Big gets bigger — that’s the story of Adani Ports and Special Economic Zone Ltd (APSEZ), India’s largest private port operator, as it continues its dominance all the way from Mundra in Gujarat on the west coast to Kolkata in West Bengal on the east coast. It controls nearly 28 per cent of the country’s port volumes, with presence in all the maritime states.

To illustrate, in 2022-23, Indian ports handled 1,433 million tonnes (mt) of cargo — major ports, controlled by the Centre, handled 783 mt and non-major ports, under state governments and private companies, handled 650 mt. APSEZ alone handled 339 mt.

The private giant now targets one billion tonnes by 2030, while aiming to become the world’s largest port company, CEO Karan Adani says in its annual report for 2022-23.

After APSEZ’s annual installed capacity of over 550 mt, the next largest private port player is JSW Infrastructure at a distant 170 mt.

Over the past 25 years, APSEZ has consolidated its business mainly through acquisitions, with the recent being Gopalpur port in Odisha

End-to-end logistics

Starting off by servicing a vessel at Mundra port on October 7, 1998, the Gujarat company has grown exponentially into an end-to-end logistics solutions provider — from port gate to customer gate.

Also read: Gopalpur port buy will give Adani group bigger hold over east coast logistics

Along the way, it transformed India’s port sector, which was hitherto characterised by a single company owning a port and farming out services to vendors. APSEZ was selected to provide an integrated solution as a holistic port-cum-logistics service provider.

Turn up the ‘volume’
A timeline of the birth and growth of India’s largest private port operator, Adani Ports and Special Economic Zone, which handles more than a quarter of the country’s sea-going cargo
1998 to 2013: Local port operator (development phase) in Gujarat
Signed concession agreement for cargo handling at Mundra
Developed India’s first and longest private railway line, connecting Mundra to Adipur
Mundra emerged as the largest coast-based SEZ in India (following enactment of SEZ Act) 
Commissioned a multi-cargo port terminal in Hazira
2014-20: Pan-India port operator
Mundra became first commercial port in India to handle 100-plus million tonnes per annum of cargo
Acquired Dhamra port in Odisha 
Terminals at Mormugao and Kandla (Tuna Tekra) commenced commercial operations
Signed concession agreement to develop deepwater container terminal at Vizhinjam port in Kerala
Signed in-principle agreement to acquire Kattupalli port in Chennai
2021-23: Global port and/or terminal operator
Acquired Krishnapatnam port in Andhra Pradesh
Acquired Dighi port in Maharashtra
Signed build-operate-transfer (BOT) agreement with Sri Lanka Port Authority to develop container terminal in Colombo port 
Acquired Gangavaram port in Andhra Pradesh
Signed concession agreement for mechanisation of berth no. 2 on ‘design, build, finance, operate, and transfer’ (DBFOT) basis in Haldia, West Bengal
Received letter of intent awarding greenfield port at Tajpur, West Bengal
Acquired stake in Haifa port in Israel 
Acquired Gopalpur port in Odisha

Mundra port remains the company’s crown jewel, even as it lapped up many more countrywide, along the east and west coasts, giving it coverage over the entire 7,500 km of India’s coastline.

Gopalpur port will add 20 mt handling capacity. The Odisha government had earlier awarded a 30-year concession to Gopalpur Port Ltd in 2006, with provision for two 10-year extensions. As a deep-draft, multi-cargo port, Gopalpur handles a diverse mix of dry bulk cargo, including iron ore, coal, limestone, ilmenite, and alumina.

Maritime power

Besides acquisitions, APSEZ’s portfolio of ports includes greenfield development, too, says Jagannarayan Padmanabhan, Senior Director and Global Head of Transport, Logistics and Mobility, CRISIL.

Also read: Adani Ports-Gopalpur Port acquisition: A step closer in achieving East-West parity

The export-import logistics market has evolved from servicing through standalone assets to owning the entire value chain of customer service. Towards this end, APSEZ has established presence in all the key maritime states on the east and west coasts, he adds.

On the scope for more acquisitions, Padmanabhan says APSEZ still has room for growth in states like West Bengal and Karnataka, given that more than 150 terminals at major ports are likely to be privatised.

The Maritime India Vision 2030 envisages creating supply-driven maritime infrastructure to help India achieve a $5-trillion economy by 2027.

Ennarasu Karunesan, global maritime, port and logistics expert, says the Adani group has matched its port operations to global standards.

On fears of looming monopoly with so many ports and terminals under a single company, Karunesan likens it to the situation in the airline sector, where Indigo holds 60 per cent market share. With time and cost being the crucial factors in logistics, cargo will flow to any port that best meets these requirements, irrespective of ownership, he says.