Kashmir’s Wular Lake Dredging: Sino-Indian Consortium’s Bid in Hot Water Over China Firm Ban

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Posted September 14, 2017

A 376-crore bid submitted by a consortium comprising a Chinese firm to dredge the Wular lake in Jammu and Kashmir’s Bandipora district, has foxed policy managers and the industry alike.

The lake, spread over 125 sq km, acts as a natural flood reservoir for Jhelum River.

Dredging the heavily-silted Wular lake is key to a massive conservation project planned by the State government to save one of the largest fresh water lakes in Asia.

A consortium of Kolkata-based Reach Dredging Ltd and China’s Hubei Hongyan Engineering Company Ltd is the only bidder on a tender floated by the State government to dredge the lake.

The State government, according to dredging industry sources, went ahead and opened the lone price bid without taking security clearance for bidders in line with the guidelines issued by the Shipping Ministry in December 2012 for entities bidding for port and dredging works in India. Since 1997, Chinese companies or groups with Chinese connections have been barred from bidding for Indian port projects by the Union Cabinet Committee on Security grounds because of the political tensions between the two countries.

The guidelines

According to the guidelines, the Shipping Ministry is to circulate a list of all Indian and foreign companies that normally bid for port and dredging projects to the security agencies concerned. The security agencies will then provide their inputs for the list to the Shipping Ministry within 12 weeks.

Hubei Hongyan Engineering does not figure in that list, say sources.

“Once security clearance is accorded by the Shipping Ministry to any company based on inputs from the relevant ministries/departments/organisations for any port/dredging project, such clearance in respect of the company would be valid for three years,” say the new guidelines. The same procedure will apply for dredging companies. Price bids can be opened only after pre-qualified bidders are granted security clearance by Ministries such as Home, Defence, Intelligence Bureau, External Affairs and Cabinet Secretariat. Such clearances are sought on a project-to-project basis.

Clearance for the engagement of foreign personnel for port-related and dredging work is given separately by the Home Ministry.

“The State government conveniently decided not to go for security clearance on the premise that it was a waterway project and not a port dredging project and, hence, the Shipping Ministry guideline was not applicable to them,” said a dredging company official briefed on the plan. “How can you allow a Chinese firm in a very sensitive area like Kashmir in the back drop of the Doklam issue. The State government, the Water Resources Ministry or the Inland Waterways Authority of India (IWAI), which is administered by the Shipping Ministry, do not seem to have a clue on what they are doing,” the official said.

Following an uproar, the State government has set up a Cabinet committee to go into the merits of the bid to see whether it should be awarded or not.

Reach Dredging could not be reached for comments. The Shipping Ministry and the IWAI declined to comment.

The State government could not be reached for comments.

Source: The Hindu