The Indian port sector is likely to gain traction with the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) Government´s strategic thrust on ´Make in India´. With this campaign, the manufacturing sector will get a fillip which will, in turn, lead to the improvement of all those infrastructural facilities, which support manufacture, - and of these sectors, Ports are singularly significant. This is mainly due to the fact that the ports handle 90 per cent by volume and 70 per cent by value of our merchandise EXIM trade. The Maritime Agenda 2020 also envisages a capacity creation of 3200 MMT for handling a projected cargo load of 2500 MMT by the year 2020. To top it all, the government has revived the Sagarmala Project which aims at a string of port-led developments. All these bode well for a huge modernisation at our ports.
During the last decade, the traffic at the Indian ports has doubled from 465 MMT in 2003-04 to 975 MMT in 2013-14, growing at a none-too-impressive CAGR of approximately 7.5 per cent. This is because, all this while, this sector has been grappling with its own set of challenges, such as poor connectivity to the hinterland, low draught, lack of mechanisation, poor governance, antiquated people-practices, slow decision making, etc. As a result, the sector has not been able to give its peer countries like Singapore, Malaysia, China, and Srilanka a run for their money, despite having a huge coastline of 7,517 kilometre.
It goes without saying that we need capacity enhancement at our ports in order to gear up for handling the expected swell in cargo volumes. But the need of the hour is to work upon these identified issues, and not just throw money indiscriminately at the port projects. Many ports are lagging behind in connectivity to the hinterland. Congested roads and railways have also been taking a toll on the traffic in our ports. Further, capesize vessels cannot call on most of the Indian ports due to low draughts. Looking at these bottlenecks, the policy-makers need to work on bringing efficiency and productivity in the operations of our ports by first fixing these legacy issues. Otherwise, the investments on the development of new ports will merely result in boosting the number of ports next to each other. These ports will spoil the business prospects of each other. The case in point is Andhra Pradesh having ports like Krishnapatnam, Gangavaram, Visakhapatnam, etc., located at a dense pitch and the government has further announced the creation of one more major port at Dugarajapatnam may be due to political expediency. In our opinion, merely more ports will not attract more cargo. What matters most to the users of ports are things like speed, efficiency, and turnaround time. So, we must endeavour to equip the existing ports with state-of-the-art equipment, connectivity, infrastructure, and most importantly, good governance, so that these become true enablers of our export-led manufacturing revolution. In essence, if we want a sea-change in our sea-ports, we shall have to emphasise on quality instead of quantity.
A major development in infrastructure space has been the much-awaited launch of Smart Cities Mission, Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT), and ¨Housing for All¨ by 2022. The launch of these projects as the engines of India´s infrastructure growth is the right step in pro-actively tackling the mammoth challenge of rising urbanisation that is exerting pressure on finance and other resources and livability of our cities. These projects are very timely interventions. These will definitely open up huge opportunities not only for investments, but also generating employments.