Kerala’s long-awaited Vizhinjam Port will not be ready for another three years. The fact is the Rs 7,525 crore deepwater multipurpose seaport project has already overshot its original deadline of December 2019 by nearly two years. Last week, the concessionaire Adani Ports formally informed the Kerala government that the construction of the first phase would be over only by December 2023. The entire project would be ready by December 2024, it said.
While the Ockhi cyclone, massive floods of 2018 and Covid outbreak were cited as major factors that impaired the work, acute shortage of raw materials like boulders and rocks to construct breakwaters was another. Though Kerala’s ports minister Ahamed Devarkovil felt the explanation was genuine, the opposition UDF has taken cudgels against the move to extend the deadline. Alleging “collusion” between the state government and the contractor, the Congress has asked the government to utilise the penalty clause in the contract. In reply, CM Pinarayi Vijayan said the government was seriously looking into that matter.
Political mudslinging between the two rival fronts has already cost Kerala dearly in terms of big-ticket projects. The Vizhinjam port was a dream project of the previous UDF government and the then CM Oommen Chandy had walked the extra mile to make it a reality. The deadline of 1,000 days declared by Gautam Adani, chairman of the Adani Group, during the foundation stone-laying ceremony in 2015 needs to be viewed in its spirit, not necessarily in the letter, as several external factors influence the work of a big project like this. By virtue of providing viability gap funding of Rs 1,635 crore and Rs 3,436 crore respectively, the Central and state governments have taken high stakes in the project.
The only priority before the state government now should be to clear all hurdles and facilitate the completion of the project in a time-bound manner. The availability of raw materials needs to be ensured. To clear the air of suspicion, an impartial audit to verify the claims by the contractor and assess the feasibility of the revised deadline should be carried out. Parties must forget politics for a while and work together to get the project back on track.