Centre-State tussle over port control

V Sajeev Kumar and P Manoj | Updated on June 27, 2021

No small matter: Minor ports are currently owned and run by states   -  SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

Draft law seen undermining coastal states

The draft Indian Ports Bill 2021 seeks to empower the Central government to make a port non-operational for three reasons — if it has been non-operational for ten years after notification; in national security interest; or if it is not in consonance with the national plan for the development of major (owned by the Centre) and non-major (owned by the states) ports.

The national plan will be finalised by the Maritime State Development Council (MSDC), comprising representatives from the Central and coastal state governments.

The new bill seeks to replace the Indian Ports Act 1908. It has drawn flak from the coastal states, which fear that the “Union Government would take over the powers currently exercised by state governments in the regulation and management of minor ports”.

The Central government, according to the proposed law, will be empowered to notify a new port, any part of any navigable river or channel which leads to the new port and also alter the limits of a port.

The adjudicatory board constituted under the Major Port Authorities Act, 2021, shall act as the appellate tribunal.

The appellate tribunal will look into appeals against directions passed by the MSDC, and the direction or order of the state maritime boards; and adjudicate disputes between two or more ports where at least one port is not within the purview of the same state, between two or more state maritime boards, between one or more major port and one or more non-major port, and between two or more State governments.

The orders of the tribunal can be challenged only in the Supreme Court.

In the case of non-major ports, the port tariff will be set by the state maritime boards or the concessionaires authorised by them.

At major ports, the rates will be set by the board of the major port authority or a committee constituted by the board. The tariffs will be notified in the official gazette.

The MSDC set up under the proposed act may specify, by way of regulations, the components of port tariff and any other matter related to the transparency of port tariff, according to the draft bill.

“This move of the Central government to bring a new Bill will have long-term adverse implications on the management of minor ports, since the state governments will not have any major role anymore, if the Bill is passed,” Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MK Stalin said in a letter to coastal states and Union Territories, exhorting them to “take joint action to prevent any move to dilute the powers already vested with the states”.

Published on June 27, 2021

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