Vizhinjam port: Government sets fresh deadline of December 2023 for the completion of first phase

The contract for the construction was signed in August 2015.

Ports Minister Ahammad Devarkovil said on Thursday that the first phase of the Rs-7525-crore Vizhinjam International Deepwater Multipurpose Seaport would be completed by December 2023, four years after the original deadline of December 2019. The decision was announced after holding a meeting with Adani Group officials.

However, the Adani Group has taken the dispute regarding the delay in completion for arbitration and has argued that the first phase could be fully operationalised only by 2024. They still stick to their deadline though they have not publicly said so.

The contract for the construction was signed in August 2015 and the work started on December 5, 2015. The AVPL was given 1460 days, till December 3, 2019, to complete the first phase.

The first phase includes the construction of a 3.1-kilometre breakwater, a two-kilometre approach road, an 800-metre jetty, a fishing harbour, and the reclamation of 53 hectares of sea.

The government acknowledges that there were genuine reasons for the delay. These include natural calamities like the Ockhi cyclone in 2017 and Tauktae cyclone in 2021. Ockhi had destroyed a part of the breakwater, and had caused damages to berths and reclaimed land. Tauktae had also done some damage to the breakwater.

The pandemic, too, had brought the work on the terminal to a standstill. Further, the government had also conceded that there were hurdles in securing granite for the construction of the breakwater. Without the cover of the breakwater, it will be impossible to carry out dredging and reclamation and also the work on the 800-metre container berth.

The breakwater, an off-shore wall of rocks that protects the port from the waves, is not even half complete. The jetty, where the ships anchor, is only about 60 percent complete.

Originally, the breakwater was to be constructed by the government. "Since they had the expertise, the government asked the Adani Group to do the work. In turn, the government will provide the money and also ensure adequate supply of granite," a top government source said.

The government could not sanction the opening of new mines for the purpose because a National Green Tribunal order in 2018 had mandated that there should be a buffer zone of 200 metres around a quarry. Attempts to source granite from Tamil Nadu had also run into rough weather as district authorities in Tamil Nadu repeatedly blocked the movement of granite. Kerala had written to Tamil Nadu in August seeking hassle-free movement of rocks. Since problems persisted, Devarkovil met Tamil Nadu's minister for Public Works E.V. Velu last week.

It is also a fact that the 'dumping' of rocks for the breakwater is not possible during the monsoon season.

Now, about 800 metres of the breakwater is complete. The plan is to construct 1000 metres more between October this year and March next year, 2022. The granite for the purpose, nearly 10 lakh metric tonnes, have already been deposited in three areas: Muthalapozhi and Vizhinjam in Thiruvananthapuram, and Kollam. Huge barges will transport the granite from these three places to the site of the Transhipment Terminal. After the work is paused during the 2022 monsoon season, the remaining 1300 metres would be completed before November 2023. The plan is to berth the first ship by December 2023.

Though the deadline and also the grace time, called 'Cure Period', has expired, Kerala Government cannot go ahead with penalty measures as the dispute has been taken for arbitration. Once the 'Cure Period' is over, which was over long ago, the government had the power to appropriate 0.1 per cent or Rs 12 lakh daily from the Rs 120 crore the AVPL had kept as 'performance security' till the work is completed.

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