NO: DELENG / 2017 / 70663
official media partner of national maritime foundation
Exclusive Interview of DG Shipping Amitabh Kumar
By Sea and Coast | 26/06/2019

Indian Shipping Industry and Its ports are being viewed as sunrise sector in South East Asia, but there are few major shortcomings which includes high vessel turnaround time, port congestion, high port charges and slow import evacuation from ports to ICDs.  What are your plans to improve the scenario?

Indian economy continues to be one of the fastest growing economy in the world. The Indian Merchandize Exports in 2017-18 increased by 9.78% (in terms of value) while the merchandize imports increased by 19.59%.  Growth in EXIM trade at this rate has resulted in increased shipping trade in India. Further, the Government  has  taken several policy decisions like  relaxation of Cabotage, development of trans-shipment ports, introduction of  relaxed norms for operation of River-Sea vessels and grant of  permission to Inland  vessels to move along the Indian coast in 5 nautical miles corridor to increase the coastal trade.

Several projects have been undertaken by the ports for their modernization, repairs, creation of additional berths, capacity augmentation and improvement of port connectivity under the ‘Sagarmala’ scheme.  In JNPT, where the problem of congestion was more acute, concerted steps were taken to introduce automation and increase ‘Direct Port Deliver’ (DPD).  All these steps have resulted in reduced turnaround time for vessels and dwell time for the importers & exporters.  In fact, the average import dwell time has reduced by 55% from 49 hours in 2016 to 22 hours in Feb.19. Similarly, average export dwell time has reduced by 25.7% from 91 hours to 67.6 hours during the same period. 

The Government will continue to follow the same path for increasing number of ships on Indian coasts and improving the capacity and efficiency of the Indian ports. 

Government of India is bringing out a legal framework to make trade transactions mandatory through its "Port Community System", But Indian logistics is fragmented with both big and small stakeholders.  What are the ministry’s plans to help all stakeholders accept this change?

The biggest beneficiaries of online systems would be the small operators who do not have the wherewithal to be physically present in front of 10 different agencies for clearances and approvals.   

The ‘Port Community System’ is also expected to improve port efficiency and reduce the dwell time in the ports. 

IPA on its part has been organizing stakeholder consultations and our feeling is that the new system is being very well received.

Indian Shipping is at conjunction point where the stakeholders want extensive use of technology like block chain to make the process at Indian ports at par with other major maritime nations, but many Indian ports still lack proper infrastructure as well as trained manpower for technologies to be implemented.  As DG shipping what are your plans for improvement in infrastructure at Major ports?

I believe the Indian Ports are also adopting new technology. Any new technology initiative is required to pass through the initiation & designing phase, development phase and adoption phase. Training of personnel on use of new technology is part of adoption phase. I don’t see any major concern in adoption of technology due to lack of trained manpower.

The relaxation of Cabotage law last year has significantly boosted the transhipment business especially at Cochin port, yet the high port related charges governed by "TAMP" are deterring the liners from choosing Cochin over Colombo port for transhipment.  What are your views and plans to promote India as Transhipment hub?

Relaxation of Cabotage on coastal movement of EXIM and empty containers has resulted in increased movement of trans-shipment containers on Indian Ports.  Between May ’18 till March ‘19 already 17,000 empty and 90,000 laden containers have been Trans shipped through Indian ports, which would have otherwise gone to Colombo or Singapore or Port Clang etc. 

                There are some murmurs about higher port charges in India.  As you know, port charges are determined in India by TAMP which should be the correct agency to answer the question on port charges.  However, I feel if we add both the Vessel  Related Charges and Terminal Charges then the port related charges in India are comparable. What is lacking in India is the flexibility to the ports to arrive at negotiated price with its big customers. 

The modification of "Right of First refusal policy" in Feb 2019 to promote Ship building in India, whereby the Indian built vessels will be given priority in Government related Chartering contracts. The case is that majority of bulk cargo movement is carried out in Panamax, Suezmax vessels which are not owned by Indian ship owners. Therefore how will the Government ensure that the advantage of this policy goes to Indian ship-owners and not foreign ship owners using Indian flagged vessels?

The two main areas that the new Rover policy seeks to promote are

(a) Ship building; and

(b) Chartering as a viable business model for increasing supply of vessels in India. 

The new policy is under litigation, hence I will refrain from giving any comments on the same at this stage. 

China has developed a special program, where it encourages its young students to study maritime management, later they help the government in running and managing its maritime establishments. This is one of the reasons that China is world's most upcoming maritime hub. Does Ministry of Shipping, India have such plans to fill the skill gap in the sector?  Is there any program functional in the country?

IMU was set up to provide structured courses on maritime support services like maritime law, maritime finance & insurance etc. However, for various reasons these courses have not been popular. 

                From Government side, however, we have been sending our Surveyors to institutions of International repute like WMU or IMLI for the Master’s program. We have also set up a chair in the Maharashtra National Law University for ‘Maritime Law’. GMB has also partnered with GNLU to start courses of Maritime Law & Logistics management.

                I suppose, more and more mariners will start joining these courses when the demand from market arises.

One of the reason behind less vessels calling Indian ports to tranship the cargo is because of high port related charges, almost 30 percent more than neighbouring countries' ports. One of the major component of such charges are cargo handling charges by Labour.  Such labourers especially at Major ports is led by "Labour Unions" who levy exorbitant charges for cargo handling. Such practices are affecting the business in India. Does the ministry have any policy to regularise the labour charges at our Indian ports?

These commercial decisions are outside the ambit of D. G. Shipping which is a maritime regulator. However, given that the ports are to compete with the outside world, it could be in everyone’s interest to provide better services at competitive rates. 

India has an immense potential develop itself as hub for "Cruise Tourism", Indian port terminals can be revamped to accommodate cruise vessels. This will add on to the revenue of the ports. What are the plan by our Ministry in this regards?

The Ministry has drawn a comprehensive plan for development of cruise tourism in India. Development of port infrastructure, immigration clearance of tourists, co-ordination with local tour operators & ticketing agents, rationalization of tax laws, relaxation of licenses by DGS & easy registration are all parts of that strategy. 

Due to the concerted efforts of the Ministry, Mumbai Port Trust and our office, we have seen that two domestic cruise vessels have already started their operations in India.  We are hopeful that this number will grow quickly. 

Cruise shipping has also opened up huge employment opportunities for Indians. We have seen that in 2018, already more than 29,000 Indians have been employed on cruise ships. 

Apart from existing terminals at Major Ports along with some private run ports in the country, there are numerous terminals along India's coast which can be developed under Public Private Partnership model. What are the plans to promote such ports for Investment under PPP model?

Development of Ports & terminals is not within the work allocation of DG. However, as a part of the Ministry of Shipping, I can say that the Government is open to private participation in development of ports or terminals. 

Keeping in view the International Maritime Organisation's year 2020 Regulation, Where the vessels have to use bunkers with 0.5% sulphur content.  India has a golden opportunity to store such fuel at its strategic ports and provide bunkering services to vessels at competitive rates. How does the Ministry plan to capitalise on such an opportunity?

We are in touch with the refineries and they are fully geared up to providing 0.5% sulphur both in the west coast and east coast of India. 

Now That much awaited Inland Waterway Authority of India project has taken off from Haldia in West Bengal to Varanasi across the Ganga River – apart from movement of Cargo by Mini Bulk Carriers and Barges – Does the Ministry of Shipping have any agenda in developing it as a tourism spot as well by giving contracts to various firms in running Ferries? Is there any such plan in near future as this is also an area which can bring lots of revenue through tourism and at the same time such project can also give rise to employment for people who have their shelter all along the river coast?

Once the waterways are made navigable, it will open opportunities for both cargo and passengers vessels. We have already framed regulation for “River Sea Passenger Vessels”. A protocol has also been signed between India and Bangladesh for Inland cruise vessels. In fact, a domestic cruise service did a trial run between India & Bangladesh, using Inland Waterways of both countries which was very successful. 

Since the river is now being made navigable but because of low draft – is there any plan of dredging the river all along from Haldia to Varanasi and up to what depth the vessels can ply in this river?

Maintaining minimum draft is a pre-requisite for any waterways. 

Whether Oil Tanker movements will also be allowed to transport the liquid cargo using the Waterways? 

Absolutely yes. 

What about developing ports all along the river coast and whether any pilotage will be made compulsory and whether any Navigational Charts being printed by our Indian Hydrographical Department based in Dehradun?

Requirement of every port is different and this decision will be taken by the local port operator.