India's Union Minister for Road Transport and Highways and Shipping Nitin Gadkari, who was in Tehran to attend the swearing-in ceremony of Hassan Rouhani's second term as the president of Iran, extended an invitation from Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Rouhani to visit India. He also handed over a letter of felicitation to him and held talks with him and other Iranian officials, PTI reported.
In the meetings, the two sides reviewed and positively assessed the progress in implementing the decisions taken during Modi's visit to Iran last year, including the progress on the development of Chabahar port, Ministry of External Affairs said in a statement.
"Both sides reiterated their commitment to complete and operationalize the port at the earliest that would contribute to bilateral and regional trade and economic development and also provide alternate access to landlocked Afghanistan to regional and global markets," the statement said.
Hopeful of rolling out infrastructure projects in Iran and Afghanistan, Gadkari said that once Chabahar port in Iran becomes operational, there will be no looking back as it will be a gateway to golden opportunities.
"Talks are on for building railways and roads through Chabahar to Afghanistan and then we have access to Russia. Once Chabahar is operational — which we are hopeful to be in 12 to 18 months time — it will prove to be a gateway to golden opportunities to boost trade and business," Gadkari told PTI.
During his two-day visit also called on Iran's First Vice President Es'haq Jahangiri and Minister of Roads and Urban Development Abbas Akhoundi and held talks on bilateral cooperation.
Chabahar port, located in Iran's southeastern province of Sistan-Baluchistan, lies outside the Persian Gulf and is easily accessible from India's western coast, bypassing Pakistan.
"We are hopeful of the ratification of Trilateral Transit and Transport Agreement by Iran and once approvals are given, the work will start," Gadkari said.
The trilateral pact was inked during Prime Minister Narendra Modis visit to Tehran in May 2016.
The pact envisages establishment of Transit and Transport Corridor between India, Iran and Afghanistan using Chabahar port as one of the regional hubs for sea transportation in Iran besides multimodal transport of goods and passengers across the three nations.
The cabinet and the president ratified the pact in November and December, 2016 respectively.
A government official said Afghanistan has also ratified it but Iran is yet to complete the internal processes of the ratification.
Gadkari said operationalization of the port will not accelerate the infrastructure projects but will be a 'win-win situation' for the nations as it would give tremendous boost to trade and offer vast opportunities to investors.
"Chabahar will not only boost ties between Iran and India but we will be closer to Afghanistan and then Russia....We can export goods to Russia. This will be a direct route," he said.
India has already built the Zaranj-Delaram Road in Afghanistan where the cargo reaching Zahedan can connect to.
"The rail route is aimed at connecting the existing rail network of Iran at Zahedan, and subsequently to Mashhad in north area, thereby providing access to Turkmenistan as well as northern Afghanistan through its connection to the Bafq- Mashhad route," an official said.
This project will significantly enhance trade and business opportunities among the nations.
Chabahar-Zahedan Railway line project is located in the Sistan-Baluchistan Province.
Gadkari's visit assumes significance as India has accelerated work on Chabahar port and finalized some tenders for installation of key equipment at the port.
"Civil construction work has started there. We have finalized tenders and once the port becomes operational it will become a growth engine," the minister said.
For greater trade and investment flow with Iran and neighboring countries, the cabinet last year cleared proposals for development of Chabahar port including a $150 million credit from Exim Bank.
It also authorized the Shipping Ministry to form a company in Iran for implementing Chabahar Port Development Project and related activities.
As per the MoU signed between the two nations in May last year, India is to equip and operate two berths in Chabahar port Phase-I with a capital investment of $85.21 million and annual revenue expenditure of $22.95 million on a 10-year lease.
Ownership of the equipment will be transferred to the Iranian side on completion of 10 years or for an extended period, based on mutual agreement. The Iranian side had requested for provision of a credit of $150 million in accordance with the MoU.
As per the pact, operations of the two berths are to commence within a period of maximum 18 months after the signing of the contract.
Besides the bilateral pact to develop the Chabahar port — for which India will invest $500 million — a trilateral Agreement on Transport and Transit Corridor has also been signed by India, Afghanistan and Iran.