Views of H.N. Aswath: “Initiatives under Sagarmala are expected to lead to extensive dredging activities”

“Initiatives under Sagarmala are expected to lead to extensive dredging activities”

The Sagarmala programme has opened up huge opportunities for dredging, an important activity undertaken at ports. To address the long-pending issues of industry stakeholders, new policies and guidelines are being introduced. Speaking at the tenth annual conference on Dredging in India, H.N. Aswath, Development Advisor (Ports), Ministry of Shipping (MoS), shares his views on government initiatives for increasing dredging activity, future maintenance and capital dredging requirements, and the way forward for the segment. Excerpts…

The major ports handled 699.04 million tonnes (mt) of cargo in 2018-19, a growth of 3 per cent over the previous fiscal year. Deendayal port, the highest cargo handling port, handled 110 mt in 2017-18 and 115.4 mt in 2018-19.

Current scenario

At present, the design depth at the major ports varies from to 6.7 metres to 20 metres. The Visakhapatnam and Paradip ports are amongst ports with high navigational depths. Visakhapatnam port has a design depth of 20 metres in the outer harbour, whereas Paradip port has a depth of 17.1 metres. On the other hand, Kolkata port has the lowest draught of 6.7 metres amongst the major ports.

There is an estimated 80 million cubic metres (mcm) of maintenance dredging required at the major ports, offering ample opportunities to private players as well as public sector Dredging Corporation of India. The Kolkata and Cochin ports constitute the major share of maintenance dredging requirements at 11 mcm and 18.75 mcm respectively. With regard to capital dredging, estimated requirements stand at 10 mcm, at an estimated expenditure of Rs 10 billion. However, the quantity varies from year to year.

With regard to the policy framework, the MoS had issued a policy for undertaking capital and maintenance dredging at the major ports in 2007 that is still in force. The salient features of the dredging policy are:

  • The major ports should invite open competitive bids for dredging works with right of first refusal given to Indian dredging companies if the rate quoted is within 10 per cent of the lowest valid offer.
  • All the major ports have to process the tenders as per the guidelines given by the Central Vigilance Commission.
  • The guidelines issued by the Directorate General of Shipping, Mumbai, under the provisions of the Merchant Shipping Act will be applicable.

In order to streamline the procedure for undertaking pre-dredging and post-dredging activities, the MoS issued dredging guidelines in 2015. The guidelines have been formulated in consultation with the major ports and other stakeholders for undertaking pre- and post-dredging activities for capital and maintenance dredging. These guidelines, formulated primarily for the major ports, can also be followed by non-major ports and private ports.

The guidelines are exhaustive in nature and cover various aspects of dredging such as formulation of proposals for dredging projects, engagement of project management consultants, and undertaking pre-dredging surveys, studies and investigations required prior to dredging project implementation, and tendering and dispute resolution.

The way forward

The Sagarmala programme envisages development of ports on a large scale by way of improving existing ports and setting up new ports. These initiatives, in turn, are expected to lead to extensive dredging activities. Thus, there is a need for the guidelines to evolve further to cover the various aspects for timely completion of maintenance and capital dredging projects.

Going forward, several new steps are being explored to address the long-pending issues of the industry. Under Sagarmala, plans have been made to set up centres to meet training requirements for dredger maintenance, project management, hydrographic surveys, etc. Krishnapatnam port has already set up a training institute at the port. Another aspect that is being focused on is strengthening of survey divisions of ports. The major ports have been instructed to set up a dedicated survey division so that they can undertake pre- and post-dredging survey work along with dredging works. Meanwhile, the National Technology Centre for Ports, Waterways and Coasts and the Indian Institute of Technology Madras have suggested that single-beam surveys be used for the major ports. The ministry is also encouraging ports to carry out regular soil investigations irrespective of any upcoming projects so that updated soil data is readily available at all times.

Further, the nautical depth concept is also being explored. Some European ports, where the material of the bed is silt or clay, have declared higher draught for vessels based on model studies. At Cochin port, after carrying out a research study, the draught of 12 metres was increased to 13.5 metres, resulting in an annual gain of around of Rs 800 million.

The government is thus being proactive and making sincere efforts to address the challenges that have plagued sector growth over the years.