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99 Yatra
Gulf of Kutch: The real Gateway Of India
19 November 2007

Ahmedabad:If magnate Mukesh Ambani is today breathing down the neck of Microsoft’s Bill Gates in the global richie list, he owes it in a large part to these waters of Gujarat. And if the Ruias of Essar are zooming up the billionaire charts and Amdavad got its first Forbes billionaire in Gautam Adani, it’s all thanks to this Gulf of Kutch. A belt that is now earning the nickname of the ’Gulf of Riches’ thanks to the moolah it’s raking in for investors who have put their money at the right waterfront.

So what if it is just next to Pakistan. This has not stopped some of India’s richest from betting their billions on this real gateway that has displaced Mumbai’s. Already investments worth Rs 1.40 lakh crores have been lined up along the 700-km shoreline by four of India’s billionaires - Mukesh Ambani, Shashi Ruia, Ratan Tatas and Gautam Adani. This even as other corporates have poured in investments worth over Rs 13,000 crore after the 2001 earthquake with another Rs 80,000 crore investments in the pipeline.

Ten special economic zones (SEZs), including that of Reliance and Essar near Jamnagar, Tatas’ 4000-MW ultra mega power project, five private shipyards, a slew of captive jetties and massive expansions by existing Mundra and Kandla ports are coming up. Considering 54MT petroleum cargo volume of Reliance and nearly 63 MT of cargo handled by Kandla and Mundra alone, ports in the Gulf alone have surpassed Mumbai’s two ports - Mumbai Port Trust and JNPT - which handled nearly 95 MT during 2006-2007. Both Reliance and Essar are now expanding their refining capacity. "Besides the geographical locational advantage over Mumbai, Kutch has inter-modal transport system of highways and broad-guage connecting it to northern hinterland in place already," says Vallabh Shah, former vice-chairman of Gujarat Maritime Board and one of the key persons in drafting the present port privatisation policy.

Adds Jayesh Buch, regional director, Essar, "We are pumping in additional investment of Rs 24,000 crore in our refinery business." In fact, as many as 2,100 vessels would move in and out of the Gulf every year in the next five years, and of these 476 would be very large crude carriers (VLCCs) alone berthing at Kandla and RIL and Essar’s ports. But then, this Gulf has always been the hub of maritime trade since ancient times with an over 4,000 year history of sea trade along its strategically located ports of Mandvi, Mundra, Okha, Koteshwar, Lakhpat and Jakhau.

As business historian Dwijendra Tripathi points out: "Ports like Okha were thriving ports in medieval times exporting textiles, spices and gems and jewellery to the Persia and Red Sea region in the Mughal era, much before Mumbai port came into existence."

So history has come full circle. Let Mumbai bask in the past glory.

Courtesy: Times of India - India kutchhis globally , from Mumbai

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