BOT operators seek level playing field
Visakhapatnam: Several maritime States including Andhra Pradesh have upped the ante for continuing the administrative control of minor ports under their control even as BOT (build, own and operate) investors under major ports are batting for a level playing field.
Under the landlord port policy of the Government of India, the development, operation and maintenance of berths is being entrusted to the BOT investors. Adani, Vedanta and Essar Group have invested in development of berths at Visakhapatnam Port.
Andhra Pradesh has already expressed serious reservations over the proposal to bring all minor ports under the control of Maritime Port Regulatory Authority. "The establishment of MPRA will curtail the freedom of the States over the minor ports," AP Industries Minister Mekapati Gowtham Reddy told the Centre recently during a review meeting. Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MK Stalin is in favour of a joint action plan by the maritime States against attempts to usurp their power over minor ports.
Through Indian Ports Bill, 2020, the Ministry of Ports, Shipping and Waterways aims to regulate minor ports. There are over 200 minor ports, 60 of them fully operational like Krishnapatnam, Kakinada and Gangavaram ports in Andhra Pradesh, which are doing flourishing business.
According to conservative estimates, the minor ports in the country handle about 700-odd million tonnes, less than half of their total capacity of 1,500 million tonnes. The way they are expanding, many in the industry feel that soon they will overtake the major ports in attracting traffic.
The National Shipping Board and few other autonomous bodies have advocated single regulatory authority for both major and minor ports for a level playing field. The bill proposed to give more powers to Maritime State Development Council and empower it to decide on closure of minor ports on case to case basis.
Gujarat Maritime Board had also opposed the provisions of the bill initially and later it softened its stand apparently due to political pressure. BJP is in power both at the Centre and in Gujarat. The Odisha Government has also expressed its reservations over the bill. "At any cost we don't want to lose control over minor ports as we get a good revenue from them," an official of AP Maritime Board told Bizz Buzz.
BOT operators in Visakhapatnam recently sought intervention of the Government of India through a representation to Visakhapatnam Port Trust to take steps against predatory pricing by Gangavaram Port and pass on benefits terminal handling charges to BOT operators, give discounts .on vessel related charges to major customers to prevent migration and take up certain issues jointly with the Competition Commission of India.