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Chennai port will be handling two million tons more cargo during the current financial year ending in March: Mr P Raveendran, Chairman, Chennai Port

Shri P.  Raveendran is an officer belonging to the Indian Railway Traffic Service (IRTS) .  He is currently the Chairman of Chennai Port Trust.  Prior to this appointment, he was serving as the Divisional Railway Manager (DRM), Khurda Road Division of East Coast Railway.   Earlier he was the Chief Freight Transportation Manager in Southern Railway. He has also worked in various senior capacities in Southern and South Western Railway and also as Group General Manager, CONCOR (Container Corporation).

He is a Mechanical Engineering graduate from College of Engineering, Guindy.  After initial stint of four years in BHEL as Product Engineer, He has joined IRTS based on Civil Services Examination, 1988.  He has specialized in Railway operations and focused on increasing efficiency and asset utilization in Railway freight operations.  He had been awarded by Hon'ble Railway Minister for meritorious work while he was serving as Head of Operations in Chennai Division of Southern Railway.  He had undergone one year training Germany on Transport Management in conurbations.  He had further got trained in Antwerp, Hamburg and Bremen Ports apart from short term training in INSEAD, Singapore and ICLIF, Malaysia.

Question and answer session with Mr P Raveendran, Chairman, Chennai Port, a gateway port to the East coast of the country. The port has pioneered container transport among the major ports of the country having set up an exclusive container terminal in early 1980ís.

During course of the interview MrRaveendran spoke of how the port had exceeded the traffic target set by the Shipping Ministry for the year 2017-18, various infrastructure projects which have been set in motion to improve the connectivity as well as evacuation of containers from the port and the portís proposed forays into transshipment business which has so far remained the preserve of Colombo port.

Excerpts from the Interview

 Work on the Chennai Port-  Maduravoyal Elevated Corridor is expected to resume by the middle of the year after NHAI completes the DPR for the revised project. The project was put on hold by the Tamil Nadu government for the past seven years. Completion of the project from Chennai port to Maduravoyal a distance of around 20 kilometers would help the seamless movement of Containers from the port to the Chennai Kolkata Highway within half an hour. The project is expected to be completed by 2021

The Port administration is implementing a slew of projects for speedy evacuation of containers. They include introduction of feeder services from Chennai Port to Puducherry and Karaikal ports, making Puducherry a Satellite port. Services have commenced last month on a trial basis to enable direct movement of containers from Chennai to these ports and from these ports to Chennai Port without choking roads around Southern Chennai. Containers belonging to Industries of central Tamil Nadu will be processed by customs at Puducherry and Karaikal ports and taken directly to ships waiting at the two container terminals in Chennai.

A Multi Modal Logistics Park will come up at Jolarpet Railway Station by next year, where containers from Bengaluru, Coimbatore and Andhra Pradesh will aggregate and moved to Chennai port through regular container trains. After completing Customs and other formalities at Jolarpet Logistics Park, the containers can directly move into the ships waiting at Chennai Port. Imports that land in Chennai port can be loaded into these freight trains and taken to Jolarpet Park for customs and other formalities. The road movement of containers to and fro Chennai Port will be reduced considerably once this terminal comes into operation.

Aninternationally renowned consultant firm Ernest and Young has been designated by the Port to prepare the Detailed Project Report within three months.  With the commissioning of this facility, Rail movement of cargo from the port is expected to go up to fifteen Per cent. Currently the rail movement of cargo from Chennai port is hardly seven per cent. The port is also planning to expand its Gates to the CONCORís yard at Tondiapet situated about ten kilometers north of the port premises. Direct delivery of import cargo can move by rail from the port wharfs to the CONCOR yard avoiding road movement in congested Chennai roads.

Chennai port is planning in a big way to attract transshipment traffic from the ports in the east coast as well as Bangladesh. The port is awaiting certain issues to be sorted out with the Customs. The operations will start once these issues are sorted out. Chennai Portís two container terminals with the state of the art technology to handle containers will help to attract transshipment containers in a big way.

An exclusive coastal berth with one million ton capacity will be commissioned in two months. Issues facing the coastal shipping industry like intervention of agencies like immigration and customs will be sorted out by the time the berth is commissioned by holding consultations with them. There is no role for the two agencies so long as the ships carry coastal cargo. The coastal berth at Chennai port is situated at the southern end of the port with an exclusive road. The Port has also started bunkering taking advantage of the calm seas at the outer anchorage

Concluding the interview MrRaveendran said the port is fully geared to meet the challenges of competition from the ports in the vicinity, global recession affecting the industry as well as the problems in evacuation of cargo. It is not an easy path but we shall overcome all the hurdles that could come in our wayhe  said in a note of confidence

Q and A

SS: With the financial year 2017-18 coming to a close by the end of this month, can you give me an indication of the traffic handled at the port especially containers, projections for the next year and the financial performance?

Mr.PR: Chennai port will be handling two million tons more cargo during the current financial year ending in March compared to the last financial year.

In the container sector the two terminals of the port have handled 1.42 million Teus as on February during the current financial year, about sixty thousand Teus more than the achievement during the corresponding period last year. The growth is around 4.3 per cent. The Port will surpass the target set by the Shipping Ministry for the current financial year.

The Operating Surplus of the port is expected to surpass Rs two hundred Crores.

SS: Chennai port has been the pioneer in handling container traffic among the major ports having started it way back in 1980ís but the traffic has been more or less static or have achieved marginal improvement. What has been the factors contributing to the development?

Mr.PR: Development of many ports in the vicinity in the last few years and overlapping of the hinterland of the Chennai Port has resulted in the cargo getting shared with the neighboring ports like Ennore, Katupalli and Krishnapatnm. Other factors include lack of dedicated approach roads to Chennai Port,

For a port like Chennai handling around 1.5 million Teus per annum, only one access point which is shared with public traffic is grossly inadequate. Apart from this, the global slow- down has also resulted in stagnation of Container volumes, Even with these difficulties, Chennai port was able to attain a growth of four per cent is a great achievement.

SS: With the evacuation problem witnessed by the Port two years ago having been addressed by the Port administration, what are the other issues holding up the improvement in Container traffic?

Mr.PR:  The evacuation problem could be addressed within the Port. Though the Port has improved the roads inside the Port, access to the Port from outside is still an issue. Alternate connectivity projects like Elevated Corridor proposal, ear marking of additional lands for cargo traffic, strict facilitation measures by the state government to speed up the Port bound vehicular traffic may help in addressing the issue.

The Detailed project report for the Chennai port-MadhuravoyalElevated Corridor is about to be completed and work is expected to commence by the Middle of the year. The corridor will be completed by 2021.

SS: Manufacturing Industries of the country are located in Northern and Central parts of the country and they find it convenient to use the West coast ports of Gujarat and JNPT.  These ports are operating more than their capacity while the East coast ports have been unable to utilize their capacity. How do you remove the imbalance in traffic between the ports in the Coasts?

Mr.PR: As for Chennai Port is concerned, the planned development of industries along the Chennai Bengaluru Industrial corridor(CBIC) and Chennai Vizag corridor(CVIC) will result in industrial growth along these corridors. These regions being in the hinterland of Chennai port which will help the port to meet the growing requirements of the industries without additional expenditure to capacity addition in near future and will increase the capacity utilization.

The Shipping Ministry under Sagar Mala program is planning for overall development of the entire coastal region and these initiatives are expected to  increase the capacity utilization of the ports.

SS: Some steamer agents say the railway infrastructure between Central India and East coast ports need to be strengthened, They said the railway infra between North and Central Indian manufacturing centers with the west coast ports are strong and the same needs to be developed from Central India to East coast ports. Being a senior official of the railway cadre and having worked in the Odisha region, your take on it.

Mr.PR:  Chennai, Cochin,Tuticorin,Ennore and Krishnapatnam ports have excellent rail connectivity and nothing is found wanting in this aspect. There is not much of congestion in the railway lines from Central India to East coast ports. There are however, some issues relating to Paradip port though the port at present has no container volume. There is capacity to run more freight trains in this sector.

SS: Goods coming from far Eastern countries and bound for south Indian cities like Hyderabad are handled at JNPT in preference to East coast ports because of the superior railway infrastructure. The Toor dhal imported from Myanmar and meant to be dispatched to Nagpur based mills for polishing prefer west coast ports because of better railway infrastructure in the area. How do you overcome these obstacles so that the capacity in East coast ports could be fully utilized?

Mr.PR: There is no problem in rail infrastructure for movement of goods from Chennai Port to Nagpur. If the shipper transporting toor dhal from Myanmar to Nagpur had preferred to have the goods handled at JNPT it may be due to availability of shipping lines or other logistics issues. We will however have the issue examined.

The East Coast will soon have a third railway line from Chennai to Kolkata dedicated for freight traffic. The proposal is at an advanced stage. In fact work has already commenced in some sectors near Odisha.

SS: Should the Industrial Corridors planned between Visakhapatnam and Chennai and Chennai and Bengaluru should have Dedicated Railway Corridors as well so that connectivity to East Coast ports could improve?

Mr.PR: The NPP under Sagar Mala envisages three coastal economic zones in Visakhapatnam Chennai Industrial corridor two in Andhra Pradesh and one in Tamil Nadu. The potential industries include Petro Chemicals, Electronics, Steel, Ship Building, Cement, Apparel and Food Processing.

The proposed Chennai-Visakhapatnam corridor and Chennai-Bengaluru Corridor have easy access to the existing rail network. The capacities of these rail networks will be sufficient to meet the requirements of the trade in the near future. Since road transport  is economical compared to rail up to one thousand kilometers from the relevant ports in the East coast, road is preferred to rail.

SS: Chennai port being situated in the heart of the metropolitan city is definitely at a disadvantage over the new private ports which have come up in the vicinity. Private ports have congestion free access as well as abundant land bank near the port premises. How do you address the problem of movement of goods through congested city roads and inadequate land within the port premises for further expansion?

Mr.PR: Dedicated roads to the Ports are the ultimate solution. Increasing the Modal shift from Road to Rail is another solution which can be easily implemented without additional cost because of the excellent rail connectivity available with Chennai Port. The proposed Elevated Road Corridor project will ensure additional connectivity to Chennai Port.

To ease the congestion inside the Port, the administration has already taken several initiatives to widen the internal roads.

SS: When will the work on the Elevated Corridor between the Chennai Port and Maduravoyal start?  The port has to wait for another three years for the impact of the corridor to be felt on the swift movement of goods. What are the short term measures the administration has on mid to relieve the congestion in the port further?   

Mr.PR: The DPR for the revised alignment and proposal for Elevated road to Maduravoyal is expected to be submitted to National Highways Authority of India by the end of next month.

Based on the revenue model and the mode of implementation recommended in the DPR, action will be taken by the NHAI in conjunction with Chennai Port Trust and Tamil Nadu Government to recommence the project..

Pending the commissioning of the Elevated road in about three years from commencement, Chennai port has planned to utilize the improved evacuation through EMRIP (Ennore-Manali Road Improvement Program) a six lane road linking Chennai port with Ennore along the Chennaiís northern coast. In addition, the port is in consultation with the state government plans to increase the flow of traffic through Gate number Ten from the present night time (11 Pm to 5 am) to at least a portion of the day if not 24X7.

It is also proposed to increase the rail share of the cargo by Commissioning the new full Rake length common railway yard at the Southern end of the port. It is also proposed to utilize the services of CONCOR for this purpose.

SS: The Port has plans to expand the gates to CONCOR Yard at Tondiarpet for handling Direct Port Delivery of imports. Has the shuttle service started operating from the Chennai port to the CONCOR Yard?  What has been response of the trade to this facility?

Mr.PR: The procedure for operationalizing CONCOR Yard at Tondiarpet, as an extended facility of Chennai Port is being examined by the Customs Department. Once the procedure is approved, CONCOR will start scheduled services between Chennai Port and Tondiarpet Yard regularly. Since this service will ensure assured connectivity to Chennai port, the trade is positive about the viability.

SS: The status of the Project for using Puducherry post as a Satellite Port of Chennai for handling containers and the facility at Jolarpet railway station for aggregation of containers from Bengaluru, Coimbatore and Andhra Pradesh. When will the DPR for the project be completed?

Mr.PR: Trial shipping services between Chennai and Puducherry port-Karaikal segment has started on February 23 rd. The vessel, on its second voyage sailed from Chennai port with 23 empty containers on March 8th and went to Karaikal port to pick up some export cargo.

The regular services to Puducherry port will be resumed after completion of some pending dredging work at Puducherry Port. The consultancy work for the Detailed Project Report to develop a Multi Modal Logistics Park at Jolarpet was awareded to Ernest and Young. The work is likely to be completed in June this year.

SS: Some Mainline shipping lines have deserted Chennai port and moved to nearby ports like Katupalli  in recent months because of issues of evacuation. Can you outline the steps taken by the Port administration to bring them back to Chennai Port ?

Mr.PR: No Mainline services have skipped Chennai port. What these lines have done is to make an additional halt in the nearby port to pick up additional volumes.

SS: When will work on coastal berth in Chennai port be completed? Will the administration rope the services of coastal shipping lines to make Chennai as a base for their operations? Immigration and customs seems to be a major hindrance for operation of coastal services. How do you plan to overcome these problems?

Mr.PR: The  exclusive Coastal Berth at Chennai port is expected to be completed in June this year. Once the facility is ready, any shipping Company will be welcome to handle their coastal vessels from here. As far as issues concerning immigration is concerned, Chennai port will discuss with Immigration authorities to sort out the genuine issues faced by the trade,

SS: Has the Port got any plans for expansion of services like bunkering in the Outer Anchorage? Cochin Port has made a start in this activity. Will Chennai port follow suit considering ports like Singapore earn a fortune from the service?

Mr.PR: The procedure for availing bunker at the anchorage is cumbersome. The issue was taken up with the customs department to have a single procedure and the customs have announced a new procedure to that effect. The customs permission for Outer Anchorage (OPL) bunker supply to vessels hasexpanded the scope to cover vessels passing along the Chennai coast and also calling at Kamarajar port Ennore, Katupalli and Krishnapatnam ports.

The GST has also been reduced on bunkers to five per cent from eighteen per cent. With the above measure, it is expected that the bunker volumes from Chennai Port will increase steadily. Further IOCL being the Principal Supplier at Chennai port and also Singapore ports, there is tremendous scope for growth.

SS: Has the port taken a decision to take a plunge into transshipment business?

Mr.PR: The prospects of transhipment business from Chennai port has been studied in depth. The port has finalized plans to attract transshipment business in a big way. Certain issues connected with transshipment need to besorted out with the Customs. We hope early resolution of these issues so that the new venture could be launched.

Both the container terminals operating at Chennai port have the state of the art facility which could give a boost to the transshipment traffic from the port.

SS: Future of Chennai Port, in the light of intense competition from the ports in the neighborhood.

Mr.PR:  Chennai Port has a very bright future even with competition from neighboring Ports. The main (and probably only) issue Chennai Port is facing is connectivity. Once the Elevated Corridor Project is completed, may be in 2 to three yearsí time, this will be addressed. In fact, Chennai Port, with lowest cost of handling among the Ports of this region, will be able to serve the trade in a better way.

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