New Delhi: India expects the strategic Chabahar port in Iran, which will give sea-land access to Afghanistan bypassing Pakistan, to be operational by December next year, Union Minister Nitin Gadkari said.
Notwithstanding objections from the United States, India inked a strategic deal with Iran for the development of the port earlier this month.
"Work has already begun on the Chabahar port. There is a joint venture of Kandla Port Trust (KPT) and Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust (JNPT). We will start port activities in a year or a year-and-a-half," Road Transport, Highways and Shipping Minister Gadkari told PTI in an interview.
He said a draft agreement will be signed within a month in this regard.
"I have given the orders to bring out tenders for purchasing cranes for the port. An agreement will be signed within a month," Mr Gadkari said.
The port will be developed through a special purpose vehicle (SPV) which will invest USD 85.21 million to convert the berths into a container terminal and a multi-purpose cargo terminal.
Access to Afghanistan's Garland Highway can be made from Chahbahar port using the existing Iranian road network and the Zaranj-Delaram road, constructed by India in 2009.
This would establish a direct road access to four of the major cities of Afghanistan - Herat, Kandahar, Kabul, and Mazar-e-Sharif.
The port will be also used to ship crude oil and urea, saving India transportation costs. It will also cut transport costs and freight time for India to Central Asia and the Gulf by about a third.
On May 6, a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed by Mr Gadkari and Iran's Minister for Transport and Urban Development Dr Abbas Ahmad Akhoundi after comprehensive talks between Mr Gadkari and the Iranian leadership during his visit to the country.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, in his meeting with Mr Gadkari, had said: "Resumption of Iran-India cooperation in the southeastern Iranian port city of Chabahar would lead to a new chapter in relations between the two countries."
The United States, however, has been asking India and other countries not to "rush" into doing business with Iran as Washington was yet to work out a deal with Tehran on the latter's contentious nuclear programme.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi had also assured Afghan President Ashraf Ghani of India's commitment to building the port.
In 2003, the NDA government under then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had signed an agreement with Iran for the Chabahar Port, but it could not be materialised at that time.