PMO straw for state port

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  • Published 21.02.08

Feb. 21: The Bengal government has scrambled to breathe life into a deep-sea port proposal following signals that the Prime Minister is “reworking rules of engagement with the the Left”.

The state government yesterday sent the chief secretary as well as the commerce and industry secretary to Delhi for a meeting with the principal secretary to the Prime Minister.

At the end of the meeting, the PMO agreed to the state’s proposal to find a developer on its own for the port without the Centre appointing a consultant first for a feasibility study.

The state government is elated about the exemption from the consultant norm, which is but one in a series of hurdles the port proposal will have to swim around.

Sources in Delhi said the Prime Minister was “gracious” enough to accept the state’s suggestion as it required no extra effort from the Centre. Besides, refusal to concede such a procedural gesture could have been construed as an instance of the Centre standing in the way of the state’s development, the sources added.

The official communication from the PMO is pending but state officials said they want to float a bid document soon so that aspirants can come up with proposals.

The deep-sea port is crucial because without it several big-ticket projects, including the Nayachar chemical hub, could be a non-starter. Big ships carrying raw materials such as crude oil and steel can reach near sites only if the deep-sea port comes into being.

“It (the exemption) will save us at least two years,” Sabyasachi Sen, the state commerce and industry secretary, said today.

Sen and chief secretary Amit Kiran Deb had met PMO principal secretary T.K.A. Nair yesterday in Delhi. Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee had raised the issue with Manmohan Singh on February 6.

Sources later said Singh heard the chief minister out but did not make any commitment. Soon after, the same sources had told The Telegraph that the Prime Minister would not go out of his way to push Bengal projects as engaging the chief minister separately was not yielding the results, especially on the nuclear deal, the Centre had been hoping for.

Sen today offered an olive branch to the Calcutta Port Trust (CPT), under the Union shipping ministry, which is perceived to be not keen on a rival facility coming up in Bengal.

The industry secretary said the existing set-up of the CPT would not be disturbed. He also invited the CPT to participate in building the port, the location of which will be shortlisted by the developer.

The Jindals, Videocon and New Kolkata International Development (NKID), the government’s partner in the chemical hub project, have shown interest in the port.

Sen indicated that PCR Chemicals, where NKID holds a 51 per cent stake, could be the preferred partner for the port. “It will be a port for the state…. Everyone’s requirement will be factored in,” he added.