Commissioned in 1870, the journey of the first major as well as the only riverine port of the country continues through the tortuous process of ebb and tide, expectancy and challenges, intricately woven with the varying draft/siltation of the river Hooghly which cradles it, as it continues to adapt and re-engineer itself in newer locales and diversifying functions.
Kolkata Port, which celebrated its 145th birthday in 2015, was once the premier port of the country but since 1966-67 faced a steady decline in its fortunes. However, due to its innate nature of innovation and adaptability and also fated in terms of a geo-historical compulsion to gravitate southwards to harness its deep drafted facilities and its huge potential in respect of movement of cargo through Inland Water Transport (IWT) mode, there had been a steady flourish in cargo and vessel handling and in different spheres of Port activity from 2004-05 to 2007-08 with the port being positioned in the second and third slots, competing with other sea ports of the country. There, however, prevailed a lull since 2008-09, with some adverse geo-morphological changes in the river regime, flight of POL Crude cargo to a neighbouring port; the port was, however, unable to spare itself of the ripple effect due to the general global economic downturn, manifest in the last few years, with sharp hardening of the dollar.
With a slew of new investments and initiatives unfurled by the new Government and trade expectations also picking up, it’s most heartening to note that Kolkata Port handled 46.292 million tonnes (mt) of traffic in 2014-15, around 12% higher than the traffic handled during last fiscal and which also compares favourably with the growth of 4.65% registered by the major ports of India. In container traffic too, KoPT handled a record high of 6,30,095 TEUs in 2014-15, clocking a 12.11% growth vis-à-vis last year, while retaining its 3rd rank amongst major container handling Ports, besides handling the highest number of vessels in the major port circuit. Interestingly, our Kolkata Dock System, one of the port’s twin docks being almost written off a few years ago for its traffic stagnation, handled an all time high cargo traffic of 15.282 mt in 2014-15, recording a significant growth of 18.7% over last year. All the performance indices recorded significant improvement both at KDS & HDC in 2014-15 vis-à-vis the last year.
Let me recount some of the feathers that KoPT has recently adorned in her many splendored cap :-
- KoPT was adjudged the winner of ‘Container Handling Port of the Year’ at the Shipping Times-Eastern Star Awards held at Kolkata on 7th January, 2015 for excellence in container handling. Incidentally, in the 5th South East Cargo & Logistics Awards 2013 also Kolkata Port was adjudged Container Handling Port of the Year.
- In the prestigious Gateway Award 2015 at Mumbai in August ‘15, Kolkata Port was adjudged the ‘Major Port of the Year’ for high productivity and customer satisfaction for 2014-15.
- As per Cabinet decision on 15.1.2015 regarding proposal of MoPNG on the use of Bio-diesel by retail purchasers, HDC has registered herself as the pioneer among Indian Major Ports in the ‘Go – Green’ initiative in use of eco-friendly Bio-diesel, in operative locomotives, cargo handling equipment, fire fighting equipment etc.
- On 10.9.15, HDC received the prestigious award as the 1st Green Port of country by Bio-Diesel Association (Bio Fuel'15) in presence of the Hon'ble Minister of Shipping, Road Transport & Highways.
The growth dynamics in traffic is continuing in this fiscal too, with KoPT registering a cargo tonnage of 41.14 MT till Jan’16, an almost 11% hike vis-a-vis comparative period of the last fiscal, as against an average in the range of 3.36%. plotted by other major ports.
A well diversified investment programme is already in place at KoPT, aimed at improvement of infrastructure/capacity augmentation/consolidation of existing facilities at the two dock systems while harnessing the deep-drafted facilities of the port to attract additional cargo/arrest flight of cargo. These include integrated development of infrastructure including road / rail connectivity / storage and yard logistics, construction of riverine barges / terminals / Single Buoy Moorings, Oil Terminal, dedicated captive based jetties, augmentation of IT infrastructure, transloading facilities for mid-stream handling of dry bulk/POL cargo, deep-drafted port facilities at Sagar, which are under implementation and at various stages of tendering.
To ensure improved productivity and faster turn around of the gearless vessels carrying dry bulk cargo, we have already mechanised quite a few of our berths. Berth 4B of HDC has been equipped with Mobile Harbour Cranes, while, after a hiatus of almost three years, fresh contracts in split mode have been awarded for equipping Berth Nos. 2 & 8 at HDC, which are expected to be operationalised very shortly. Integrated ship-to-shore services including back-up operations at 3, 4, 5, 7 & 8 NSD of KDS and integrated container operations at Berths Nos. 10 & 11 of HDC are already commissioned in December 2014 and April 2015, respectively.
LoI has been issued for Transloading facilities for handling Dry Bulk Cargo at Sandheads and the first phase commissioning is expected by February 2016. Contract has also been awarded in Sep’15 for setting up of Floating Riverine Barge Jetty in the upstream of 3rd Oil Jetty for catering to bulk barge traffic likely to be commissioned by June’2016 when the transloading facilities are also expected to be in place. The full fledged commissioning of this facility with synchronised functioning of the riverine terminals is expected to ease the pressure of the impounded locks at HDC apart from bringing additional cargo, logical to it at matching draft, through daughter vessels and barges, while serving the cluster of industries and power utilities in and around the port city of Haldia, at a much reduced logistics cost.
The Floating Pipeline Handling Facility for unloading Edible Oil at Berths No 5 /off 5/ 6 /off 6 at HDC has been commissioned in June 2015 while a dedicated riverine jetty for handling fly ash has come up at HDC in November 2015, which augur well in terms of spurt of edible oil imports / fly ash coastal exports, in near future. In view of the unique riverine potentials of the Kolkata port and in tandem with the ambitious Sagar Mala project, embarked upon by the government, around 61 acres of land has been awarded on long term lease basis to IWAI for development of IWT Hub at Haldia. Various land parcels are being allotted to captive users on the basis of Minimum Guaranteed Tonnage (MGT). The upgraded VTMS, which involves replacement of the towers at Haldia, Sagar & Frasergunj by the latest state-of-the-art technology for improved tracking/surveillance, has also been commissioned in June 2015.
With regard to the deep-drafted port at Sagar Island, the techno-economic study has been conducted afresh by acclaimed consultants and an SPV has already been formed. We are proceeding in terms of acquisition of land/ finalisation of the RFQ/RFD/Concession Documents, as formulated by reputed agencies, to be issued by the SPV which , we believe, would go a long way in creating a much needed satellite port for KoPT.
The land Use map for KDS has been finalised and posed for Cabinet approval. In a major collaborative project with ISRO, the existing maps of KDS properties have been geo-referenced with connectivity envisaged with the existing database for the proposed GIS in the first phase. In the second phase, the GIS application would be web-enabled and merged with the proposed ERP. LoA has already been issued for developing web-enabled GIS Land Management System at Haldia. Details of land availability / utilization and other financial details of allotted plots are being made available on real time basis upon implementation. All these are measures taken in the right earnest to make the port a major facilitator of business while making it even more transparent and customer friendly in its operations.
With customer as its focus, ongoing developments on IT are in full swing, aimed at improved efficiency in port management by introducing web-based applications and interfaces, thus ensuring wide coverage and minimized transaction cost of port users. In this respect, implementation / enhancement of POMS, PCS and provision for catering to online queries from port users on the Port’s website are some of the notable areas. This is further strengthened by implementation of various application software modules, like, Finance / Hospital / Materials Management / Estate Rental Billing & Recovery. These would be followed by a comprehensive implementation of ERP solution on cloud. Other major projects include introduction of CCTV Surveillance Systems, implementation of VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) Telephony, revamping of network, migration to IPv6, GIGW-compliant and enhanced Website of KoPT and implementation of e-Procurement solution.
Unlike a sea port, which has a largely fixed locale with a primarily port-centric spread of its geographical hinterland, that of a riverine system like Kolkata Port has to be very complex and dynamic in its evolution. The process of churning a new and expansive trading hub, on a port-centric customer base with matching logistics and competitive facilities/tariff structure, while harnessing its riverine potentials, is one of the defining challenges the port faces in the years ahead. The ‘Look East Policy’ of the country, the proposed Trans-Asian Railway corridor, opening of India-China road and proximity to Lhasa will all contribute to making Kolkata the hub port of the region.