Budget 2021

At least one major port trust to be corporatised and listed: FM

P. Manoj Mumbai | Updated on February 01, 2020

Cargo handling in major ports is increasing. The trend, which was first noticed in mid-December, has gained momentum in January. According to the Indian Ports Association, “Things have changed for the better in bulk and containerised cargo”

Budget proposal to trigger fresh face-off with unions

Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman has said that the government will corporatise at least one major port and list it on the stock exchange.

Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust, India's biggest container gateway, or Deendayal Port Trust, the country's biggest port by overall volumes, could be the targets for this plan.

But, this would require a new law as currently, 11 of the 12 ports owned by the government are run as trusts. The government is in the process of converting these port trusts into port authorities through a new law to be introduced in Parliament in the ongoing budget session.

The government had assured the strident workers' unions that the conversion was not aimed at corporatisation of these ports. The unions fear that conversion of these ports from trusts to authorities was a first step towards corporatisation and later privatisation.

Kamarajar Port Ltd, the lone central government owned port that is run as a company, would have been the ideal candidate for a stock exchange listing. But, the government last year decided to sell it's 67 per cent stake in Kamarajar Port to Chennai Port Trust.

Port industry experts say that the FM's announcement would indicate that conversion from port trusts into port authorities would be followed by converting them into companies through an executive order, to enable the corporatisation of these 11 ports and stock exchange listing.

However, the Budgetary announcement could raise the hackles of the unions, who could resort to industrial action to check the passage of the law to convert the port trusts into authorities on the grounds that their fears over privatisation would come true.

The shipping ministry had mollified the agitating worker's unions to ensure the introduction and passage of the Major Port Authorities Bill in Parliament. The Budget announcement could trigger a fresh bout of confrontation between the government and port unions.

Published on February 01, 2020

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