Port, cus­toms au­thor­i­ties key to speed of busi­ness

Speed of cus­toms and port op­er­a­tions is crit­i­cal in de­cid­ing the pace of im­ports and ex­ports as any de­lays tend to have a rip­ple ef­fect. Talk­ing about the speed of port op­er­a­tions in an in­ter­view with CARGOTALK Vish­wa­p­ati Trivedi, Chair­man, Na­tional Ship

Cargo Talk - - Front Page - ABEER RAY

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ports have not been able to per­form as well as the pri­vate ports. What fac­tors would ac­count for that?

The ma­jor ports, have in the last one-and-a-half years, been pro­gress­ing pretty well and be­cause the av­er­ag­ing is done, some ports have done very well, while some have not been able to. So the av­er­ag­ing gives the im­pres­sion that th­ese ports are not do­ing as well as the pri­vate ports, but some of them are do­ing very well.

Q There has been a shift of cargo from public ports to pri­vate ports. Why is that?

In the cargo sec­tor, there is al­ways, as they say, 95 per cent by vol­ume and 70 per cent by value. As the GDP of the coun­try goes up and as we ex­ert more and more of our choices and im­port and ex­port to meet our needs, the to­tal through­put cargo is def­i­nitely go­ing to go up. Some ports have de­vel­oped very smooth sys­tems of do­ing lo­gis­tics, while there are oth­ers which have tried very hard but have not yet been de­vel­oped.

The non-ma­jor ports have been able to do a far bet­ter clear­ance of cargo in terms of time. In the ma­jor ports sec­tor, some ports have done a great job. For ex­am­ple, JNPT has done very well in terms of ef­fi­ciency of evac­u­a­tion, though there are some is­sues in clear­ing it to the hin­ter­land. Ex­ports are fast be­cause ex­port is not so much sub­ject to scru­tiny and pa­per­work; im­ports get stuck.

The two crit­i­cal op­er­a­tors in the fast clear­ing of im­ports are the port guys and the cus­toms au­thor­i­ties. Due to the cus­toms au­thor­i­ties be­ing slow in clear­ing pro­cesses there is a prob­lem, for ex­am­ple, trucks do not move out fast, the stor­age ca­pac­ity at the port is not evac­u­ated or cleared fast due to which the new stuff can­not be dumped again.

Also in the ports on the East side, there has been a large spurt in the last four months in im­ported coal due to var­i­ous rea­sons. The power plants are also un­der pres­sure to in­crease their plant load fac­tors and ca­pac­i­ties and they have been us­ing a lot of im­ported coal that mostly comes from Australia, In­done­sia or lands on the East coast. All those ports are choked to ca­pac­ity and big­ger the ship that comes more is the ef­fi­ciency in terms of pric­ing and cost­ing. But our ca­pac­ity to dock big ships is also limited. The gov­ern­ment has been try­ing to build up ex­tra space for of­fload­ing. Im­ported coal spurt is very pe­ri­odic and so peo­ple op­er­at­ing at the ports are a bit re­luc­tant in putting per­ma­nent in­fra­struc­ture to im­port so much as it is dif­fi­cult to put a struc­ture which will serve for 30 years for a de­mand which is ex­pected to last only five years. Our ports have to make do with the cur­rent ca­pac­i­ties and gear them for at least for five to six years ac­cord­ing to the needs. In the ma­jor ports, there is not too much flex­i­bil­ity be­cause they have to go through pro­ce­dures as ev­ery­thing is sub­ject to some reg­u­la­tory con­di­tions. Since pri­vate ports do not have to go through too many pro­ce­dures, they have been quick in evac­u­at­ing cargo and hence they has been a shift of cargo from public ports to pri­vate ports.

Q JNPT has been asked to in­tro­duce ‘pa­per­less’ gate-in op­er­a­tion to ease gate de­lays. What are your views?

JNPT, in fact, has in the last two or three months been asked to op­er­ate at a pa­per­less level. The Min­istry had planned to use it as a ‘proof of con­cept’ and repli­cate it to all other ma­jor ports. Though they have done some­thing, there is an is­sue of digi­tis­ing the en­tire trans­ac­tion. JNPT was ad­vised to go for an elec­tronic gate pass in­stead of a phys­i­cal gate pass. Though JNPT is work­ing on that but they need a lot of co­op­er­a­tion from the cus­toms.

Q The Min­istry has been think­ing of con­nect­ing ports with rail­ways. Has there been any devel­op­ment in this re­gard?

Some months back, the Min­istry of Ship­ping moved a note to have a port rail­way com­pany which will connect ports or con­struct rail­way lines con­nect­ing the same to the main trunk route or even buy or lease some rakes. Also since they are ba­si­cally tar­get­ing coal, once this com­pany is es­tab­lished the mo­nop­oly over coal by the rail­ways is the first is­sue that would be dis­cussed and the mo­nop­oly of the Rail­ways may be threat­ened and then the pri­vate train op­er­a­tors can also come into the pic­ture.

Q The Prime Min­is­ter has stressed on port-led devel­op­ment. What are the steps be­ing taken to achieve progress in this re­gard?

The Prime Min­is­ter is not only wor­ried about the ports; he has tied it up with the devel­op­ment of hin­ter­land of the ports. Gu­jarat has 41 ports, but they all have some an­chor in­dus­try to cater to and they are all do­ing well. For ex­am­ple, when the PM took charge and floated the idea of port-led devel­op­ment, the Min­istry also took note and got the SEZ sanc­tioned just be­hind JNPT. That is go­ing to be a big industrial town­ship it­self, which is there be­cause of the port; so that’s port-led devel­op­ment. The new con­cept of port-led devel­op­ment at the hin­ter­land will it­self gen­er­ate much cargo.

Q Does the gov­ern­ment have any plans to de­velop coastal ship­ping for move­ment of cargo?

Talk­ing about coastal cargo, it has im­mense po­ten­tial; in the US it is called short sea cargo. All th­ese ports are in a cus­tom bond area and there are trans­ac­tion costs along with other for­mal­i­ties that pose mi­nor ob­sta­cles. So the gov­ern­ment has thought of bring­ing coastal jet­ties out­side the cus­toms bond area, but since that takes time the gov­ern­ment has floated a scheme for all those ports who wanted to in­vest in coastal ship­ping in the form of ‘Green Chan­nels’. The coastal cargo is brought and sent through the Green Chan­nel. If the cus­toms have a sus­pi­cion, they can al­ways check. So the con­cept of ‘Green Chan­nels’ was es­tab­lished at many ports, but not all. Now as shift­ing of cargo through coastal move­ments is a big chal­lenge; the gov­ern­ment has brought for­ward an in­cen­tive to pro­mote the same in the form of a sub­sidy scheme to shift cargo from rail / road to the coastal route.

Q What are the cur­rent plans of the gov­ern­ment re­gard­ing devel­op­ment of ports?

The GDP of the coun­try is surg­ing due to re­newed in­vestor con­fi­dence in the coun­try. The pro­jected cargo as per Rakesh Mo­han Com­mit­tee is al­ready ob­so­lete. The cargo pro­file will be far be­yond what he has pro­jected. So the Min­istry, in fact, is now us­ing that ex­tra bullish c argo growth to de­cide the port ca­pac­i­ties rather than what was set ear­lier. The Min­istry is al­ready plan­ning along th­ese lines and a lot of such projects are in pipe­line, but the same can­not be ap­plied to all ports.

Port ca­pac­i­ties will need to be in­creased, made ef­fi­cient and cal­i­brated in a man­ner that typ­i­cal cargo goes to th­ese ports. Ev­ery port can­not have ev­ery kind of cargo. As we do not have big ports as JNPT on the East coast, so the gov­ern­ment is plan­ning to build a big port in Dubra­jpur. Sev­eral new small ports are com­ing up; we have a great coun­try which has huge po­ten­tial and the cur­rent em­pha­sis on ports as in­fra­struc­ture is be­ing given high im­por­tance. The lat­est in line is the Sa­gar­mala Project which the Prime Min­is­ter has de­fined as port-led devel­op­ment.

Vish­wa­p­ati Trivedi Chair­man Na­tional Ship­ping Board

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