Despite depressed world trade, major ports in India have seen a surge in traffic in 2015–2016 — and this at a time when the country’s own import-export traffic has been in decline.

In March 2015, traffic handled amounted to 53.72mt (million tonnes), compared with 52.22mt in January 2015, and just 46.85mt in September last year. Indeed, in the April 2015 to February 2016, traffic had grown by 27mt compared with the previous ten months. Furthermore, seven of the country’s 12 leading ports reported handling more traffic in January 2016 than they had in January 2015.

And it is dry bulk traffic that is keeping the figures buoyant. Ports at Haldia, Kandla, Kolkata, Mormugao and Paradip have all done well, especially in the movement of coal, both in terms of imports and cabotage. The situation has also been helped by the restarting of iron ore exports.

Nevertheless, despite this mini-boom, India’s major ports continue to operate well below their capacity. Traffic in April 2015 to January 2016 amounted to 522mt, compared with an engineered capacity of 893mt.

In 2014–15, both major and minor ports handled a total of 1,052mt, with something of a shift in traffic taking place from the major ports to their smaller, more agile competitors.

In 2001–02, major ports had a 75% market shares; in 2014–15, this had dropped to just 55%. This trend is, in many ways down to the fact that non-major ports have no tariff limitations imposed on them, while major ports’ tariff are regulated by the increasingly controversial Tariff Authority of Major Ports (TAMP).

India is, nevertheless, planning to pump phenomenal amounts of money into major ports over the coming years to both increase port capacity and improve operational efficiencies, thereby bringing down the cost of transporting goods. It will do this by providing missing connectivity to the major ports and minimizing the cost and time for cargo discharge and loading.

Barry Cross