At 4.6 per cent annual growth in cargo traffic, non-major ports (NMPs) in Gujarat saw 2021-22 as their best in three years. The volumes fell a little short of pre-Covid levels, but were a tad better than the national average of 4.1 per cent growth for all NMPs of India.

The overall cargo traffic at 48 non-major ports in Gujarat stood at 405.39 million tonnes (MT) in 2021-22 (387.57 MT in 2020-21). In comparison, all of India's non-major ports achieved 598.63 MT in 2021-22, (575.04 MT in 2020-21). Gujarat ports continue to command the lion's share at 68 per cent in all NMP traffic.

Experts opine Gujarat’s NMPs haven’t reached their full potential. Union Shipping Ministry data says most of the country’s non-active minor ports are located in Gujarat. Out of the State’s 48 NMPs, 28 were reported to be inactive. This causes congestion at other operational ports, leading to financial burden on businesses, who have to spend additional money on waiting and logistics.

Ravindran Nambiar, a member of EXIM Club in Vadodara, says, "We have our manufacturing facility at Vadodara, but we get our import container cargo at Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust . If I get port connectivity at Hazira in Surat, my costing and turnaround time would improve . But the issue is that some Gujarat ports don't handle the type of cargo we import."

Most of the traffic is handled at private ports developed under the public-private-partnership at Pipavav, Mundra, Dahej and Hazira.

While officials at Gujarat Maritime Board attribute NMPs' cargo traffic growth to the strong economic bounce-back , accompanied by improved access to ports for hinterland trade, there is much ground that needs to be covered for the State's ports regulator.

"Coastal cargo movement is one big prospective area that is emerging along the Indian coastline. We don't have many coastal cargo ports. Gujarat — with its large number of NMPs — should take a lead in building coastal ports," said Samir J Shah, an expert on maritime trade and past president of Federation of Freight Forwarders' Associations in India.

This is prioritised as coastal cargo, like other international cargo, has to pass through the international port, facing processes they usually don’t adhere to. This causes avoidable delays and cost escalation. “Gujarat’s NMPs are capable of doing it with a modest additional investment for infrastructure,” said Shah.