Explained: The significance of the Kolkata port, renamed by PM Modi

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday (January 12) renamed the Kolkata Port Trust after Bharatiya Jana Sangh founder Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee, at an event to mark its 150th anniversary.

While addressing the gathering at Netaji Indoor Stadium in Kolkata, Modi said, “The country has benefitted from inland waterways. Haldia and Benaras have been connected through the same. The development of waterways has improved Kolkata Port Trust’s connectivity with industrial centres in east India, made trade easier for our neighbouring countries, Bhutan, Myanmar and Nepal.”

History of Kolkata’s port

In the early 16th century, the Portuguese first used the present location of the port to anchor their ships, since they found the upper reaches of the Hooghly river, beyond Kolkata, unsafe for navigation.

Job Charnock, an employee and administrator of the East India Company, is believed to have founded a trading post at the site in 1690. Since the area was situated on the river with jungle on three sides, it was considered safe from enemy invasion.

After the abolition of slavery in the British Empire in 1833, this port was used to ship lakhs of Indians as ‘indentured labourers’ to far-flung territories throughout the Empire.

As Kolkata grew in size and importance, merchants in the city demanded the setting up of a port trust in 1863. The colonial government formed a River Trust in 1866, but it soon failed, and administration was again taken up by the government.

Finally, in 1870, the Calcutta Port Act (Act V of 1870) was passed, creating the offices of Calcutta Port Commissioners.

In 1869 and 1870, eight jetties were built on the Strand. A wet dock was set up at Khidirpur in 1892. The Khidirpur Dock II was completed in 1902.

As cargo traffic at the port grew, so did the requirement of more kerosene, leading to the building of a petroleum wharf at Budge Budge in 1896.

In 1925, the Garden Reach jetty was added to accommodate greater cargo traffic. A new dock, named King George’s Dock, was commissioned in 1928 (it was renamed Netaji Subhash Dock in 1973).

During World War II, the port was bombed by Japanese forces.

After Independence, the Kolkata Port lost its preeminent position in cargo traffic to ports at Mumbai, Kandla, Chennai, and Visakhapatnam. In 1975, the Commissioners of the port ceased to control it after the Major Port Trusts Act, 1963, came into force.

Natural challenges facing Kolkata harbour

The Kolkata port is the only riverine port in the country, situated 203 km from the sea. The river Hooghly, on which it is located, has many sharp bends, and is considered a difficult navigational channel. Throughout the year, dredging activities have to be carried out to keep the channel open.

The Farakka Barrage, built in 1975, reduced some of the port’s woes as Ganga waters were diverted into the Bhagirathi-Hooghly system.

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