Visiting Urban Development Minister Kamal Nath has said India has expressed its interest to participate in the construction of the first-ever rail link between the Mediterranean and Red Sea coasts.
The proposed rail link, which was unanimously approved by the Israeli cabinet last week, offers a new Asia-Europe trade route that will compete with the Suez Canal.
“Once this project is formed and the road map is clear, Indian companies will evaluate their participation, but I do see good Indian interest in this,” Mr. Nath said after meeting Israeli Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz and Minister for Trade, Industry and Labour Hsalom Simhon.
Dismissing claims that India lost yet another infrastructure project of interest to China due to lethargy on its part, Mr. Nath claimed the country has already shown its interest for the project and things are in their very initial stage.
“That’s not correct because I have discussed this with the Minister of Transport this morning and it’s in a formative stage,” Mr. Nath said, reacting to some media reports.
“They are in fact welcoming India’s participation in this and no country has taken over anything. This will be pursued by the Indian companies. I think this is an area of potential for enhancing our engagement,” the minister further said.
Mr. Nath brought up the issue of participation of Indian companies in the ambitious project during his discussions with Israeli ministers, who are said to have promptly welcomed India’s involvement.
The media reports had claimed that the state-owned infrastructure companies could have been benefited from the opportunities in the project, but Indian government’s lethargy and inertia in decision making led China walk away with the bid.
On prospects of gas exploration in the potential reserves off country’s northern coast, Mr. Nath said he has expressed New Delhi’s participation in some form, “on the exploratory side or as a buyer.”
“I did mention that India would be interested in participating in some form on the exploratory side or as a buyer, but the Israeli government is still deciding its own policy in this regard,” he said, adding that although things are at the very early stage, India has expressed its interest in this regard.
Israeli media has been constantly talking about exporting natural gas said to have been discovered off Israel’s northern coast to countries like India and China using the Red-Med railway line.
The ambitious train link is likely to take about five years for completion with an approximate investment of USD 2.3 billion. It will include 63 bridges and five tunnels expanding in a span of some 9.5 kilometres.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has termed the project of “strategic, national and international importance,” asserting that country has an interest in creating an alternative route between Asia and Europe to the Suez Canal, and this could serve as an “insurance policy.”
“Israel must become a continental land crossing route and create great power interest,” Mr. Netanyahu had said.
Such a link can be crucial in transporting goods to Europe without having to go through the Suez Canal as the cargo unloaded in country’s port city Eilat will then be sent by rail to Israeli ports, and from there to Europe.
In an apparent reference to India and China, Netanyahu said “in the coming decade, new powers will arise [with whom] Israel must create vital interests from a national strategy point-of-view.”
The Israeli Premier said that both the Asian giants have expressed a great deal of interest in the project.