Andhra Pradesh’s Machilipatnam port, one of the oldest ports in the country, is caught in a political row over the alleged plans of the Jagan Mohan Reddy government to hand over the expansion project to Telangana.
A port that is steeped in history but neglected for several decades has now suddenly become a symbol of Andhra pride. The Telugu Desam Party (TDP) and former Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu has invoked the plank of Andhra pride to attack his bete noir Jagan and accused his government of “secretly trying” to hand over the port to Telangana government “on a platter”.
Telangana is a land-locked state. However, it is keen on utilising the port facilities in the neighbouring state to meet its import and export requirements. It is willing to participate as a project developer in the expansion and modernisation of Machilipatnam port, also known as Bandar port.
No such plans
Though the YSR Congress Party government clarified that there was no plan to hand over the port development works to Telangana, Chandrababu Naidu took to twitter to warn the government against any such move.
“For your friendship and personal gains, if you spend state’s assets, the TDP won’t tolerate,” the TDP supremo tweeted, referring to the bonhomie between Jagan and his Telangana counterpart K Chandrasekhar Rao.
There is a growing political friendship between the Chief Ministers of the two sibling Telugu states, as reflected by their resolve to solve all the pending inter-state disputes and bifurcation-related issues across the table.
“Bandar port remained neglected for decades together. But our government revived it by establishing Machilipatnam Urban Development Authority in March, 2017. But after the YSRCP came to power, they are making efforts to give the port to Telangana. On June 28, 2019, they released a ‘secret’ G.O. and within two days, when we questioned them in the Assembly, they denied it.” Naidu tweeted.
“TDP will not keep quiet if you try to gift away Andhra Pradesh’s assets to your friends and nexuses,” Naidu said as his party leaders stepped up attack on the YSRCP government for trying to “barter away Andhra pride for the sake of some political benefits.”
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The State Industries and Commerce Minister M Goutham Reddy clarified that the GO, referred by the TDP, was not related to the port. Moreover, the Centre’s permission was required before such a transfer could be effected, he said.
While there were reports that the TRS government is keen on acquiring a port on lease for its commercial use since Telangana is a land-locked state, the Andhra government has said it will develop the port on its own if no private player came forward.
Already, 3983 acres of private and government land have been acquired by the government for developing a deep water port and other infrastructure in Machilipatnam under the Public Private Partnership (PPP) mode. The government has issued a notification for acquiring 33,000 acres of land for the project but there is still resistance from the fishermen community to the project.
In February this year, the then Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu had laid the foundation stone for the project.
Earlier in 2008, before the division of Andhra Pradesh, a Satyam group company Maytas had bagged the order to develop the port but the project fell through following the scandal that rocked Satyam Computers.
After Naidu took over as CM in 2014, attempts were made to revive the port project but there has not been much headway.
Now in the opposition, the TDP has been harping on the alleged ‘political nexus’ between Jagan and KCR, as the Telangana Chief Minister is popularly known, and accusing the YSRCP government of trying to sacrifice the state’s interests at the altar of personal interests.
During the Assembly session last week, Jagan had showered praises on KCR for his commitment and sincerity to resolve inter-state disputes post bifurcation.
Machilipatnam port, or Masula port as it was known in the past, has a history dating back to over 2000 years. The port, which is at the mouth of River Krishna, was a hub of Dutch and Portuguese trading companies as well as East India Company in the 17th and 18th centuries.
Periplus of the Erythrian Sea (The Diary of Red Sea), authored by an unknown Greek navigator, gives an account of the activity at Masula and the prosperity of its people. It was a hub of trade, attracting traders from the Roman Empire.
It is said that there would be at least a dozen ships from Rome every day and numerous other vessels engaged in domestic trade at the harbour.
In the 17th and early 18th centuries, Masula had regular trade with domestic ports such as Madras, Pondicherry, and also with the West. The Dutch and French traders sourced and exported various types of textiles. French records show that the port had significant revenue from diamond exports too.
For the European trading companies, Masula was a preferred base for exports to Bengal, Madras, as also Jeddah and other ports in the Persian Gulf, besides South-East Asia.
Machilipatnam was preferred because it was the only active port that connected the rich hinterlands of Andhra and Telangana with the rest of the world.
With the development of Visakhapatnam and Kakinada ports after independence, Machilipatnam port slipped into disuse.