New Delhi and Beijing may be in the middle of a bitter standoff on the Sino-Indian border, but it is a Chinese company banned in India that has won the contract to supply cranes to Iran’s Chabahar port.

The port, on Iran’s south-eastern coast, is being developed by India as a counter to China’s involvement in Pakistan’s Gwadar port.

The contract was awarded by Indian Ports Global — a 60:40 joint venture of Jawaharlal Nehru Port, India’s biggest container port, and Kandla Port — that is tasked with developing the Chabahar facility.

“The crane supply contract has been given to ZPMC,” a Shipping Ministry official said, referring to the world’s largest port crane maker, which has been barred by security agencies from supplying to Indian ports.

ZPMC, which has a 70 per cent share of the global quay crane market, won the ₹380-crore order through an auction. The contract comes in the backdrop of Indian and Chinese soldiers locked in an eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation at the trijunction of the India-Bhutan-China border.

“China’s enormous investment in China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and port infrastructure in the Indian Ocean, serves much more than trade. It advances Beijing’s ‘String of Pearls’ strategy, as well as its unofficial agenda to encircle India through its arch-rival, Pakistan,” wrote Panos Mourdoukoutas, Professor and Chair of the Department of Economics at LIU Post in New York, in a Forbes article.

“India’s involvement in Chabahar has to be looked at from the point of view of China’s One-Belt-One-Road (OBOR) initiative and the CPEC corridor,” said a Mumbai-based port industry official. “China has got a corridor at the top and it has got a corridor at the bottom and they are stringing existing ports onto them,” he said, asking not to be named.

Ties with Teheran

Shipping Minister Gadkari said recently that the Centre was keen on developing Chabahar and hopeful of starting operations by 2018.

Civil construction work has already begun, Gadkari had said after representing India at President Hassan Rouhani’s oath ceremony.

India has allocated ₹600 crore for the development of the port. Of this, tenders worth ₹380 crore for equipment have already been finalised. Gadkari said he was hopeful that the Iranian government would accord certain necessary approvals for expediting the work, adding that the Chabahar Port would boost trade and business between the two countries and in the region.

The port, located in the Sistan-Baluchistan Province on the south-eastern coast, is of great strategic utility for India. It lies outside the Persian Gulf and is accessed from India’s western coast. India is to equip and operate two berths in Chabahar Port Phase-I with capital investment of $85.21 million and annual revenue expenditure of $22.95 million on a 10-year lease.