The Chennai Port Trust is still grappling with the issue of finding a solution on how to make use of the idle iron ore and coal berths.

The berths are unused for over 18 months following a ban on export of the mineral and shifting of coal despatches to Ennore Port respectively.

While the ban on iron ore is across India, the port trust has appealed in the Supreme Court against a Madras High Court order restraining Chennai port from handling dusty cargoes such as iron ore and coal and instead shifting these to Ennore Port. The port trust has started looking at alternative cargoes, in case its appeal is rejected.

The port trust will soon appoint a consultant to upgrade the Bharathi Dock II, which is a deep draft berth and used to handle iron ore. It is also looking at a similar option at Jawahar Dock (East), which used to handle coal, said Atulya Mishra, Chairman, Chennai Port Trust.

“We started the financial year 2012-13 in a very pessimistic way. The loss projected was about Rs 50 crore and a cargo throughput of nearly 15 million tonnes (mt). There were limited options for the port for one year after losing these growing cargoes,” he said.

The port trust had also invested a large amount on infrastructure projects such as the Ennore-Manali Road Improvement Project (Rs 58 crore), the elevated corridor connecting Chennai port with Maduravoyal and the Tiruvattiyur parking yards. There was diminishing returns from various projects; the loss of cargo has aggravated the situation, he told newspersons.

Cargo traffic

The port’s cargo handling in 2012-13 declined by nearly 4 per cent to 53.40 mt as against 55.71 mt in the previous year. Despite this, the port trust will achieve an operating surplus of Rs 42 crore and net surplus of Rs 15 crore on lower operating income of Rs 614 crore, Mishra said.

Austerity measures

The Chairman said last year was a year of austerity. The port trust reduced the overtime payment of Rs 12 crore, cut down medical bills and stores by around Rs 3 crore each.

However, the biggest measure was the special voluntary scheme through which nearly 800 officers and employees are to be relieved. “We anticipated around 2,000 people to opt for it,” he said. The port trust spent nearly Rs 60 crore on this scheme, and will save around Rs 40 crore next year by way of salaries, he said. The port still has around 6,500 employees, and may look at launching another scheme after getting an approval from the Shipping Ministry.

car terminal on overdrive

The Chennai port retained its position as the premier car handling port. The roll-on, roll-off car terminal handled 2,72,345 vehicles, which was 8 per cent higher than last year. Automobile manufacturers such as e Hyundai, Ford, Nissan, Ashok Leyland and Toyota have shown interest in increasing their volumes through the port, he said.

raja.simhan@thehindu.co.in

(This article was published on April 5, 2013)
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