The port sector performance monitored by the Indian Ports Association (IPA) for the designated major ports during the period (April to February) FY 2017-18, barring March, 2018 has seen about 5% annual growth, with a throughput level of 616.6 million tonnes up from 587.4 million tonnes that was attained during the same 11-month period in the last financial year 2016-17. While the throughput levels at major ports are suffering under severe pressure from shrunk imports of major bulks like coal and restrictions on exports of iron ore from India, the uptick in the overall traffic performance still stands out.

The major ports also recorded the highest ever capacity addition of 100.37 million tonnes in 2016-17, thereby raising the total available capacity to 1,065 MT per annum, as against 965.36 MT per annum in 2015-16. However, the modest growth in the traffic volumes contrasts with 9-10% growth in the throughput capacity of the major ports. According to IPA data, the port throughput capacity grew to 1,065 million metric tonnes in FY17, with a compounded average growth rate (CAGR) of 7.75 per cent since FY 2007. The capacity growth in private sector ports was however, even higher at 12-15 percent and with the growth in their cargo throughputs handled,more or less keeping pace with their capacity growth. 

The declining trend in capacity utilisation at about 60% of total throughput capacity has actually mandated that further expansion in port capacity be undertaken only in location-specific commodity sectors, where cargo demand can be expected. Coal, crude oil and LNG are among some of the cargoes where port capacities need to be enhanced, keeping in view growing demand for imports of these commodities. The low average rate of capacity utilisation, however has signalled increased efficiency in port operations, especially with the average turnaround time for vessels at most of major ports now reduced from a high of 5.29 days in 2011 to 3.44 days in 2017.

The impetus for improved efficiency in port operations, especially, in terms of reduced average turnaround time for vessels, has come mainly from the private sector ports in India, where commercial viability and return on investment (RoI) considerations drive the project investment. The rate of capacity growth has been also faster in the private sector ports than in the public port sector and panning out over relatively short period. The total contribution of non-major port’s traffic to total all-India port traffic thus, rose quickly to 42.5 per cent in FY17 (till December 2016) from barely 28.6 per cent in FY 2007 and is pacing ahead to now surpass the combined throughput of all major public ports in too distant future.

The combined throughput capacity of public and private ports in India can now be reckoned at over 2,500 million tonnes, (or 2,493 million tonnes by end 2017) with the throughputs at private sector ports growing at a faster rate of 12-15% than is the case with the major public ports. The growth of the private port infrastructure in India and its high operational efficiency is also not limited to creation of berth-side cargo handling capacity but covers whole spectrum of logistics activities and support systems that include cargo processing facilities like container freight stations (CFSs), ICDs, Special Economic Zones (SEZs), road-rail-connectivity, cold chains, etc., which enable seamless trade and transportation.

The geographical distribution of port capacity across the peninsula and nature of port-specific cargo trades, further have a important bearings on the port operational dynamics.

Shippring cargo

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