Wednesday, 15 July 1998

Oldest east coast port in ruins due to years of neglect

Published in The Indian Express on Wednesday, July 15, 1998
By Syed Akbar
VIJAYAWADA, July 14: There are abandoned sheds, rusted machinery, a few
condemned boats, sandcast approach channel, cattle grazing the outgrown
greenery, and human waste littered all around. But, the Andhra Pradesh
State government likes to call it the Machilipatnam seaport and fishing
harbour.After M V Dalakhi of Malta left the port on June 22, 1989, the
Machilipatnam port has not seen any ship anchoring in its area. While the
government and the trade unions are battling out the issue of
privatisation, the port with a vast hinterland continues to be deserted.
The labour has migrated to other ports.
Machilipatnam is one of the two intermediate ports in the state. It's
maritime history dates back to the first century BC when it was an outlet
to many nations. It developed by leaps and bounds under various rulers
through the centuries. Its decline began after India became independent.
For all practical purposes, the once glorious Machilipatnam port is dead.
And the government is just to write the requiem byofficially declaring it
as closed.
The cash-strapped State Government only added to the apprehension of the
people of Machilipatnam that their port, the oldest on the east coast,
will be closed down, when it recently shifted the machinery, in working
condition, to the Kakinada port.
The staff strength at the port has been reduced over the years. As many as
15 cargo boats remain unused. A grab dredger with four mud punts is lying
rusted at the entrance of the port channel. The signal station with VHF
facilities has gone dead. The transit lights for the approach channel have
all disappeared.
The port officer, who is common for Machilipatnama and Kakinada, could not
be contacted as he stays in Kakinada, where shipping activity is in
"What remains today is scrap. A few years ago much of the equipment was in
working condition. The private consultancy firm, appointed in 1992 to
study the working of the port, listed many facilities as existing and
suggested some more. But, now the government hasto begin from scratch,"
says a leader of the Machilipatnam Port Employees' Union.
Even the four barges of the private sector remain unused. Estimated to
cost Rs 2 crore, the barges were to sail in January this year. Abandoned
midway, they are rusting in the open.
MAIN PROBLEM: The main problem facing the port is the unstable nature of
the sand bar which keeps shifting from south to north, and back, in a
cyclic manner. The approach channel keeps shifting and at times the water
is only about two feet deep at low tide over the bar.
This drift estimated at about 0.6 million cubic metres with its dominant
direction to the north, results in the shifting of the channel and
reduction of water depth over the bar.
Boats are then forced to cross during the high tide, thereby imposing
restrictions on the traffic. Further, heavy breakers exist in the approach
channel making it dangerous for boats to negotiate the bar.
Thanks to neglect from all quarters, the traffic fell from 79,269 tonnes
in 1985-86 tojust 6,588 tonnes in 1989-90. And since then, there has been
no traffic at all. The revenue last year was just Rs 2 lakh.
"Almost a million tonnes of cargo can be handled. It may even go up to 1.5
million tonnes. The APSEB is willing to get its coal supplies through the
Machilipatnam port. The conversion of the Guntur-Guntakal metre gauge into
broad gauge means a direct access to the west coast, boosting business,"
feels Venkatasubbaiah, who has studied the port in detail.
A report by Howe (India) Limited, a Delhi-based consultancy firm, pointed
out that the approach channel was trying to bypass the guide bunds. The
bank on the south side was being eroded, while that on the northern side
was getting silted up. It suggested that urgent action should be taken to
prevent the by-passing of the river. Protection works and dredging are
necessary. Six years have passed since the report was submitted. The
"urgency" is yet to be recognised.
The report estimated the total cost of development of the port at Rs12.25
crore in 1992. But, it has escalated to Rs 30 crore now.

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