By Mansukh Mandaviya
Invest in our ports. Invest in our people. Let India be your preferred trade destination. Let Indian ports be your port of call for trade and commerce,” PM Narendra Modi said at the Maritime India Summit-2021, inviting global investors. His words define the aspirations of New India and its ports & maritime sector.
The Indian maritime sector accounts for 95% of EXIM trade by volume, and is a significant employment generator. India’s coastline is 1.05% of the global coastline, and the country accounts for 10.4% of global maritime trade in FY 2019. It contributes 9.03% of the total seafarers (officers) globally, making it an integral part of the shipping ecosystem.
India’s position in the global maritime sector is fundamental for international trade. This trade is facilitated by the growing port capacity in India. In FY 2019, the capacity for Indian ports stood at 2,377 million tonnes per annum (mtpa) while it handled traffic of 1,281 mtpa. Twelve major ports accounted for 1,514 mtpa of capacity and handled 699 mtpa of traffic, leading to utilisation of a mere 46.2%. Non-major ports, which account for 863 mtpa of capacity, handled 582 MTPA traffic—an utilisation of 67%. Thus, key enhancements in policy, investment, operations and technology are critical to bringing India to the forefront of global maritime trade.
The ministry of ports, shipping and waterways has launched the Maritime India Vision 2030 (MIV-2030) to continue driving accelerated growth in the sector. MIV 2030 projects cargo traffic to reach 2,570 mtpa by 2030. The vision outlines 10 broad themes, encompassing 150+ initiatives covering all the facets of the Indian maritime sector—an effort to define and meet national maritime objectives. These initiatives are broadly aimed at development of port ecosystem, port operations and services, waterways and, shipping and cruises.
For ports, world-class infrastructure will form the backbone of the envisioned transformation. In line with global trends of mega-ports, development of four mega-port clusters with capacity of than 300 mtpa are planned in Gujarat, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal-Odisha. These clusters were post evaluation of industrialisation and hinterland-connectivity potential. Since the sector has been moving towards mega vessels, an increase of the draft at all major Indian ports is targeted.
India’s strategic location has long required development of a transshipment hub. Hence, for better efficiency of the country’s maritime trade, the ministry would work towards developing a transshipment hub (TS) in South India. At present, approximately 75% of India’s transshipment cargo is handled by ports outside India, including Colombo, Singapore and Klang. This increases the cost/TEU for EXIM players. Therefore, there are plans to increase the transshipment capacity through accelerated operationalisation of such ports, development of green-field TS ports at Kanyakumari and Campbell Bay as additional transshipment hubs in a phased manner, and increase capacity of existing ports like Cochin.
Automation of ports, seamless movement of cargo and paperless transactions are basic needs of a maritime country looking to become a top player in global maritime trade. Currently, lack of digitalisation, lack of availability of real-time information and limited standardisation of port procedures are negatively impacting seamless trade. Hence, steps have been identified in MIV to improve ease of doing business in the maritime sector. A National Logistics Portal (Marine) is to be launched as an integrated platform for all EXIM stakeholder, s enabling 100% paperless processes. It will the focal point for domestic shipment tracking, cloud-based document management, digital payments, etc. Additionally, more than 50 smart interventions, like predictive maintenance, deployment of automated quay cranes, etc, have been identified to transform major ports into smart ports.
Concrete steps have been identified for driving Aatmanirbhar Bharat through increased manufacturing and decreasing logistics cost. Pockets with high potential to undertake port-led industrialisation, spread over 6,000 acres, have been identified. This would be complemented with projects aimed at reducing logistics cost, such as development of commodity-specific infrastructure at ports for promoting coastal shipping and automation/mechanisation of operations. Together, these initiatives would push Make in India, Make for the World MIV-2030 also aims at building safer and environmentally-sustainable ports. Increased share of renewable energy in port operations, sustainable use of dredging material, reducing freshwater consumption and emissions, promoting development of ‘zero accident’ ports and real-time monitoring of HSE KPIs are some of the key measures to develop Green Ports.
On the shipping front, MIV aims to make India the leading ship recycling and repair hub, while increasing the gross tonnage of ships built in India by more than 15 times. This would be achieved through channelisation of domestic demand for ship-building and repair, leveraging Right of First Refusal (RoFR) rules under Aatmanirbhar Bharat Scheme. India has already demonstrated strong ship-building capability with several shipyards delivering good quality vessels globally. Repair and recycling clusters would be developed, with usage of scrap material promoted through modification of BIS regulations and re-development of ship recycling infrastructure at Alang.
Further, to increase regional maritime cooperation and trade, a Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) centre is planned to be established in India. It would facilitate infrastructure investment and trade agreements with BIMSTEC countries. Efforts would also be made to develop and export India’s core competencies like IT, naval architecture, and maritime training to support other developing countries.
India is endowed with various Inland Water Transport (IWT) options comprising rivers, canals, backwaters, creeks, and tidal inlets. These provide environmentally-friendly mode of freight logistics and passenger transport with lower operating costs. The government has prioritised development, over the next ten years, of 23 NWs with significant traffic potential. NW 1 (Ganga-Bhagirathi-Hooghly system) and NW 2 (Brahmaputra) hold immense significance as they connect neighbouring countries with India’s hinterland. These waterways are to be connected to form the Eastern Waterways Connectivity Transport Grid, providing for cost-effective EXIM with Bangladesh, Bhutan, Myanmar and Nepal.
Development potential of sectors like cruise tourism (both river & ocean cruise) has also been identified as a part of the vision. To this end, government has already undertaken several measures like rationalisation of port charges, cabotage relaxation for foreign vessels, expediated immigration and development of cruise terminals. Themes-based coastal and island circuits have also been identified on a priority basis.
MIV aims to increase the share of Indian seafarers in the global talentpool. Advancements in maritime trade would lead to evolution in capabilities for on-shore operations. Accordingly, training programmes focusing on maritime skills would be launched in partnership with industry.
MIV will make India a maritime superpower, creating ~20,00,000+ more jobs and propelling India towarsds realisation of the ‘$5-trillion economy’ goal.
The author is Minister of state (I/C) for ports, shipping and waterways