Calcutta, Sept. 25: The Centre may fund a 3km rail-and-road link for a proposed port on Sagar Island in a bid to lure private investors for Bengal’s most ambitious infrastructure project yet.
The crucial link on the Muriganga, a distributary of the Hooghly that flows between the island and South 24-Parganas, is estimated to cost Rs 3,500 crore, nearly half the expense earmarked for the proposed port.
The investment in the bridge, which is essential to transport cargo from Sagar Island to the mainland, was being seen as a deterrent for investors who would take up the project in the public-private-partnership mode.
“If the government partly funds the rail-road link, it may improve the viability of the Sagar port. Hence, such an idea is under consideration,” said R.P.S. Kahlon, the chairman of the Calcutta Port Trust that is spearheading the Rs 7,820-crore project.
The Sagar port, a much-needed infrastructure for Bengal’s economy because of the ever-reducing navigability of the ports in Haldia and Calcutta, is finally seeing traction after being in the realm of discussion for a decade.
A special purpose vehicle is being formed where the CPT will have 76 per cent stake and the Bengal government 24 per cent to oversee the project. The CPT is also set to appoint a transaction advisor that will draw up details of the bidding process to select the private investor(s).
Six firms, including marquee consultants such as KPMG, Ernst & Young, Deloitte, Crisil and Feedback Venture, are in the fray for the job.
“We are going to appoint the adviser by next Monday. It will then take the process forward. It is going to be a long process. I expect selection of the investor by end of next year,” Kahlon said.
The port is being designed to handle 54 million tonnes of cargo. It is likely to be operational by the end of 2019-20. The facility will come up on the western side of the island facing West Midnapore on a 2,500-acre plot that will be reclaimed from the confluence of the Hooghly and the Bay of Bengal.
The entire project is being divided into two parts, the port facility and the two-deck rail-cum-road link on the Muriganga. Infrastructure experts say private investors will be wary of taking up the cost of building the bridge as it will depress the internal rate of return from the project to a large extent.
“The Centre can finance up to 90 per cent of such projects (bridge) under the viability gap funding if the project is considered as being of national importance,” an expert said.
Much will depend on the political formation at the Centre in the next Lok Sabha. If Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamul Congress becomes part of it, the road to Sagar could come up faster.
Under the proposed plan, the two-tier bridge — one a rail track, the other a road — will hit the mainland at Kashinagar in South 24-Parganas. The rail link will run northwards passing through Kulpi and Diamond Harbour and connect with a dedicated freight corridor at Dankuni.
The port is likely to have a river draught maximum up to 13.5 metres and can handle Panamax vessels — ships that can navigate the Panama Canal — carrying up to 75,000 tonnes of cargo.
Ships coming to Haldia can handle up to 25,000 tonnes because of the silt choking the riverbed.
Compared with some of the other ports on the eastern coast of India such as Paradip or Visakhaptnam, the river draught is not much but it was found to be the deepest available in Bengal.
The new port is important for the economy of not only Bengal and other eastern states but also Nepal and Bhutan.
The shipping trend globally is to move large ships for economy of scale. Such ships cannot come to either Haldia or Calcutta.