Paradip Port, located in Jagatsinghpur district on the Odisha coast, is poised to play an important role in India’s maritime connectivity with Southeast Asia, cementing the space for a transregional free trade architecture.
In this ambitious corridor, within the framework of the Sagarmala (garlands of the sea) project, the Indian government intends to increase the industrialization carried by the port by linking the coastal zone of Kalinga to a multitude of industrial and maritime clusters. As a result, the port of Paradip on the east coast is undergoing a massive structural and logistical overhaul. India’s ambitious economic benchmark of $5 trillion also necessitates shifting attention to the blue economy domain.
The Indian peninsula, made up of a 7,500 km coastline and 14,500 km of navigable waterways, presents an opportunity for India to capitalize on maritime space to forge trade links with neighboring countries and beyond.
This adventure embodies nothing new as the history of maritime trade tells of India’s decisive visibility, but the difference it does is that of the neo-classical approach India took to bring energy to its economy through the mediation of the sea.
Major ports on the east coast include Haldia and Kolkata in West Bengal, Paradip in Odisha, Visakhapatnam in Andhra Pradesh, Tuticorin, Chennai and Ennore in Tamil Nadu, and Port Blair in Andaman & Nicobar Island. They facilitate synergies with the Indian hinterland, Southeast Asia and Indo-Pacific partners. Their export-import profile covers petrochemicals, fertilizers, foodstuffs, salt, iron, iron ore, aluminum, automobiles, cement, etc.
Shifting the gravity of focus to Paradip, it is placed midway between Kolkata Port (210 nautical miles) and Visakhapatnam Port (260 nautical miles). Capacity expansion and hinterland connectivity by rail and highway are the important areas that have been taken care of to usher in the port-led development.
Kalinga Coastal Economic Zone connects Paradip to Dhamra Port covering coastal districts such as Puri, Jagatsinghpur, Cuttack, Kendrapara, Jajpur and Bhadrak to build industrial clusters and smart cities. These localized links are further connected to the industrial corridors of West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu to transform the trade, manufacturing and export-import (EXIM) strength of the east coast.
Also, the vast hinterland including Odisha, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal can be efficiently connected to Paradip port by railway and highways and additional coordination can be established through inter-port connectivity.
The formation of coastal tours and cruise tourism are some of the potential areas that are planned to be developed to boost coastal tourism. This sounds very ambitious and efforts have been made in the right direction to achieve the goal. If these developments are successful in the coming years, India will mainly focus on Southeast Asia to conduct more import-export related activities.
Autonomous, manufacturing-focused India could become a strong competitor in Southeast Asian markets. This can initiate competition and greatly reduce the Chinese monopoly there. His unrestricted BRI expansionism will meet with significant deterrence. Therefore, the Port of Paradip has enormous potential to become an important player in developing India’s EXIM business and creating economic and cultural synergies with South Asian partners and neighbours.
The indications are very positive and express quite well the fact that India is assuming a leading role in the years to come. Its democratic credentials will contribute to its emergence as a reliable partner and leader. The disruption of the global supply chain with the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic and China’s shrewd monopoly in the sector and its alleged involvement in pandemic complicity and data secrecy and government interventionism Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) through the formation of corridors have invited a breach in its overall image.
There is no quick fix to change this perception. This enables India to become an influential leader in the supply chain sector. In this regard, building port connectivity with Southeast Asia essentially requires the partnership of Myanmar. The latter’s political instability, militancy, military regime and Chinese interventionism in its domestic politics create a bottleneck to engage in lasting maritime relations with it.
The connectivity of Port of Kolkata and Port of Sittwe (Myanmar) is a few diplomatic and logistical clearances away to function effectively. Progress has been uncertain with the arrest of Sui Kyi by Myanmar’s military junta. But, if India conceives some form of tactical diplomacy, there is always a way to secure some optimism to build stronger ties.
However, ups and downs are recurrent in any international relationship. China is apparently the obstacle, not Myanmar. But India’s aspirations to reach out to South Asian neighbors require a deep partnership with Myanmar and its decoupling from Chinese tutelage.
India-Southeast Asia Maritime Area
In the future, inter-port connectivity between Kolkata Port and Paradip Port could be used to reach Sittwe Port and then Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and the Vietnam, as well as the northeastern region of India. involving multimodal operations.
Additionally, to reduce the load on the port of Kolkata, connectivity links can be directly developed between the port of Paradip and the ports of Kyaukpyu, Thandwe and Pathein in Myanmar. China has already funded the Kyaukphyu Special Economic Zone (KPSEZ) and India is expected to expand its depth in Myanmar apart from its investment in the Sittwe port project.
The great game of competition has already begun between India and China. It is therefore time to unleash the potential of Paradip Port to express India’s clear intention to forge lasting ties with Southeast Asian neighbors and partners. Highlighting the strength of the Port of Paradip, it currently handles numerous cargoes covering Crude Oil, Petroleum Products, Oils and Lubricants (POL), Iron Ore, Thermal Coal, Chromium Ore, Coking Coal , manganese ore, filler chrome, ferro chrome, ferro manganese, limestone, hard coke, ingots and moulds, billets, finished steel, scrap, fertilizer, fertilizer raw material, clinker, gypsum, project cargo and containers.
Its proximity to mining states such as Odisha, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh makes it all the more important to conduct import-export business. In case of developing coastal industrial clusters and manufacturing hubs, India’s exports including automotive, electronics, pharmaceuticals, fertilizers, agro-processing, etc. will be channeled to Southeast Asian countries via Paradip port directly or via inter-connectivity and port interdependency.
The Sagarmala project is rightly on track to maximize India’s depth on the east coast and its effective integration with Southeast Asian nations. Needless to say, China is a major impediment to India’s east coast trade and commerce expansion. Beijing’s arbitrariness in the region requires the presence of a competitor to introduce freedom of choice. India should modernize its diplomacy and logistics to usher in the era of competitiveness in the Bay of Bengal and the Indo-Pacific region. For this formidable undertaking, port logistics must be revitalized and the strategic and economic depth of the Paradip port must be capitalized.
Dr. Jajati K Pattnaik is Associate Professor at the Center for West Asian Studies, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. Dr Chandan K Panda is Assistant Professor at Rajiv Gandhi University, Itanagar, Arunachal Pradesh. The opinions expressed are personal.
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