Institute of Technology-Madras. Apart from the Chief Secretary, others would meet later in the day to discuss the strategy.

As the Chennai Port Trust (ChPT) is witnessing a 20 to 25 per cent growth in its container volume annually, it is argued that the infrastructure projects should be expedited on time to avoid cost escalation and congestion.

Currently, the Rs.1,815 crore Chennai Port – Maduravoyal elevated link road project has been stalled by the State Public Works Department, while the Rs.600-crore Ennore-Manali Road Improvement Project (EMRIP) is on a slow trajectory. The widening of 1.6-km stretch from the harbour main gate to S.N. Chetty Street is yet to commence. For the last six weeks, one of the bidders of the Rs.3,686 crore Mega Container Terminal is expecting the Centre to give security clearance.

According to the sources, in the last six months, the Prime Minister's Adviser T.K.A. Nair personally visited Chennai Port, Ennore Port and L&T's Kattupalli Port, following complaints from the Japanese investors to their higher-ups about lack of infrastructural facilities.

Union Minister of Road Transport and Highways C.P. Joshi along with Shipping Minister G.K. Vasan conducted a joint review meeting on January 24 on the two important projects and promised to hold review meeting periodically to expedite these projects.

ChPT chairman Atulya Misra said that the port lost business volume of nearly 18 million tonnes of coal and iron ore due to the ban. ChPT employed about 1,500 people in these sectors, of which 1,100 were dealing with iron ore. They have been partially employed elsewhere.

Another ChPT official said the port would inform the team members about the best and effective ways of handling coal and iron ore without disturbing the environment. Besides, the port would also explore ways for handling other types of cargoes. “Unfortunately, so far, we overlooked the best practices in the past,” he added.

Enrest Paul, president, Royapuram Residents' Welfare Association, argued that it would be next to impossible to handle coal and iron ore without raising dust.

“It is strange. Despite the ban by the Madras High Court, why is ChPT still harping on dusty cargoes? Why can't it move to cleaner cargoes? ” asked Sekar, another Royapuram resident.

Staff at the government's Secretariat are happier, as the pollution levels have come down since the port stopped handling dusty cargo.

Talking to The Hindu, a National Highways Authority of India official said, “While we are ready to complete the Chennai Port – Maduravoyal elevated link road project and EMRIP on time, we are not getting support from the other end. Port has also not released enough funds for EMRIP.”

(With inputs from Deepa

H. Ramakrishnan)