From supply of provisions to medical treatment, the residents of Lakshadweep depend on the mainland for almost all their daily needs. It is imperative to ensure the efficiency of water transport to meet these needs. The development of the Beypore port, which is the main connecting point for the islands, has been a longstanding demand of the residents.
The extension of the special berth for Lakshadweep at the port and deepening of the draught has failed to take off despite various proposals and fund allocation from the government.
“The islanders have generations of trade and cultural relations with the people of Kozhikode. The passenger movement remains high all through the year, with peaks attained during vacations and during festivals like Ramzan or Onam. But we still depend on smaller vessels because the bigger ones cannot berth at Beypore. Even these are irregular and get delayed for days,” says Mohammed Sadique, a doctor from the Kalpeni island in Lakshadweep and national secretary of the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP).
Islanders say the lack of improvement in facilities at Beypore has resulted in Kochi gradually replacing Kozhikode as the main connecting centre.
“Even after shifting Lakshadweep’s headquarters from Kozhikode to the islands in 1965, some of the major units continued to run out of here. But these shifted to Kochi in 1977 because big vessels can come to the port there. Many of us end up travelling to Kozhikode through Kochi or Mangalore because of the lack of enough ships. All our major needs are centred on Kozhikode, including the courts, Hajj embarkation point, trade, and many educational institutions affiliated to Calicut University,” says K.P. Muthukoya, chief coordinator, Malabar Dweep Welfare Centre. Dr. Sadique says the Government Medical College, Kozhikode, even used to have a special ward for patients from Lakshadweep.
Vessel owners also have their share of grievances regarding the facilities at the existing port.
“The first thing to be done is a comparison study with the Mangalore port, especially on the issue of delays. A vessel that comes to Mangalore leaves the very next day whereas in Beypore, it remains stuck for days for one reason or the other. There are no facilities for passengers also. The ticketing counter that witnesses long queues for days is testimony to the inept handling of operations here,” says Syed Mohammed Shameel, advisor of the Vessel Owner’s and Cargo Agent’s Contractors Association.
The labour charge is also double the amount in other ports and it directly affects the prices of essential commodities on the islands. In 2010, the Central government had sanctioned Rs.16 crore, out of a total of Rs.46 crore for the development of the Lakshadweep berth at Beypore. But, this is still deposited with the Central Public Works Department (CPWD).
“We have already handed over the 200-m area of water frontage for the development of the berth. Now it rests with the island authority and the CPWD. The environment Impact Assessment (EIA) of the port is still in progress,” says Abraham V. Kuriakose, Port Officer, Beypore.
“The development is still in preliminary stage. I can only tell anything after inspecting the port,” says H. Rajesh Prasad, Administrator of the Lakshadweep Islands, who will be visiting the port on Thursday.