Q) What is your take on Sethusamudram ship canal
project where the government has abandoned work for the past ten years after
spending over Rs one thousand crores. Are the alternative alignments for the
project conceived by the government better or worse than the original
alignment? The alignment proposed by the NDA government near the Pamban railway
bridge will lead to restrictions on the ship‘s height passing through the canal
because of the road bridge.
ANS) The work on the project should be resumed as a
strategic project to improve the national security of the country. With Chinese
taking control of the Hambantota port at the southern tip of Sri Lanka there is
a possibility of their obstructing the naval assets of our country moving from
west coast to east coast. The implementation of Sethusamudram project will help
the Indian naval ships avoid Hambantota.
A possible blocade of Indian naval ships could be averted if the canal
is in place. Moreover the ships can save around three days time by using the
Sethusamudram canal rather than circumnavigating Sri Lanka.
Q) Chennai used to be the only port for all the four
southern states of the country hardly twenty years ago. Now there are three
ports around Chennai vying with each other for the same cargo and the same
hinterland. Bulk of the container traffic from Chennai port has shifted to
Katupalli. How do you see the competition helping the trade?
ANS) Chennai port has very little land under its
possession and hence possibilities of expansion are limited. The same is the
case with the Mumbai port as well. Connectivity to the port is crucial and
therefore the port should speed up the implementation of elevated corridor
project. The region has lot of potential.
Hardly forty per cent of the Indian cargo is
containerized. Even then our ports handle nearly fifteen million teus per year.
There is scope to increase our container capacity to thirty million teus. I
foresee a huge revolution in cargo handling by our ports to take place in the
next five to ten years.
Did you ever imagine the customs known for highhanded
enforcement regime only a few years ago transform themselves as a facilitator
of the trade? Ports have to concentrate on speedy evacuation of cargo using
latest technological tools.
Chennai port will emerge as a clean cargo port
handling cars other automobiles exports, containers edible oil and food grains
while the nearby Kamarajar port will handle other cargo like iron ore coal fertilizers.
SS: What kind of infrastructure and connectivity
projects you would suggest for improving the productivity of east coast ports?
Ans: The port administration should take all steps
using modern technological tools to reduce the interface with the port labor to
help reduce corruption. It should also take steps to reduce handling costs.
These are the low hanging fruits which could be immediately plucked. In the
long run you can think in terms of having a network of ports in the region.
For the benefit of our readers, we give below the Summary of the interview of Capt K P Rajagopal
It is time that the Centre takes steps to
build a dedicated railway corridor from Chennai to Delhi and Chennai to Mumbai
to provide better rail connectivity to the east coast ports which are working
around fifty per cent of the capacity for the last few years.
There is a large volume of inter-Asia
cargo from China and South East Asian countries which can be offloaded at
Chennai, Krishnapatnam and Visakhapatnam ports and moved by rail to Central
Indian manufacturing clusters and the National Capital Region
A large volume of this cargo is moving
via JNPT Mundra port which is not cost effective and time consuming. The cargo
from this area, if moved through the East Coast Ports would reach the National
Capital Region at least one week earlier besides tremendous saving in freight
The government which is constructing four
new ports taking into consideration future demands of the EXIM Trade should
also invest in better Rail connectivity to East Coast Ports.
Commenting on the imbalance in the turn
over between ports in the west coast and those in the East Coast which are
under-utilized he said next five years will be trying times for the Liner trade
who wish to operate from the east coast. It will take time to build the railway
The East coast ports have distinct
advantage in handling cargo from Asian countries. We are unable to take
advantage of what the geography has provides us he said referring to large
volume of cargo from Asia being handled at JNPT or Mundra ports.
The pattern of trade will also change
Post Goods and Service tax where the industry will have to resort to stock and
sell. Tremendous movement of cargo will be generated between various parts of
the country as industries which do not have stocks will go out of business.
This means railways will be flush with business and not insist on return cargo
as they do now.
Till railway infra and connectivity is
built, the East Coast Ports near term will have to depend on roads for linkage
to the hinterland.
The recent move by ports like
Krishnapatnam and proposal by Chennai port to enter transhipment is a step in the
right direction. The ports need to work on it since there is potential to
expand the business beyond the east coast ports to include cargo from
Bangladesh and Myanmar. Both the countries look to Colombo and Singapore Ports
for their transhipment requirement. East coast ports are close to Bangladesh
and Myanmar compared to Colombo or Singapore.
On the future of transhipment terminals,
Cap. Rajagopal said Vallarpadam container terminal at Cochin port has come to
stay notwithstanding widespread criticism about the utility of the port. Near
term there may not be substantial growth in traffic from the terminal
While the Vizhinjam terminal in Kerala
where 75 per cent of the work is completed will take off soon, the terminal
planned at Colachel at the southern tip of the country will take at least five
years for the work to commence considering the intensity of the fishermen
A complicated situation has arisen in the
Sethusamudram ship canal project and inordinate delays have added to the cost.
Ten years after stoppage of work, the alternative alignment is yet to be
identified while the government had spent a sum of rs one thousand crores on
the project so far.
The project needs to be looked at from
the National Security Angle following the Chinese take-over of Hambantota port
situated in the southern tip of Sri Lanka. Given the uneasy relations with
China, possibilities are open when their navy could block Indian naval ships
moving from West to East Coast. If our ships pass through Sethusamudram route along
the east coast, they can avoid Hambantota port.
The thermal power sector has been
neglected by successive governments for the past ten years. In India, it takes
anywhere between 10 to 15 years till a thermal plant is commissioned after
overcoming land acquisition and environmental issues. This is abysmally
pathetic but that is our record on date. Nearly fifty thousand MW power remain
unutilized due to low demand from states during the last two years increasing
the Non performing assets in the power sector. Now it appears that we have
turned a corner, and the demand seems to be on the rise. Hopefully the
unutilized capacity will be consumed.
The state owned Power Grid Corporation is
on the job of synchronization of all regional grids which will help to optimal
utilization of scarce natural resources by transfer of power from Resource
centric regions to Load Centric regions. This will pave the way for
establishment of vibrant electricity market facilitating trading of power
Paying tributes to the Poompuhar Shipping
Corporation’s pioneering role in coastal shipping in the country, he said the
Tamil Nadu state owned Corporation has been in the forefront of this mode of
transport for over four decades. It would so lot of good if the Corporation which
carries thermal coal from bengal to thermal plants in TN recruit professionals
and bring in the best industry practices in its working and be truly
independent of political interference.
Unless the Corporation is given full
independence, it may not be a good idea for it to go in for new ships. The
second hand ship market has also bottomed out last year and has turned around.
It may be good idea to get other Indian ship owners to invest in the
Corporation and take their vessels on long term charters with built in
safeguards against losses.
Listing out reasons for the failure of
coastal shipping to take off in India he said though capital spent in road and
rail for freight movement of domestic cargo is very high, yet that cost is not
apportioned to the cost of carriage of freight. The capital cost is borne by
Whereas when domestic cargo is carried on
the coast, there is a minimum of two Port interfaces and at both these ends the
cost is levied to include a part of the capital spent in creating the
infrastructure.. The domestic cargo operators should be permitted to use their
own labor instead of bracketing with Stevedoring cost of EXIM cargo so that
handling cost can be brought down.
The major ports should create a domestic
corridor within the port thereby assuring the Customs that there would be no
malpractice. Domestic cargo should move smoothly without any interference from
the Customs, with minimum documentation which could be filled on line. Same
applies to immigration, Domestic flight passengers within the country need not
have to seek immigration clearance at each airport and the same should apply
for coastal shipping.
India should strive to bring BIMSTEC
member states Bangladesh, Myanmar Sri Lanka, Thailand, Bhutan and Nepal under
Coastal Shipping to increase the volume of cargo in both directions to reduce
Since India has no Coastal ships in any
numbers to talk about, the government may offer innovative incentives either to
the domestic cargo interests or Coastal Ship Operators to invest and move cargo