Big-ticket infrastructure projects more often than not lose their strategic significance if the lead time between conceptualisation and execution extends beyond a reasonable time frame. A case in point is the `6,000-crore Vizhinjam International Seaport that is being pegged to come up as a major stopover for VLCCs sailing across the Indian Ocean, now headed to Colombo. The Kerala government is pinning its hopes on a promise from the Centre for its viability gap funding. It is a fact that Vallarpadam International Container Terminal is up and running at Kochi while Tuticorin Port in Tamil Nadu has already been given budgetary allocation of `11,635 crore for its outer harbour development. It is high time the Kerala government took stock of the business prospects of Vizhinjam port before pushing ahead with what has remained a non-starter for almost 20 years.
It is a pity that the Vizhinjam project is stuck despite having several strategic advantages such as proximity to international shipping route (it is just 10-12 nautical miles from the busy Persian Gulf—Malacca shipping lane which carries almost a third of the world shipping traffic); it has much deeper berths and an approach channel of up to 20 metres, capable of docking mega container ships. In comparison, transhipment hub Colombo has a water depth of 16-18 metres. Also, there is minimal littoral drift along Vizhinjam coast, hence maintenance dredging is not required. Vizhinjam is not alone among the possible projects that are fast losing relevance due to implementation delays. In Kerala, the Kakkad hydro-electric project has a time overrun of 13 years resulting in a seven-fold rise in cost and Sabarigiri augmentation project where a 10-year delay has led to an eight-fold cost overrun.
There are several reasons for delays, including sabotage by competing agencies to thwart the progress of rivals. It is also a fact that land acquisitions for projects is tricky and takes time. There is also a need for politicians cutting across party lines to unite as was done in Gujarat for many years, the best instance being that of Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Ltd. Other states could well follow suit.