Gujarat’s Nargol village in resistance against a port

Avinash Nair & Kamal Saiyed | The Indian Express

Public protests have rekindled in South Gujarat, nearly 21 years after the state government decided to float global bids for a second time to develop an all-weather, multipurpose port at Nargol village in Umargam taluka of Valsad district, known for its quaint beach, lined with tall casuarina trees and old Parsi dwellings.

What is the state government’s latest proposal for Nargol?

Being positioned as a future alternative to Jawaharlal Nehru Port or JNPT in Mumbai, the Gujarat government has been planning to develop a port in Valsad since 1997. The present location identified for building the port is at Nargol, located 140 kilometres north of Mumbai and 120 kilometres south of Surat. Recently Chief Minister Vijay Rupani gave the go-ahead to Gujarat Maritime Board (GMB) to float global bids for a second time to build a multi-functional port at a cost of Rs 3,800 crore that will be capable of handling solid, liquid and container cargo.

A port in Nargol has been in the pipeline to help divert port traffic from JNPT which is operating close to its full capacity.

Why are the villagers opposed to the idea of port development?

The land chosen for the port is around this village and is among the most fertile for marine life and fruit orchards apart from its pristine beach. Earlier this month, the Nargol gram panchayat passed a resolution to oppose the port project.

According to Nargol gram panchayat member Upendra Tandel, the village has a population of 16,000, a majority of whom depend on fishing. “Good quality the fish like Surmai, prawns, waam, Bombay duck, lobsters, pomfrets, etc., are found in the coastal areas of Umargam, which is also a fertile breeding ground . The local fishermen sell their stock to the traders who later sell the stocks to dealers in Mumbai and Okha and from there it is exported to the USA, UK, China, Singapore, etc. Due to port activity, the breeding ground of the fish will be affected. The land will also be acquired for transportation of cargo as the majority of the land is owned by the tribals. The local fishermen will have to go deeper into the sea to get a good catch. Due to the port, the local fishermen will be deprived of their livelihood. Many of the land is agricultural and mostly the farmers grow rice, wheat, and own orchards of mango, chikoo and other fruits, which will be affected.”

The reclamation of land and the heavy traffic of ships would not only destroy these breeding grounds but also contaminate the sea water with spillage, say environmentalists and local fishermen.

Tandel talks about how Bhasker Save’s experiment in organic farming at his farm, Kalpavruksh, at Dehri village in Umbargaon taluka had got him world fame.

Why did government’s plans to build a port in the region fail in the past ?

The plan to build a port in Valsad was made way back in 1997. The land chosen was in Maroli, a coastal village located just 10 kilometres in the same district, north of Nargol. In September 2018, GMB had awarded the development rights for the port project to an Indo-US consortium comprising Unocal Corporation and a Mumbai-based telecommunications firm, National Telecom of India Ltd or Natelco.

GMB too had a minority stake in the project that was to spread over the villages of Umargam, Dehri, Sarando and Nargol with an investment of Rs 2,600 crore.

When the Keshubhai Patel-led government issued the letter of intent (LoI) to the Natelco-Unocal consortium, villagers organised under the Kinara Bachao Samiti and the Umbergaon Taluka Bandar Hatao Sangharsh Samiti launched an agitation and resisted surveys carried out for the project.

Following a violent clash with the police on April 7-8, 2000, a retired Lt Col, Pratap Save, who was a resident of Nargol and president of the KBS, was injured and died in Hinduja Hospital in Mumbai. His brother Bhaskar Save, who died in 2015, was a pioneer of organic farming and founded Kalpavruksha, his farm along the Umargam coastal highway.

After the public protest related to land acquisition at Maroli died down, the Gujarat Maritime Board changed the location to Nargol and invited fresh bids in 2009. Nargol was chosen because compared to Maroli, less private land was needed as majority of it would be acquired through reclamation.

In 2011-12, GMB invited bids for Nargol, where 22 companies had submitted the Request for Proposal (RFP). Of these 19 had qualified, but only four submitted the final proposals. The LOI was given in 2012 to a consortium of Ahmedabad-based Cargo Motors Pvt Ltd and Amarillis, the international arm of Israel Ports Company (IPC).

The proposed port was meant to create facilities to handle coal, containers, RO-RO and break bulk cargo at cost of Rs 4600 crore in first phase. The first phase of project would need about 175 hectares of land of which 171 hectares was to be reclaimed from sea, while the rest was expected to be forest land. Water for the project was proposed to be sourced from nearby Varoli river. The consortium failed to fulfil the obligations under the LOI. Secondly, the Israeli firm too pulled out of the consortium. Even though an extension was given, the project could not take off. Finally in July 2019, the government decided to cancel the proposal.

Even the Gujarat government admits that the port project at Nargol has faced “huge gestation lags”.

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