Brussels, Oct. 3: The more than two-century-old river port of Antwerp will be tasked to revive its equally ancient counterpart in Calcutta and its newer subsidiary at Haldia.
President Pranab Mukherjee today initiated a project to revive the Calcutta port with the help of Belgium’s Antwerp port authorities, who have managed to keep the Scheldt river navigable to 100,000 tonnes ships.
Belgian Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo and Indian shipping minister G.K.Wasan, who is accompanying the President on his trip to the European country, agreed to the proposal and have started the mechanism to explore a collaboration between the two ports.
The heavy silting of the river in Calcutta has seen sandbars Jellingham and Auckland rising and made it difficult for ships to come to Calcutta and Haldia — the city’s subsidiary port at the mouth of the Hooghly. P.S Raghavan, special secretary in the ministry of external affairs, said after the talks “the President’s initiative has been taken up by both the Belgian Prime Minister and our shipping minister”.
Belgium, whose current monarch King Philippe had visited India as crown prince with four large business delegations, will be sending his sister Princess Astrid as the head of a 300-member delegation to deepen trade and investment ties between the two nations.
Two-way trade between India and Belgium stands at $12.2 billion with much of the trade coming from diamonds. Belgium is India’s second largest trade partner in the European Union.
Both Mukherjee and Rupo want the two countries to explore business prospects in IT, bio-tech, infrastructure and logistics.
In the 1980s, Mukherjee had taken up a similar proposal not only to help out the ailing Calcutta port but also make the Damodar and Bhagirathi rivers navigable. However, the project was not pursued.
The Antwerp port also faces problems of heavy silting on the river Scheldt but has managed to keep itself open to heavy draught ships through innovative use of dredging and port extension technologies, said experts. Two of the world’s largest dredging firms — Dredging International and Jan De Nul — are based in Belgium.