Adani Ports may have overstepped its authority in stopping shipments from Iran, Afghan and Pak

P Manoj/ Amiti Sen Mumbai/New Delhi | Updated on October 13, 2021

The port operator cites ‘national interest’ to back up its decision

The decision by Adani Ports and Special Economic Zone Ltd (APSEZ) to stop handling export-import (EXIM) containerised cargo originating from Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan at its ports from November 15 lacks “authority” in the absence of a government directive to take such a step, say government agencies and authorities involved in the country’s external trade.

APSEZ does not have “any authority” to decide against handling cargo originating from particular countries as the right to do so solely rests with the government, officials in Delhi tracking the matter, said.

“This is just a perception game being played by the Adani Group to do damage control after banned substances were seized from containers at Mundra port. Private players cannot give orders on stopping cargo from other countries. The orders have to come from government agencies such as the Directorate General of Foreign Trade, Customs or the Shipping Ministry,” the official said.

Echoing the same view, a port industry official said: “It’s the job of the government or its agencies such as the Customs Department and the intelligence agencies to refuse containers coming from certain countries”.

“A port operator or a port authority cannot take a decision to stop handling containers originating from certain countries unless there is an advisory, circular or notification issued by the government or any of its agencies in this regard,” he said.

At least three senior Customs Department officials BusinessLine spoke to said the Customs has not issued any such circulars on the matter.

“The Customs Department will not issue any such directive unless there is an embargo from the government based on a policy decision not to allow containers originating from some countries at India’s ports,” a Customs Commissioner-level officer attached to a port located on India’s Western Coast said, asking not to be named.

“Currently, there are no general restrictions not to accept containers coming from any country, especially these three nations,” he said.

“If such a policy level decision was taken by the government, it would have to be made applicable to all the ports in the country and not just ports run by APSEZ,” a second Customs officer said.

Absence of policy decision

Central government-owned ports contacted by BusinessLine also acknowledged the absence of a policy decision giving them the authority to stop handling containers emanating from certain countries.

APSEZ did not give any reason for its decision to stop handling boxes coming from Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan — which could be construed as a non-tariff barrier — while issuing a notice to the trade on Monday. Neither did it say that the decision was based on a directive from the government.

APSEZ is believed to have taken the decision on its own “in national interest” after the recent drug bust at its flagship Mundra port raised a big hue and cry, said a source with knowledge of the decision.

Published on October 12, 2021

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