Prime Minister Narendra Modi today inaugurated the first phase of the roll-on roll-off (ro-ro) ferry service connecting Saurashtra with south Gujarat, amid a political row over the delay in announcement of poll dates for the state.
While launching his "dream project", Modi blamed the previous UPA government for delaying the venture by creating hurdles in the name of environment.
Modi, who is visiting the state for the third time this month, also took the first trip in the ferry from Ghogha to Dahej with 100 visually-impaired children from Bhavnagar.
"This is the first of its kind project not only in India, but also in South-East Asia," Modi said at a rally here, which comes ahead of the Assembly polls in the state.
The Congress had alleged that the government put "pressure" on the Election Commission to "delay" the announcement of Gujarat elections to enable the prime minister to offer sops to the state.
"This is also a unique project as the state government has used the latest technology to make this ferry service possible," said Modi, who had earlier termed it his "dream project".
"I had laid the foundation stone for the project in 2012, but for doing work in the ocean, you had to remain dependent on the central government then. There were such people in the central government that they had put a ban on development from Vapi to Mandvi in Kutch along coastal Gujarat," he said.
"All over, industries were threatened to be closed down in the name of environment. I know how many challenges I had faced for the development of Gujarat," he said attacking the Congress-led UPA government.
Hailing the project as a "precious gift to the country from Ghogha", Modi blamed the erstwhile UPA government for ignoring the shipping and port sector.
"In the past decades, shipping and port sectors were ignored. To modernise the sector, the government has begun Sagarmala programme...," Modi said.
"Had they (the Congress-led UPA government) understood the power of the ocean, the people in this region would not have been forced to leave their homes for work in other cities," he said.
The first phase of the project connects Ghogha of Bhavnagar district in Saurashtra region to Dahej of Bharuch district in south Gujarat.
In the first phase which was inaugurated by Modi, only passengers can travel, while in the second phase which will start after two months, light vehicles such as cars can be ferried. While in the third phase, heavy vehicles such as trucks can also be taken in the ferry.
Modi said the project will be extended up to Hazira in Surat district, and similar projects will also be launched in the Gulf of Kutch.
"The ferry can take more than 100 trucks at one time, and with such a huge number of vehicles going off the road, it will impact the road connecting Delhi and Mumbai. The number of vehicles on Gujarat's industrialised zone will reduce, the speed of vehicles will increase and this will take the economic system in top gear," Modi said.
The service reduces the distance between the two towns from 310 km by road to 30 km, which can be covered in one hour. To start with, two ships -- M V Jay Sophia and Island Jed -- can take 300 and 239 passengers, including crew members respectively, the Gujarat Maritime Board (GMB) said.
Modi had recently said that the Assembly polls in the state will be a battle between "vikaswad" and "vanshwad", in which his "development agenda" will triumph over the Congress's "dynastic politics".
The Election Commission had, on October 12, announced that polling for the Assembly elections in Himachal Pradesh will take place on November 9, but held back the Gujarat polls schedule, only saying that polling in the western state would be held before December 18.
The model code of conduct would have come into immediate effect in Gujarat had the poll schedule been announced along with Himachal Pradesh, the Congress had said.
During his speech, Modi also recalled that when he was in school, he had heard about the possibility of starting a ferry service connecting Saurashtra and south Gujarat.
He said that as the previous government could not do it, he had to do it.
The prime minister also said that in the past, the state government had made "structural mistakes", because of which the project was gathering dust for a long time.
He said that after he took over as the chief minister, he changed the existing policies and the process to make the project possible.
"We changed the polices of the previous governments. We decided that the government will construct terminals, and private agencies will run ferry service.
"The government also decided that it will bear the cost of dredging. We also thought that the government will also have a part of profit. It is because of this, the ferry service has been possible," Modi said.
The ferry service has been executed under public-private partnership, with private parties offering ferry services with infrastructure developed by the state government, Modi said.
The prime minister also inaugurated Sarvottam Dairy cattle feed plant and is slated to inaugurate other projects worth several thousand crores of rupees in Vadodara district.
He had earlier visited poll-bound Gujarat last Monday when he addressed his party workers at a rally in Gandhinagar.
Prior to that, on October 8, Modi visited his home town Vadnagar. He also inaugurated and laid the foundation stone of various projects in Rajkot, Vadnagar, Gandhinagar and Bharuch.