West Bengal is often neglected as a coastal state of India. While the shore length of West Bengal is long enough, most of it lies in the active delta region of Ganga-Brahmaputra, which is the largest in the world. Only a small part of the East Medinipur coast, around the beach resort town of Digha, is accessible for large ocean going vessels.
Two riverine ports of West Bengal, the Kolkata Port and the Haldia Port, have navigation problems, and also have minimal scope of expansion. With growing demand in the industrial belt in eastern India, and the markets in the north-east spreading rapidly, there is a need for another port in eastern India. Thus, the proposed Tajpur port in West Bengal near Digha, is expected to be a game-changer in the region.
Tajpur port offers many facilities which both Kolkata and Haldia port lacked. Firstly, Tajpur port is located in the sea, providing a natural draft of more than 12 metres, and can be expanded upto 15 metres. Tajpur port offers both rail and road connectivity apart from waterways, which will reduce the travel costs to a greater extent. Tajpur port is also located strategically near the border with Bangladesh, and Myanmar also lies in close proximity. Hence the port can also be used for defence purposes by the Navy.
As most of the land required for the port is to be reclaimed from the sea, no land acquisition is required. However, building dykes and earthen dams to reach the port from the mainland may prove to be costly. Also, Odisha offers better port facilities through its Paradeep Port, and hence, the Indian Government is reluctant to build another port in close proximity to the already operational Paradeep Port. The State Government, however, has expressed interest to go ahead with the plan, and it hopes that the new port holds the key for expanding business in Bengal.
Despite the plan of the port starting way back in 2016, hardly any progress took place in the last 6 years. Tussle between the State Government and the Centre is delaying any sort of plans for the new port. First, the Centre expressed its desire to develop the port, when the State handed over the majority 74% of its stake. However, as no progress was made, the State is looking forward to implementing 100% of the port through private-public partnership.
Currently, bidding for the private stakeholder has been organized and Adani Ports and Special Economic Zone (APSEZ) has emerged as the highest bidder. However, only two bidders emerged in the bidding process, APSEZ defeating the other bidder JSW Infrastructure by a very small margin. It is now up to the West Bengal Government to see how long it takes to finish all the paperwork for the planning stage. After the port is formally handed over to the private player, it may not take more than 5 years for the inauguration of the first phase. The new port has a potential to generate a large number of jobs, which is much-needed in the post-pandemic age.