New Delhi: India is to hand over four cranes to Iran to boost operations at the Chabahar port, seen as a gateway to landlocked Afghanistan and Central Asia and rivaling Pakistan’s China built Gwadar port.

While India handed over two cranes to Iran in last month, another two will be delivered to Chabahar port authorities by the end of this month and a third pair will be delivered by end June, Sanjay Bandopadhyay, additional secretary in the shipping ministry said on Friday. The official was one of four who briefed reporters on the Maritime India Summit to be held next week that will have a session on the development of Chabahar port.

Chabahar is a port in Iran that India first proposed to develop in 2003. It was seen as a strategic counter to Pakistan’s Gwadar port that has been developed by China. The development of the Chabahar port, however, has been delayed due to tensions between the US and Iran.

In its budget for 2021-22 unveiled on Monday, the Indian government has set aside 100 crores for the development of the port against the backdrop of the Trump administration giving way to the Biden administration. Former US president Donald Trump had adopted a “maximum pressure policy” against Tehran in its bid to re-negotiate the 2015 Iran nuclear pact. With the US targeting oil exports from Iran, India’s bilateral trade with Tehran during 2019-20 fell to $4.77 billion from $17.03 billion 2018-19, a contraction of 71.99%.

According to Bandopadhyay, till 31 January, 123 vessels had berthed at the port that had handled 14000 TEUs (twenty foot equivalent units) of containers and 18 lakh tonnes of bulk cargo.

On 3 March, officials and ministers of Russia, Afghanistan, Iran, Armenia and Uzbekistan will be joining to discuss the Chabahar project and its linkage to the International North South Transport Corridor project. The INSTC is a 7,200-km-long multi-mode network of ship, rail, and road route for moving freight between 13 countries including India. The use of the Chabahar port and the INSTC will help cut travel time of goods by 40% and cost of transportation by 30%, Bandopadhyay said.

The development of port infrastructure, the use of free trade zones, industries that could come up there and multimodal transport connectivity are some of the issues to be discussed on 3 March besides first and last mile connectivity at Chabahar and along the INSTC.

Besides this session by the shipping ministry, India’s foreign ministry is planning another meeting on Chabahar that will have officials from Afghanistan, Iran, India and Uzbekistan participating in it. This is the second meeting of the group. The first such meeting took place in December.

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