In his interview with Sudheer Vathiyath and Shashidhar Nanjundaiah, K Mohandas, Secretary, Union Ministry of Shipping, highlights some of the initiatives from the government in port connectivity, including ro-ro services, inland waterways on PPP, and more.
Does coastal shipping figure in your connectivity plans?
Coastal shipping is one of the high priority areas for the Government. We have drafted coastal shipping polÂicy and it was put out in the public domain to seek comÂments from the stakeholders. We have received few inpÂuts and now the coastal shipping policy is to be annÂounced soon. This policy is targeted at increasing the share of coastal movement of cargo incÂluding a modal shift from the land-based mode of rail and road to the shipping mode. This will provide to the creation of infraÂstructure as well as other facilitation and some incentives. We may not be able to commit much on incÂentives althÂough we would like to because of fiscal and other factors. But coastal shipping is important and polÂicy statement is going to come. This will be part of the connectivity both for domestic movement and domÂestic leg of exports parÂticularly with respect to containers where we would like to develop some of the big ports as transhipment hub and feeders would operate to these ports.
How successful have been your efforts towards promoting inland shipping? What is the current status?
The utilisation of inland waterways in India has been very little. The movement of cargo is probably about one per cent of the total cargo movement in the country. Traditionally, inland waterways were being used for movement of heavy cargo. Now increÂasingly we are worÂking on the better utilisation of inland waterways.
Two major developments have happened in the form of new projects. One is the use of river from down Haldia to the upper regions in Farakka and Tehelgaon for the movement of coal for the NTPC power projects in Farakka and Tehelgaon. The contract has been entÂered into through a private partner for the movement of 3 million tonne of coal for power plants through this river stretch which is part of the National Waterway 1.
Another significant arrangement is for the moveÂment of cargo to the Vallarpadam container terminal in Kochi from the southern parts of Kerala through the waterways. A ro-ro arrangement has been put in place which is again operated by a private partner for moveÂment of container trucks from the southern parts of Kochi to Vallarpadam terminal. These are two big achiÂevements of recent past. But there is more effort on utiÂlising inland waterways.
We seek the potential for a lot of action in the North-East where with the incrÂeasingly friendly relations with Bangladesh there could be more movement of cargo through inland water route to Assam and other North-Eastern states.
We are also looking at the feasibility of developing a couple of stretches called the National Waterways 4 and 5, in Andhra Pradesh and Orissa, respectively. Once the stretches are developed, there would be commercially viable operations for managing cargo movements. We are trying to capture these two projects on PPP mode. There would be viability for the project and like the proposed project for movement of coal from Talcher to Paradip and Dhamra ports. Prima facie, it looks like a commerÂcially viable project which can replace a land-based moveÂment.
What has been the response to the river-sea transportation legislation that was passed in 2008 by the Government?
River-sea navigation assists the whole process and the Director General of Shipping has issued notification in respect of various categories of vessels that can operate in this sector. Maybe some more action is required but things are moving and the state governments are also getting involved in this.
Are there any plans for port connectivity to be accomplished by private participation?
Port connectivity is a significant component of port capacity development because when we plan for port capacity development, connectivity is equally important. Without evacuation, the capacity cannot really be utiÂlised or experienced.
We have clear plans for connectivity for each of the ports. For the major ports, the in-principle decision was that each major port would have two-line rail connecÂtivity and four-lane road connectivity. Based on this, action has been taken and most of the places such connectivity has already been put in place.
In respect of the non-major ports also conneÂctivity being important we have been pursuing with the Railways and National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) for providing such connectivity. There are quite a few proÂjects that are at various stages. Many of the rail projects are being executed with part finance from ports. The highway projects are generally joint ventures between the port and NHAI. Some of them are projects with toll. There are mixed patterns, but overall, conneÂctivity is something that is getting utmost attention.
Rail connectivity is mostly implemented by the RailÂways and the private projects are very few in the sense that operation is by Railways in public area. In highways again, so far most of the projects have been public sector projects with funding participation bythe ports.
How many ports do you envisage to be connected, as envisioned, by road and by rail by 2015? By when do you foresee all major, intermediate and minor ports to be thus connected?
Every port must be connected. As I said earlier, withÂout connectivity and evacuation of cargo there is no way a port can effectively function. In most cases, they would need four-lane roads and two-line rail service. Major ports will definitely have this, in most places it is comÂplete but in some places where work is going on, will get complete in 2015.
For the non-major ports again this is a continuing exercise and port connectivity on which there would be visible improÂvement in the next 3-4 years.
Since most private ports view connectivity as a prerequisite to port development, do you think it will be a good idea for the Shipping Ministry to adopt this model and suggest it to the states for the non-major ports?
I would rate connectivity of utmost importance and that is why while we were discussing the preparation for the 12th Five Year Plan we have the general feedback of the stakeholders. The assessment by the experts is that this should be one of the high priority areas and accoÂrdingly we hope to give higher priority to conneÂctivity in the 12th Plan.
Do you have any concrete plans to increase the efficiency of evacuation at major ports?
There are multiple interventions for increasing effiÂciency, and if you look at container ports the Indian conÂtainer ports, most of them are being run by the global companies and there is not much difference in the effiÂciency between the container terminals in India and those abroad. Only difference is because of our ports handling smaller ships. That is associated with some sort of lower efficiency level but otherwise the machine efficiency and even in some of the efficiency parameters our ports and container terminals are supeÂrior to terÂminals abroad.
Our ports will also be able to receive bigger vessels now with the projects we are now having. Like the Kochi transhipment terminal is now functional. The dredging is going to be complete soon. The dredging contract at JNPT will be given in a month's time. And with deepening of drafts JNPT will also be able to recÂeive bigger vessels. And once we started receiving bigger vessels our efficiency parameters will be good or even better than some of the ones abroad.
Efficiency of the port by itself is not enough. We have to move the cargo and that is a very important component. We are very clear that when we speak of port capaÂcity berth development is one thing but both dreÂdging and conneÂctivity are equally important segÂments of capacity.