GANDHIDHAM : Infrastructure constraints, particularly the road link, threatens to halt the march of India’s biggest state-owned port by volumes handled and the nation’s second busiest, located at Kandla in Gujarat’s Kutch district.
Unless an alternate road link is built to support the growing traffic along with an upgrade of Kandla airport for movement of people and cargo, according to trade sources.
In FY23 Deendayal Port Authority, the entity that runs the port at Kandla, handled 137.56 million tonnes (mt) of cargo, clocking a growth of 8.23 percent over the 127.10 mt in the previous year. Some 70 percent of the cargo handled at Kandla is evacuated by road, 10 percent by rail and 20 percent through pipeline.
At an annual growth rate of 10 percent, the port is expected to double its cargo to 267 mt in seven years or by 2030.
By that year, India aims to hit USD 1 trillion in product exports, and the country’s ports are expected to play a crucial role in achieving this goal. The western region is home to India’s largest public and private ports, with Kandla and Mundra, both located in Kutch district, accounting for some 20 percent of the nation’s total cargo volumes of about 1,500 mt shipped by the sea route.
“You can’t have two of the biggest ports in the country with obvious logistical disadvantages,” said a trade source in Kandla.
Currently, Kandla port is connected to the hinterland via NH-41, NH-27 and NH-8A.
Several capacity augmentation projects being undertaken at Kandla port under the Maritime India Vision 2030, would see huge traffic growth.
“The existing road connectivity from Gandhidham to Maliya via Bhachau, Samakhiyali and Surajbari would not be enough to meet the growing traffic,” says Nandeesh Shukla, Deputy Chairman, Deendayal Port Authority.
“To support the huge traffic growth, it becomes imperative to strengthen the road infrastructure/connectivity for seamless movement of export-import (EXIM) cargo from/to the catchment areas,” he said.
One of the key pillars of this plan is to construct a new highway linking Gandhidham with Maliya to provide better connectivity between Kandla and the rest of the country.
The proposed alternate highway stretch – estimated to cost about Rs5,250 crores – is about 35 kms shorter than the existing Gandhidham-Maliya link, translating into fuel savings of about Rs1,200 cores and forex savings of about $160 million annually. It is also in sync with the government’s ambition of reducing logistics costs and achieving net-zero emissions.
The alternate road route, according to trade sources, is vital to guard against contingent events, force majeure or natural calamities and war like situation with India’s neighbouring country.
The new link will also help in acting as a catalyst to attract investment near to Morbi and Navlakhi port areas for export-oriented tile manufacturing units and other bulk cargo imports such as coal and other raw materials.
On the rail side, the doubling and electrification of Ahmedabad-Gandhidham line and Palanpur Gandhidham line are underway. The growth of Kutch, an industrial hub, with Asia’s biggest timber market, a special economic zone and many big industries in steel, cement, salt, minerals, oil, and chemicals, also warrants an upgradation of Kandla airport to cater to the growing demand for people mobility as well as cargo transportation.
Currently, the runway at Kandla airport is fit for operating only ATR aircraft.
“The runway of Kandla airport needs to be extended to accommodate bigger aircraft,” Teja Kangad, President of the Gandhidham Chamber of Commerce & Industry, wrote in a letter to Jyotiraditya Scindia, Minister of Civil Aviation. “The upgradation of Kandla airport will boost the economy of the nation,” he added.
The chamber has hired consultancy firm Jacobs Solutions Inc. to undertake a study on upgrading the airport at Kandla.
Deendayal Port Authority Chairman, S K Mehta said that the accelerated infrastructure development in the Kutch region “demand better connectivity through all modes of transport for both people and cargo for its sustenance”.
Mehta urged the Indian Railways to start a daily intercity train service between Gandhidham and Sabarmati/Ahmedabad as well as an overnight semi high-speed train service between Gandhidham and Delhi.
Gandhidham area is the biggest source of freight earnings for the Western Railway with the attendant focus on freight connectivity.
“However, new developments will entail movement of a large number of professionals to and from Gandhidham from the metro cities of Ahmedabad and Delhi. Hence, peoples’ connectivity should be considered equally important as freight connectivity,” Mehta wrote in a letter to Ashok Kumar Misra, General Manager, Western Railway.