Nod awaited from Ministry of Defence

A waiting game on part of the officials of the Ministry of Defence (MoD) is holding up a key project for the Navy and an economic win-win situation for Kerala.

The Navy is keen to carve out a base with 500 m of berthing space within the proposed Vizhinjam port, for which it received in-principle approval from the State government for development on a cost-sharing basis in March last year. The MoD has been dragging its feet on granting clearance and is unlikely to do so now in view of the imminent Lok Sabha polls, sources say.

“The Navy, being the net security provider in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR), will receive a shot in the arm if it gets to set up a station at the Vizhinjam deepwater port, which will be strategically located astride major international shipping lines witnessing an annual traffic volume of nearly two lakh merchant vessels. Proximity to some island territories and key Indian Ocean littorals makes it all the more significant,” says Vice-Admiral (retired) Raman P. Suthan.

“While the Navy has embarked on an ambitious expansion plan, barring a prospective station as part of the Cochin Port’s proposed outer harbour, there is hardly any room for the force to expand in Kochi. Further, development of each square metre of jetty space in Kochi will cost the Navy Rs.4 lakh. In contrast, Vizhinjam being a greenfield project will only cost Rs.2.06 lakh per sq m,” he said.

The State government had said in March that the Navy could have a 500-m jetty at Vizhinjam port, and develop an adjoining 25 acres of land for infrastructure, all at an estimated cost of about Rs.500 crore.

Sources say a full-fledged Naval station at Vizhinjam will be of tremendous value in terms of humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations (HADR) as liaising with the State authorities will be easier. It will also give a fillip to tri-services amphibious operations, given the strong presence of the Air Force and the Army (an amphibious Brigade) at Thiruvananthpuram.

“As Vizhinjam has a natural draft of 15 to 18 metres, any Naval vessel could berth there. Together with the 120 m berthing space being allocated to the Indian Coast Guard, the maritime forces could mount effective surveillance on vessel traffic and island territories from the port,” sources say.

Discussions are under way with the Navy on collaborating in the project, State Minister of Ports K. Babu says. “We cannot wait till they give a word on this and may well press ahead with the tendering process. It is up to the Navy and the MoD to decide if they really want to partner in the project,” he told The Hindu.