The level of mechanisation at Indian ports, particularly major ports, is limited and most of the commodities are handled by conventional means. This has meant significantly higher turnaround time and cargo dwell time at these ports in comparison with international standards, and thus high overall logistics costs. It has also led to the diversion of transshipment cargo from India to other neighbouring ports such as Colombo and Dubai.
Over 59 per cent of the total dry bulk cargo at major ports is handled by non-mechanised means that include manual handling. In the past three-four years, the overall level of mechanisation has remained relatively stable at 40 per cent.
In 2015-16, the average pre-berthing time (on port account) for mechanical loading/ unloading of dry bulk cargo was 1.53 hours, as compared to 6.53 hours for conventional loading/unloading. Similarly, the average turnaround time for mechanical loading/ unloading of dry bulk cargo was 2.07 days in 2015-16, as compared to 3.55 days for conventional loading/unloading. In the container segment too, the number of quay cranes, reach stackers, trailers, etc., is very limited and the use of conventional facilities has resulted in lower efficiency levels.
The average turnaround time at major ports in the country (on total account) is around 4 days, as compared to 1.2 days in the US and 1 day in China (2014-15). Moreover, the turnaround time for several major ports is 2 to 2.5 times the global benchmark.
The factors responsible for low productivity and mechanisation are many. Most of the equipment at major ports is obsolete and has severely constrained port capacity. This equipment was installed long ago to achieve the target productivity levels at the time of purchase and now needs to be replaced with more modern equipment. The shortage of trained and skilled manpower for operating advanced equipment is another matter of concern for port operators. As modern equipment and machinery are becoming more complex and high-tech, port operators are facing difficulties in operating them. Further, cargo and trucks waiting outside port terminals make it difficult to use various material handling equipment at the port, causing a cascading effect of all-round congestion.
Going forward, the opportunity for mechanisation at Indian ports is huge. The government’s flagship programme, the Sagarmala also has modernisation and mechanisation among of its core components. The programme focuses on promoting the ease of doing business, using electronic channels for information exchange, installing container scanners, implementing radio frequency identification, gate automation, etc. Ports are looking at setting up specialised high capacity berths, supported by state-of-the-art equipment and skilled and trained manpower. The increasing levels of mechanisation are surely expected to bring about an improvement in efficiency levels.