Integrated planning and micro solutions may ease port woes

Integrated planning and micro solutions may ease port woes

PM GatiShakti has been a game changer in focussing attention on what ails the integrated port infrastructure. Funds are in plenty and coordinated assessment of problems has given the ports sector a fresh chance to up its efficiency. Success depends on how soon the Railways can get its networ...

PM GatiShakti has been a game changer in focussing attention on what ails the integrated port infrastructure. Funds are in plenty and coordinated assessment of problems has given the ports sector a fresh chance to up its efficiency. Success depends on how soon the Railways can get its networks issues sorted and how capacities can be augmented at micro level, says E Jayashree Kurup.India’s cargo and logistics infrastructure has faced multiple challenges. Problems ranged from lack of terminals and berths at ports, land for the connecting infrastructure to be augmented, equipment for efficient evacuation and loading and sometimes just last mile connectivity to the ports. Depth of ports and expensive dredging facilities was another major point of concern.Currently terminals, equipment, connection of terminals to road and rail are being funded by the PM GatiShakti investment funds. In fact, Indian Railways plans to achieve 45 per cent freight share by 2030. DPS Sandhu, Co-Founder and Chair at Primus Partners, and formerly in policy and action roles at the Prime Minister’s Office and at the World Bank explains, “Congestion on the hinterland side of ports has always been an issue. While ports are aggressive in addressing sea-side improvements, the land side is always behind. The India Port Rail Corporation has been set up to ensure last-mile rail and hinterland connectivity.” A coordinated approach involving all stakeholders including different modes, state governments and municipal corporations through which these logistics channels will pass, is required. Otherwise there is a risk of just shifting the bottlenecks to another location.Coastal economic zonesThe Sagarmala Vision has, in the last eight years, turned around the sector by more than 25 per cent. The biggest achievement is the “concept of coastal economic zones, where the port is the hub but has equally important elements of economic activity around it, including fishing communities and the blue economy,” says Sandhu.If India fixes just over 100 small rail and road segments across the country, the ports sector would get a major fillip. A detailed plan has been drawn up state-wise and port-wise. This includes providing rail connections to the port from the nearest head, upgrading road networks to four or six lanes or filling in the missing links to logistics hubs from the ports. In many cases, the provisions were not made while planning the port, in some cases the metre gauge had to be upgraded to standard gauge and the connection was severed and in some upcoming projects the connection cost has been built into the public private partnership (PPP) model.By 2030, port projects will all be functioning to maximum efficiency, explains a Sagarmala spokesperson. With PM GatiShakti, “Instead of central planning and state execution, the requests started coming from the states. We realised that fixing small stretches could make a big difference,” said the spokesperson.Coordination a keyThe Network Planning Group of the Department of Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade (DPIIT), after coordinating with multiple supply ministries such as transport, power, telecom and user ministries such as steel, coal, shipping and food distribution, mapped the infrastructure gaps with GIS coordinates on the GatiShakti National Master Plan (NMP). Dr Surendra Ahirwar, Joint Secretary, Logistics & Trade, Ministry of Commerce explains that, “As the gaps are identified in industrial terminals or economic nodes, the GIS coordinates are fed in and diagnostics evolved through the platform. The implementation department is identified and budgets worked out.”The Railways and NHAI have identified projects and sanctioned budgets. Now feasibility reports, detailed project reports (DPR) and implementation plans are being worked out. Field surveys of the 61 roadways and 39 railway projects are currently taking place and the project monitoring group of the NMP does fortnightly assessments. With 13 major and over 200 minor ports along its over 7,500 km coastline, India also has 22 functional waterways that carry over 126 million metric tonnes of cargo. This serves as the link between hinterland and port and logistics hubs.In Budget 2023, 100 critical projects have been prioritised at Rs 750 billion. After the success of the Ro-Ro (roll on-roll off) service between Mumbai and Mandwa, four more services are expected to take off to Mora, Kashid, Dighi and Revas in the next 18 months. Civil construction projects and for some regions, the waterways are the natural connectivity channels.National waterwaysR Lakshmanan, Joint Secretary Ports, Shipping and Waterways, said that a typical inland waterway vessel replaced almost 125 trucks on the road. A coastal vessel would replace 10 rail rakes. About 109 million tonnes of cargo was moved through national waterways. Out of that 80 per cent had originated out of port-based or coastal shipping-based cargo.Former Deputy Conservator of Dighi Port, Capt Anil Panjwani, highlights siltation as a major challenge in Indian ports. This is another issue that is being tracked and placed on the map with GIS coordinates. This will be used subsequently to solve this problem too. Indian rivers are monsoon fed and bring large amounts of silt toward the ocean. Sandhu says “All riverine ports and those near the deltas suffer from a large silting challenge. This is compounded by an acute shortage of dredgers, and there is an urgent need to facilitate and establish India’s own dredger-building capacity, including for design and engineering.”Murlidhar Venkata Satya, Founder & President, MVS Consultancy, supports the coastal cargo initiative. The issue is to keep the minimum depth at ports at 2.5 m for all 12 months. Currently, dredging is an expensive and tedious process. Also, the process of taking cement, coal and steel on coastal shipping often has no return cargo and there is also a 12-18 per cent GST applied. “This raises costs and makes it unattractive,” he says. These policy issues need to be taken care of. If an inland waterway opens into a coastal port like Kolkata or can provide a further linkage to a deep sea port like Sagar, it can then be a force multiplier in port operations and drive efficiency across the chain. “Inland waterways can also decongest linked ports by connecting to gateway ports that are trade-side terminals, leaving the port to focus only on cargo loading and unloading operations,” says Sandhu.Referring to the government effort to develop the Eastern Grid with more than 5,000 km of navigable waterways, Sarbananda Sonowal, Minister of Ports, Shipping, & Waterways said at a conference this would boost regional integration and accelerate development. It would further deepen eastern India’s trade within BBIN countries (Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, and Nepal) and also with countries like Myanmar, Thailand, Malaysia, and Singapore.Speeding up rail infraThe speed of commissioning rail infrastructure has grown from just 4 km per day in 2009-14 to 11 km per day now. The plan is to increase to 16 km per day soon. To encourage private sector participation for development of terminal facilities, the land management policy had been substantially eased by the Railways. Right of way policy has been simplified. Lease charges for new cargo terminals will only be 1.5 per cent of the market value of the land per annum. So far 36 GatiShakti terminals have been commissioned and 96 more locations have been provisionally identified for development. In principle approval has also been given for 97 locations.National Rail PlanAnil Kumar Lahoti, Chairman and CEO, Railway Board, said at a conference that the Railways had already prepared a long-term strategic plan, the National Rail Plan, for the growth of the sector by 2050. In 2022-23, it had loaded 1,400 million tonnes of freight, about 26 per cent of the total freight transport in the country. In 2023-24 it was targeting 1,500 million plus tonnes. By 23-24 it intends to add another 100 million tonnes. The aim is to reach 3,000 million tonnes by 2030.To carry this volume, 1,200 works or projects have to be completed in the next five years. The projected cost was about Rs 8.5 trillion that included about 9,000 plus km of new lines; doubling and multi tracking to about 25,000 km and automatic signalling on over 10,000 km of track. It was planning to upgrade the traction i.e., overhead equipment from 1x25 kV to 2x25 kV, which would enable it to carry higher freight volumes. The Railways intended to add more than 1.5 lakh wagons to its fleet. The budgetary outlay for railways has grown to Rs 2.41 trillion in Budget 2023, an increase of more than 50 per cent. The government support was evident.Case for innovationThere is a strong case for innovation and out-of-the-box thinking, says Harsh Dhingra, Management Consultant - Rail and Metro, and former Chief Country Representative, Bombardier Transportation. With cities growing right up to the port, cargo battled with city traffic and often slowed down. Currently about 84 per cent of Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust (JNPT) cargo is handled by roads and just 16 per cent by rail. JNPT currently handles almost 6,500 trucks. To double the capacity, almost 20,000 trucks were required.With limited means to increase capacity within its premises, and even with the Dedicated Freight Corridor (DFC) linkages, only 24 per cent of the cargo could be handled. Innovation was required to increase the velocity of evacuation at the ports. Dhingra suggested automated cargo evacuation systems, self-propelled vehicles which could load the complete container on a rake and take it to the hinterland like Bhiwadi 70 km away, where all the customs clearance could be done.This would reduce the need for wagons to be kept at the port to wait for the train. Today, the train took almost 7-8 hours for loading and unloading and that too from point to point. Multi-destination wagons could take even longer. It only required two things, right of way for movement of pods from JNPT to Bhiwadi, and investment in the infrastructure at Bhiwadi. That innovation could work not only at JNPT, but also at other ports like Chennai and Kolkata where conventional methods of increasing capacity were not possible.City to gateway port connectsSandhu’s solution is to “develop dedicated corridors for connecting city ports to outlying gateway ports in the hinterland. To prevent emissions within the city, these dedicated links can be rail-based and designed to insulate the urban environment. These corridors can overfly city structures to obviate any land issues and will be the quickest and most efficient. These dedicated corridors can also be funded from the commercial exploitation of space released at the ports from handling operations.”While the problems are many and solutions are being evolved, speed and efficiency is the key. The National Logistics Portal is now fairly populated and awaits active on-boarding of more export and import cargo operators through industry associations. Technology, innovation and a coordinated problem solving approach is required.(E Jayashree Kurup is Senior Editor, ASAPP Media; and Director, Real Estate & Cities,  Real Estate & Cities, Wordmeister Editorial Services)

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