ThiruvananthapuramAs dust settles at the site of the Vizhinjam port and transshipment container terminal following months-long protests by local fishermen, hopes are soaring again. GG Menon, a centenarian engineer and a former surveyor of the nearby seas, encapsulated the dreams and nightmares of multiple generations as he made an impromptu visit to the bustling port site.

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A warm welcome was arranged for him at the instructions of Rajesh Jha, CEO of Adani Vizhinjam Port. Ethiraj Ramachandran, Project Director, explained the construction and progress with the help of an animated film. Deepesh K, Security Operations Officer; Vipin S, HR Manager; Valsala Kumar, Corporate Affairs Manager; Wilfred Culas, Secretary, and Prashanth David, Executive Committee member, Vizhinjam Mother Port Action Committee (V-Mac), were also present. 

Wait for 70 years or more

Menon has waited over 70 years to witness the project’s work resume on a sustained basis that has undergone many a twist and turn along with revision in size, scale and implications to a stage now, where it can hopefully reach a logical conclusion ‘in the shortest possible time.’

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He appeared content with the progress of the work, and sounded as much to hosts and office-bearers of V-Mac. He could not but marvel the transformation at the site while speaking to news portal Earlier, Elias John, President of V-Mac, had gone to to meet Menon with Satheesh Gopi, former Deputy Hydrographer. It was then Menon expressed the wish to visit see the site.

Large breakwater, wharf 

John said Menon was driven down to the area where he had carried out a survey in a country craft way back in the 1940s. Standing at the load-out point above the sea, which is about 18-20 meters deep, he recalled vital statistics from that time, and compared them with the current 800-metre wharf. Such a large breakwater or wharf was not planned during the survey in the 1940s. 

“This has now evolved to become a huge project. I feel very lucky to have seen all this”, Menon exclaimed. Chronicling history, he said the princely state of Travancore had rightly assessed the potential benefits of a port at Vizhinjam. Sir CP Ramaswami Iyer, the then Diwan, had coordinated preliminary work.

British engineer arrives

An engineer from Britain arrived in Travancore to survey the Vizhinjam sea and coast. An Airport Division had existed then under the Public Works Department. In 1946, the Vizhinjam Harbour Special Section was formed under that division. It was then Menon, a graduate in civil engineering from the second batch in College of Engineering, Thiruvananthapuram, joined the survey team.

As the team went out to the sea in a big boat, kattamarams (traditional watercraft made by tying together tree trunks) were positioned to either side to offer protection, Menon said. The main instruments used were a sounding lead rope and a sounding sextant which proved there was no significant variation in the Vizhinjam seabed level, and the depth overall had remained constant. 

Caught in red tape

A tidal scale was placed on the rock formation north of the Vizhinjam village. Along the electric posts on the shore, flag boards were installed as survey control points. The surrounding rock formation was discovered through percussion drilling. With the help of these systems, data was collected intermittently during 1946 to 1949 and was sent to Britain.

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The team prepared a report and sent to the then government. But the file was caught in red tape and was put aside. India had gained Independence by then and the princely state made way for the newly reorganised state of Kerala. The argument over the efficacy of a new port on the West Coast when the Kochi port existed had gained currency even then. Not surprisingly, the Vizhinjam Port office was shut down and Menon transferred to Nagercoil. 

Arrival of first ship

Menon has carried with him the dream of the Vizhinjam ever since. But there were fewer takers for his knowledge, experience and track record. He has been keenly following all developments, including the signing of agreement between Government of Kerala and concessionaire Adani Group in 2015 for the port culminating in the recent flare-up of anti-port protests.

Menon enquired about the arrival of the first ship. He thanked everyone and his own luck to be able to witness the progress of the work in person. He left the site with the wish that he returns the day the first ship arrives. For V-Mac, it was fulfilling to experience the port development through the eyes of someone who initiated the work of the port 70 years ago, Elias John said.