09 October 2015 10:00:01 IST

Will 2,000-year-old Masula become a key port of call, again?

Machilipatnam is a pale shadow of its former self, thanks to post-Independence apathy

If you could travel back in time by about 2,000 years to the Masula port on the east coast, you would be impressed with the scale of activity and trading taking place there.

On any given day, there would be at least a dozen ships from Rome and numerous other vessels engaged in domestic trade at the harbour.

But today — as Machilipatnam port — it is a pale shadow of its former self, with only four-five boats usually to be seen. And those too are vessels used for fishing, not trade. This decline did not happen over two millennia, but rather in the 60 years after Independence because of government apathy.

The port, which is at the mouth of River Krishna in Andhra Pradesh, was a hub of Dutch and Portuguese trading companies as well as East India Company in the 17th and 18th centuries.

“There was some activity even in the 1980s. But now there is nothing other than fishing boats here,” said Ch Srinivasa Rao, a supervisor in the harbour for the past 30 years.

The boat building industry, which is referred to by an unknown Greek navigator in his book Periplus of the Erythrian Sea (The Diary of the Red Sea) in 1 AD, still exists, but now builds fewer than 10 boats a year.

“Not many are building boats here now. This year, so far, only three boats have been built,” said Aarogyam, who is working on a new boat. At ₹30 lakh apiece, the cost of building new boats has also become prohibitive, according to M Rambabu, who owns two old boats. There are about 200 fishing boats operating from the port now.

Fresh plans But there could be some change. The people of Machilipatnam are hoping to see better days again with the recent government decision to develop the port. In August, the Andhra Pradesh government announced plans to acquire about 14,500 acres of private land to build an all-weather port with attached industrial corridors. There has been opposition from farmers and the process has not yet started.

Efforts to revive the port have been jinxed for the past decade. Originally, a project was allotted to Maytas, promoted by Ramalinga Raju of Satyam Computers, which failed to achieve financial closure. It was then given to Navayuga in 2010, after which it has not moved forward.

Local boost “But, now we hope that the port will finally see light. It will not only pep up land prices but also bring in more industries and jobs for the locals,” said A Srinivas, a local real estate developer. Machilipatnam assumes more significance due to its position as the nearest port for land-locked Telangana.

AP proposes to develop its ports so that they can handle 200 MT of cargo by 2020. It has 14 notified non-major ports including Machilipatnam and one major port, Visakhapatnam, along its 996 km coastline. Six of these are under various stages of development in PPP mode. Whether Machilipatnam will sail through remains to be seen.