The concept of a ‘mega port’ encompasses various dimensions such as cargo volume, economic significance, and spatial utilization. These mega ports play a pivotal role in advancing the ‘blue economy,’ characterized by sustainable utilization of ocean resources to foster economic growth, livelihood improvement, job creation, and ecological well-being. In alignment with this objective, the Indian government has set a target to elevate all ports to mega port status by 2047.

Challenges Faced by Indian Ports:

Low Capacity Utilization:

  • Despite handling the lion’s share of cargo, Indian ports operate significantly below their capacity.
  • For instance, the 13 major ports collectively possess a capacity exceeding 1500 million tonnes per annum (MTPA), while actual traffic handled was around 670 MT in 2020-21.

Physical Infrastructure Limitations:

  • Indian ports grapple with challenges like inadequate productivity, prolonged turnaround and pre-berthing durations, and elevated freight costs.
  • These issues hinder operational efficiency and economic viability.

Digital Infrastructure Deficiencies:

  • Absence of a unified online platform encompassing all stakeholders.
  • Disconnected IT solutions impede efficient information exchange due to lack of an integrated interface.

Logistical Bottlenecks:

  • Inadequate expressway links connecting major ports and industrial clusters.
  • High fuel costs contribute to sluggish hinterland transportation, impacting overall efficiency.

Labor-related Concerns:

  • Ports predominantly rely on local unskilled labor, resulting in suboptimal productivity and cargo handling.
  • This local labor often operates with inefficiencies, causing operational bottlenecks.

Competitiveness Challenges:

  • Elevated taxation and compliance burdens inflate operational expenses for Indian vessels.
  • This diminishes their competitiveness on the global stage.
  • Investment Shortfalls: Despite provisions like 100% Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) and tax incentives, actual FDI inflow remained limited, reaching only US$ 1.63 billion from April 2000 to March 2021.

Remedial Measures to Propel India’s Blue Economy:

  • Dredging Sector Opening:
    • Encourage greater participation, especially from international players, in the dredging sector to maintain draft depths suitable for larger vessels.
    • Facilitate the transformation of ports into pivotal hub points.
  • Sagarmala Programme Acceleration: Fast-track implementation of Sagarmala projects aimed at enhancing port connectivity, establishing coastal economic zones (CEZs), and inaugurating new ports.
  • Comprehensive Cost Reduction Program: Launch an all-encompassing initiative to decrease the cost of hinterland-to-port cargo movement.
  • National Portal for Cargo Facilitation (NPCF): Introduce a unified digital platform to integrate all stakeholders for seamless cargo handling.
  • Technological Integration: Harness advanced technologies like big data and Artificial Intelligence, drawing inspiration from successful global ports (e.g., Rotterdam, Felixstowe, Singapore).
  • Sector Liberalization: Embrace liberalization to foster procedural, operational, and financial flexibility and responsiveness.
  • Stakeholder Collaboration: Forge strong collaboration among terminal and equipment operators, ship owners, exporters, and importers to meet evolving sectoral demands.

Elevating Indian ports to the stature of mega ports holds the promise of fortifying the nation’s blue economy. Addressing the outlined challenges through a combination of
infrastructural enhancements, technological advancements, regulatory adaptations, and cooperative endeavors is essential for propelling India’s maritime potential toward sustained growth, economic vitality, and ecological vitality.

Legacy Editor Changed status to publish March 20, 2024