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Gadkari’s Port Vision For Economic Prosperity

Updated: October 8, 2015 8:30 am

Narendra Modi Government has many visionary ministers for a Developed India with equal development in the society. And among the top strategists, Nitin Gadkari is working day night with his key officers to make India a destination of favoured investment for Make in India and building world-class infrastructure. True to his vision, he is visiting throughout the world to explore and avail best technologies for every ports of India. It is good that after long years, a minister with innovative ideas is putting all efforts to make the transport system in India more cost effective by launching water transport system, through river linking and focusing on modernisation of ports. He has a plan to add one per cent growth rate in the GDP.

With a coastline of 7,517 km, India has 12 major ports and 187 minor ports and one of the largest merchant shipping fleets in the world. Even with these numbers, we rank 16th among maritime countries. According to the Ministry of Shipping, approximately 95 per cent of the country’s trade by volume and 70 per cent by value moves through maritime transport. Water transport has always played an important role in the Indian economy since time immemorial. As the easiest and cheapest mode of transportation, the extensive rivers of India have been used as highways for movement. The importance of both riverine and sea ports for exports and imports, and in the overall growth of trade and commerce is an important indicator of the economic condition. Adequate internal trade not only fulfills the requirements of its different regions, but also ensures a balanced growth in the country. Foreign trade provides a means for selling our surplus items and getting goods that are not internally produced. This leads to rapid economic progress of a country.

Today, 95 per cent of the waterway transportation scenario in India is of sea-borne routes. Nearly 85 per cent of our port traffic is shared by the ports of Mumbai, Kolkata, Cochin, Chennai and Visakhapatnam. The reason   for our nearly entire ocean-bound trade being from these ports is both geographical and historical. Mumbai, Cochin and Kolkata   were centres of administration for a long time. When rail connectivity happened in the late 19th century, these cities saw spurred growth. Thus, from political and railway centers they developed into great ports.

The BJP, in its election manifesto of 2014, had talked about reviving Atalji’s plan to develop the “Sagar Mala”, a string of modern ports on India’s coastline. Modi, during his visit to Mumbai, had called the ports gateways to India’s economic prosperity. His contention that India must move from “port development” to “port-led development” had breathed in fresh life to the stalled special economic zones in the country. While India is still talking of the importance of building sea ports, China has taken a march forward and focused on developing maritime infrastructure far beyond its own shores. Greenfield ports have been made in Gwadar (Pakistan) and Hambantota (Sri Lanka). Beijing is now building another port in the Maldives. All these in India’s neighbourhood. A prominent example of port-led development is the city-state of Singapore that has been able to become a First World country from a Third World one all within a span of 50 years. Both Japan and South Korea have had benefited from their trade along their significant coastlines and improvements in their port sectors.

In comparison, Indian port structure is grossly inadequate. In labour and mechanical productivity, Indian ports are inferior to other ports. The severity of the monsoon keeps the western ports, excepting Mumbai, Kandla and Cochin, closed to traffic from May to August, while the world’s top exporter nation, China has some of the world’s busiest ports. The World Shipping Council states that China (including Hong Kong) has seven of the world’s top 10 container ports. The three other top ports are Singapore, Busan (South Korea) and Dubai (UAE). Mumbai’s Nava Sheva terminal shows up at No 33 on the list, even Colombo precedes Mumbai at No 32, which shows how far India has fallen behind in the development of ports, despite growing trade volumes after India’s economic globalisation at the turn of the 1990s.

With Nitin Gadkari at the helm of the Shipping Ministry, the government is going ahead with rapid port modernisation programme. Massive steps are underway to overhaul the shipping sector as the government plans to make waterways as its focus for transportation of goods and cargo to propel the GDP growth. India has about 14,500 km of navigable waterways which comprises rivers, canals, backwaters, creeks, etc. About 80 million tonnes of cargo was transported in 2013-14 by the Inland Water Transport. Even though the present operations are currently restricted to a few stretches in the Ganga-Bhagirathi-Hooghly Rivers, the Brahmaputra, the Barak River, the rivers in Goa, the backwaters in Kerala, inland waters in Mumbai and the deltaic regions of the Godavari-Krishna rivers, the potential for huge growth exists. Development of the navigable chanell in the Brahmini river in Odisha will spell a boom for coal transportation from the Talcher coalfields. Besides being the cheapest and most environment friendly system, it can bring a boom to the regions through which the waterway passes. Dependence on the already saturated road and rail traffic will be greatly eased. It is really pleasant to know that Nitin Gadkari is determined to revive the long-neglected inland water-ways.

Deepak Kumar Rath

Deepak Kumar Rath

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