Indian ports are witnessing a marked improvement in their overall performance, with the turnaround time currently at 0.9 days (less than a day), says Sarbananda Sonowal, Union Minister for Ports, Shipping and Waterways.

The country’s major ports — Syama Prasad Mookherjee Port (formerly Kolkata Port Trust), which includes the Kolkata and Haldia dock systems; Paradip; Visakhapatnam; Kamarajar (or Ennore port); Chennai; VO Chidambaranar; Cochin; New Mangalore; Mormugao; Mumbai; Jawaharlal Nehru Port Authority (JNPA); and Deendayal — saw a 1.74 per cent increase in cargo traffic to 200.3 million tonnes (mt) for the April to June 2023 period, from 197 mt in the same quarter a year ago.

In an interview to businessline, Sonowal dwelt on investment in port infrastructure, ramp-up in capacities, improvement in performance, and an update on the Sagarmala projects. Edited excerpts:


What has been the performance of India’s major ports?

The 12 major ports continue to build capacities. Between 2014 and now, capacities across our ports have more than doubled to nearly 1,600 mt. Each of the major ports will be developed as a mega port, thereby drawing global investor interest and competing with the best in the world. In FY23, we handled around 790 mt of cargo, the highest ever and a 10 per cent jump year-on-year, through our major ports.


Will they be able to sustain the trade momentum, given the global slowdown?

We were given a target of $400 billion export by FY22. We achieved $413 billion of exports within 10 months of that fiscal. In FY23, our export target (through ports) was $720 billion. We have achieved it, too. We understand there are reports of a global slowdown, but we have ramped up our capacities, invested in new projects... work on new ones are underway too. So we are getting the infrastructure ready, and this will automatically give us an advantage in terms of competition.


Are there any investment plans or new projects in the offing?

The Government of lndia has cleared the development of a major port at Vadhavan in Maharashtra, on a ‘landlord port development’ model, due to its natural advantages and the growing requirement of the import-export trade. It will be a container port, with the project cost estimated at ₹71,000 crore. Galathea Bay in the Great Nicobar lsland of Andaman & Nicobar lslands has also been identified for the development of an international container transshipment terminal, due to its strategic location. EoIs (expressions of interest) are underway for the ₹48,000-crore project, and over 10 parties, including leading shipping liners, have participated. Development of both these ports will be under the PPP (public-private partnership) model.


How do our ports rank in terms of turnaround time and other indices?

Various initiatives are underway as they aim at an ‘ease of doing business’ (approach) like direct port delivery and entry, installation of container scanner, and RFID-based gate automation system, among others, to reduce inward and outbound cargo waiting time. Ease of loading and unloading and berthing is being worked on. In terms of the World Bank Logistics Performance Index, India climbed 16 positions in the last eight years — from 54 to 38, out of 139 countries surveyed. In the international shipment category, India moved up the ranks to 22, from 44 in 2018. The average container dwell time (the time a container spends at a location) in India is now just three days; in comparison it is four days in the UAE and South Africa; in the US it is seven days; and in Germany it is 10 days. The turnaround time in Indian ports like JNPA (the largest State-run container port in India) is just 0.9 days (22 hours), which is better than advanced countries like the US, Germany, Canada and even Australia.


How is Sagarmala faring?

Sagarmala is the ministry’s flagship scheme. Under the PPP mode, we have already invested ₹26,000. Till date we have identified 862 projects under the scheme, valued at ₹5.6-lakh crore. Of these, 220 projects worth ₹1.22-lakh crore have been completed over the last nine years .Now 260 projects, worth ₹2.36-lakh crore, are in various stages of implementation. Most of these projects are expected to be completed by 2025. An additional 314 projects, worth ₹2.12-lakh crore, have been approved and are in different stages of development. The apex committee meeting saw an addition of 567 projects, focused mostly on holistic coastal district development. These projects are worth ₹58,000 crore. All of these 1,300-odd projects are to be completed by 2035.