BVJK Sharma, Jt Managing Director and CEO, JSW Infrastructure Ltd, tells RAHUL KAMAT that the government must incorporate the railways, road and shipping ministries under one to curb logjams and avoid inter-ministerial issues.
The port sector seems to be in the ICU, and is plagued by lesser capacity addition and lower traffic growth. What are the key suggestions you have for the government? To shape up the port projects, the prerequisite is to amend the Land Acquisition Act in order to enable purchase of the land not only for major ports but also for minor or private ports. The second prerequisite is to improve the quality of bidding in a public-private partnership project (PPP). It will improve only when at the bidding stage the issues such as land and connectivity are addressed. The bidding process should also factor in the risk mechanism as well as deter the non-serious bidder from the bidding process.
The government must have a mid-term review of the all the major ports where the review can address the need of use of new technology in the operations. The government should also consider to have a dispute resolution mechanism which will provide a fair treatment to the private sector. Most importantly, the government should create a scenario where long-term funding will be available for critical infrastructure. In terms of finance, the finance minister should allow pension funds to be used in critical infrastructure projects like ports. There should be integrated planning while envisaging a port project.
Don't you think that environmental clearances pose a serious threat to the port sector? How that can be addressed? Now there is a hope that the decision making process will improve, and the clearances will be fast-tracked. Importantly, during the earlier NDA regime, the government had envisaged a project called "Sagarmala", which was conceived keeping in view the overall economic development of the coastal region. The project still has great potential, which can be revived. Hence, the scope of the Sagarmala project could be expanded for the economic development of the coastal region. Along with port planning, other linkages like road, rail, gas pipelines and inland water activities can be encouraged. This will, indeed, improve the economic activities of the coastal region with the inclusion of port based special economic zones, logistic parks and industries etc. And to promote port based industries, the government should implement the captive port policy.
Another interesting factor which always put port authorities on the back-foot is labour unions. Do you think the current labour laws should be amended? Absolutely. The labour law should be amended, the existing major ports should go for more technological advanced mechanisation and environment friendly measures. Especially to handle the dirt and the bulk cargo. Though the technology exists, we are not including it in the port operation. If cape-size vessels can get loaded and discharged in two days time in the rest of the world, then why not in India? For that we must not duck the issue of mechanisation and must invest in it at regular intervals. But some ports in India are unable to do so due to issue of dock labourers. In all, the government should give a free hand to the major ports while handling labour issues, raising funds for expansion plans, corporatisiaton of ports where ports can de-orgainse their board members to include more professionals than political appointees in the board of trustees.
Another major issue is that we are still struggling with getting large cape-size vessels to our ports. Why has the scenario not changed? Those ports, which are blessed with natural depths, should be planned in a way that in Phase I, it will at least provide an adequate depth to service 14-metre draft vessels. And, then the ports, which require lesser maintainance and dredging activities can aim for cape-size vessels. The government should try to design a port in such way that it will take care of futuristic needs like accommodating large container vessels, better turnaround time, quick unloading exercises.
What you suggest on the use of inland waterways? I agree that the government should promote the use of inland water transport as it is more cost effective. And it can be promoted through Marcopolo scheme, which is available in Europe that promotes model shift between road to rail and rail to sea. The respective governments have created a fund for it. The government gives incentives to those players who migrate from one mode to another mode, which is more environment friendly and logistically cost effective. Now, it is time to implement such a model in India by the government. Europe has been successful in taking its coastal movements to 45 per cent, where our coastal movement is just 7 per cent. European nations have used their rivers effectively, which we have not been able to do.