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Gadkari wants President to invoke special provision to clear held-up ports

With none of the port projects, conceived by the NDA government more than four years ago, having taken off the ground, the Shipping Ministry intends to invoke a rarely used constitutional provision permitting it to seek exemption from various laws especially on the environment front to get Port Projects caught in a complicated process, off the ground according to sources. 

The ministry has referred the provision under Article 364 of the Constitution to the Law Ministry, seeking its clarification of how the government can issue a notification, which will help the projects stay out of the ambit of “any law”, the sources said.

Article 364 of the Constitution empowers the President issue a public notice specifying, “Any law made by Parliament or by the state legislature of a state shall not apply to any major port or aerodrome or shall apply thereto subject to such exceptions or modifications as may be specified in the notification.” 

During a meeting with Minister of State for Law P P Chaudhury on August second, Shipping  Minister Nitin Gadkari is understood to have pointed out that several port projects were caught in red tape, especially those related to the environment ministry. There are 12 major ports across the country, which are under the shipping ministry with around 10 projects involving investment of Rs 10,000 crore are caught in red tape. 

The minister”s pet port project in Maharashtra Dahanu to relieve the pressure on JNPT has not taken off for the past several years due environment and other local issues. The port project as Sagar islands have almost been given up since the West Bengal government wanted the Port to come at some other location. The second port project at Andhra Pradesh near Nellore has been abandoned due to pressure from an existing private port. 

The government announced with fanfare the setting up of an International Transhipment Terminal at Colachel at the Southern tip of the country in a bid to save foreign exchange since bulk of the EXIM cargo from the country’s East Coast Ports  are routed through Colombo Port as the Mainline vessels do not enter Ports like Chennai or Tuticorin for want of adequate cargo. The project at Colachel was given in principle approval by the Union Cabinet four years ago but has not moved forward. 

Since then the project site has been shifted twice but the VOC Port authorities entrusted with the job of preparing Detailed Project Report are yet to complete the job. Sources said while UPA government was able to steer through violent fishermen agitations to set up two units of Kudangulam Nuclear power project in the same region a few years ago, the NDA government is unable to push the projects like Colachel Port despite being close to the state government.

A Chennai based shipping agent said the centre is not keen on the Colachel project and instead has been eyeing on taking over a berth at Colombo East Port Project to serve the purpose. The job of taking over the terminal at Colombo East Port has been entrusted to the state owned Container Corporation of India (CONCOR)

Officials said the notification under this constitutional provision could alter the manner in which major ports expand and do business. “The government can look into which law can apply and which won’t and that too up to what extent for port projects. That will bring huge relief to the port sector. In most of the cases proposals are caught in files and departments take long time to approve or reject them citing different legal provision, which government those particular ministries,” said an official, who did not wish to be named. 

The constitutional provision, which can speed up the clearance of Port Projects, was brought to the notice of Mr Gadkari recently. He had asked the ministry officials to study the provisions under the article and prepare a strong case, which could be taken up with the Law Ministry.

 

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