Ports Get the Boost They Deserve, At Last
It is welcome that the government has drawn up a multi-year plan to modernise, revamp and overhaul the port sector. The fact is that we have long neglected investment and infrastructure in our so-called major ports, with the result that container traffic needs reshipping to Colombo simply because we lack the facilities here. But in tandem, we need to do away with rigidities in tariff fixation, bring the main ports under the purview of the Companies Act and incentivise operations in a business-like manner. The recent Maritime India Summit in Mumbai garnered firm investment commitments that reportedly add up to $12 billion, with another $60 billion potentially in the pipeline. The game plan is to shore up India’s port capacity from 1,400 million tonnes per annum to 3,000 MTPA by 2025, and to mobilise .₹ 1 lakh crore for the purpose. In parallel, we need to ramp-up logistics and port connectivity, and line-up rail and highway projects to remove glaring infrastructural deficits. The Sagarmala project of the shipping ministry does envisage port-based or port-proximate industrial and manufacturing enclaves and it has also identified 27 potential coastal clusters to boost value addition.
We need to revisit and revise the tariff-setting regime for our major public sector ports. Private ports follow flexible proactive tariff norms, which seem to greatly boost traffic. The norms set by the Tariff Authority for Major Ports (TAMP) appear downright bureaucratic with cost-plus returns on capital employed, various other charges and a complicated formula to determine specific rates at the various major ports as per a ‘scale of rates’. These make little sense. The Major Port Trusts Act, 1963, needs amending without further delay so that the ports are managed under the Companies Act.