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Gadkari in Iran to repair ties following the tiff over gas fields

Shipping Minister Nitin Gadkari said Chabhar port which India is building in Iran which provides connectivity to Afghanistan bypassing Pakistan besides opening up trade route with Russia and other Central Asian Republics will become operational next year.

Once Chabahar Port in Iran becomes operational, there will be no looking back as it will be a gateway to golden opportunities, the Minister said before leaving for Tehran.

As a special envoy of India, deputed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Road Transport and Shipping Minister Gadkari is in Tehran to represent India at the oath taking ceremony of President Hassan Rouhani for the second term. Relations between India and Iran have soured during the last few months over handing over of gas fields. Iran is yet to ratify various pacts connected with the port project.

Talks are still on for building railways and roads in Iran through Chabahar till Afghanistan and then we have access to Russia. Once Chabahar is operationalised, which we are hopeful to be in 12 to 18 months time, it will prove to be a gateway to golden opportunities to boost trade and business, the minister told a news agency.

Chabahar port, located in the Sistan-Balochistan province in the energy-rich Persian Gulf nation's southern coast, lies outside the Persian Gulf and is easily accessed from India's western coast.

Work on buidling a railway network and road to the Afghan border within Iran will start only after Tehran ratifies the Trilateral Transit and Transport Agreement by Iran and necessary approvals are given. The trilateral pact was inked during Prime Minister Narendra Modi's visit to Tehran in May 2016.

The pact envisages establishment of Transit and Transport Corridor between India, Iran and Afghanistan using Chabahar Port as one of the regional hubs for sea transportation in Iran besides multi-modal transport of goods and passengers across the three nations. India and Afghanistan have since ratified the pact, but Iran is yet to complete the exercise even after one year.

Relations between India and Iran have soured in the last few months over handing over of gasfield developed by Indian companies. New Delhi has retaliated by reducing import of petroleum products from Iran. It is in this context Mr Gadkari's visit to Tehran assumes political significance.

Mr Gadkari said operationalisation of the port will not accelerate the infrastructure projects but will be a "win-win situation" for the nations as it would give tremendous boost to trade and offer vast opportunities to investors.

"Chabahar will not only boost ties between Iran and India but we will be closer to Afghanistan and then Russia ... We can export goods till Russia. This will be a direct route," he said.

India has already built the Zaranj-Delaram Road in Afghanistan where the cargo reaching Zehedan can connect to.

The rail route is aimed at connecting the existing rail network of Iran at Zahedan on Iran Afghanistan border, and subsequently to Mashad in north area. The railway link to Mashad will provide access to Turkmenistan as well as northern Afghanistan through its connection to the Bafq- Mashad route," an official said.

This project will significantly enhance the opportunity for trade and business among the nations.

Civil construction work by Indian agencies has started there. We have finalised tenders worth Rs 380 crore for equipment out of Rs 600 crore and once the port becomes operational it will become a growth engine," the minister had said.

For greater trade and investment flow with Iran and neighbouring countries, the Cabinet last year cleared proposals for development of Chabahar port including a 150 million US Dollar credit from Exim Bank.

It also authorised the Shipping Ministry to form a company in Iran for implementing the Chabahar Port Development Project and related activities.

As per the MoU signed between the two nations in May last year, India is to equip and operate two berths in Chabahar Port Phase-I with capital investment of US$ 85.21 million and annual revenue expenditure of US$ 22.95 million on a 10-year lease.

Ownership of the equipment will be transferred to the Iranian side on completion of 10 years or for an extended period, based on mutual agreement. The Iranian side had requested for provision of a credit of US$150 million in accordance with the MoU.

As per the pact, operations of the two berths are to commence within a period of maximum 18 months after the signing of the contract.

Besides the bilateral pact to develop the Chabahar port, for which India will invest 500 million US Dollars, a trilateral Agreement on Transport and Transit Corridor has also been signed by India, Afghanistan and Iran.


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