fact check

Fact check: Was Modi right to call the Gujarat Ro-Ro ferry the first of its kind in India?

Reports suggest the Gujarat government rejigged the Ro-Ro plan just to beat the model code of conduct.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi went to Gujarat for the third time this month on Sunday to inaugurate yet another slew of projects, with the announcement of elections to the state assembly expected anytime soon. As part of his ribbon-cutting visit, Modi launched the first phase of a roll-on roll-off, or Ro-Ro, ferry service between Ghogha in Bhavnagar district and Dahej in Bharuch. He also claimed that this was the first project of its kind in India, and indeed across South East Asia, he insisted that no one else has built something as big as this.

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From the 1:32 mark: “Aaj ek anmol uphaar Ghogha ki dharti se poore Hindustan ko mil raha hai. Aaj Ghogha-Dahej ke beech Ro-Ro ferry service ka pratham charan ka shubhaarambh kiya ha raha hai. Bharat mein apni tarah ka pehla project hai. Yahin dakshin poorvi Asia ka bhi ye itna bada pehla project hai.”

“Today a priceless gift is going to all of India, from Ghoga. Today, the first phase of the Ro-Ro ferry service between Ghogha and Dahej is being launched. In India, this is the first project of its kind. In fact, no one in South East Asia has built such a big project,” Modi said, at the inauguration ceremony in Ghogha, Gujarat.

The Press Information Bureau’s excerpts from Modi’s speech carries this in full, including him saying this is the first project of its kind in India. The PIB’s English readout, however, seems to temper it somewhat saying, “Addressing a large gathering on the occasion, the Prime Minister said... that this programme, for the launch of a ferry between Ghogha and Dahej, is of vital importance for the entire nation. Noting that this ferry service is a first of sorts, the Prime Minister said it is a dream come true for people of Gujarat.”

Not quite first

First of sorts would indeed be more accurate.

Roll-on roll-off ferries allow cars and trucks to simply drive onto the vessels, rather than needing to be lifted by cranes and placed on them. Services like these are expected to cut down travel time around water crossings by several hours.

Earlier this year, in March, the Shipping Ministry announced the successful berthing of a vessel at a state-of-the-art Ro-Ro terminal on the Brahmaputra river in Assam’s Dhubri district. The Cochin Shipyard in June delivered two Ro-Ro vessels to the Kochi Corporation, which had hoped to use them between Fort Kochi and Vypeen islands and the mainland. The Andaman & Nicobar islands and Goa also have car ferry services.

As for the Asian neighbourhood, there are plenty of examples of Ro-Ro services operating – in Bangladesh, in the Philippines and a particularly ambitious one between the Philippines and Indonesia.

That said, Modi’s comments about Ro-Ro in India are not entirely off the mark. The Kochi Corporation may have received two Ro-Ro vessels, but they are lying idle because the rest of the infrastructure is not ready. The city also had a Ro-Ro barge service since 2011 between Willingdon Island and Vallarpadam, but this has been disrupted over the past year because of disputes with the operator. Goa has small ferries that move cars, but a better built Ro-Ro operation across the Zuari river has been promised for more than a decade now, with little actual movement.

The difference in scale is also evident. The Assam service, while it did come before Gujarat, is much smaller, with a vessel that can only take eight trucks and 100 passengers at a time, with the terminal built at a cost of Rs 46 crore. The Ghogha-Dahej project comes in at a cost of Rs 614 crore and is expected to eventually be able to carry up to 100 vehicles and 250 passengers at a time.

Last-minute alteration?

But there is an additional caveat, Modi only inaugurated the first phase of the Ro-Ro project between Ghogha and Dahej. In this phase, only passengers can travel between Ghogha and Dahej, meaning the central feature of a Ro-Ro project – allowing cars and trucks to go across on the ferry – is not available.

Moreover, even this passenger-only service was inaugurated after alterations to the original plan so that the prime minister had something to show before the model code of conduct came into place.

According to the Indian Express, “the government modified the project in last week of September, and ordered the launch of a walkway in place of the linkspan at Ghogha.” This walkway, built on a war footing allows passengers – not cars – to use the ferries.

For vehicles to actually get onto the ferries, engineers will have to remove the walkway built for passengers and attempt to build a 96-metre steel linkspan that will support vehicles moving from land onto the ferries. There is no set date by when the walkway will be removed and an attempt to build the linkspan will go ahead. The project was originally supposed to be completed by 2013, at a cost of Rs 296 crore. It now stands at Rs 614 crore.

Corrections and clarifications: The piece has been updated with additional information about Ro-Ro service in Kochi.

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