Growing competition has led ports to focus on improving efficiency and productivity through modernisation and mechanisation of their facilities as well as digitalisation of operations. This is evident from the increasing technology penetration in recent years.
As compared to their global counterparts, Indian ports are still inefficient in terms of cargo handling. This is primarily the result of the long dwell time, poor turnaround time, obsolete equipment, imbalances in capacity creation, high port charges, lack of deeper draught ports, and poor hinterland connectivity, among others. Nevertheless, the past few years have seen significant technology penetration at Indian ports. Ease of doing business has become one of the key focus areas of the Ministry of Shipping (MoS). In this regard, the MoS, in coordination with port authorities, has taken a number of modernisation, mechanisation and digitalisation initiatives to reduce dwell time and transaction costs. The key ones include elimination of manual forms, integration of more seaports with the port community system (PCS), enabling of direct port delivery/direct port entry, installation of container scanners, e-delivery orders, and installation of radio frequency identification-based gate-automation systems.
While the outbreak of COVID-19 has affected the sector severely, it has resulted in an increase in the adoption of technology-based solutions. From recognising electronic documents and launching digital platforms, to adopting remote surveys, the government has certainly climbed the technology ladder. While the maritime sector, just like other infrastructure sectors, is also expected to remain under pressure due to the pandemic, technology-based solutions are expected to reduce the impact on efficiency levels.
A string of initiatives
Launched in 2015, the Sagarmalaprogramme has modernisation and ease of doing business among its key components. For improving operational efficiency, a study to benchmark the operational and financial performance of the major ports with selected Indian private ports and international ports was undertaken. Termed Project Unnati, a total of 116 initiatives were identified for implementation. As of February 29, 2020, 95 have already been implemented to unlock more than 80 million tonnes per annum of capacity.
With a view to leveraging information and communication technology and bringing efficiency to the supply chain, DMICDC Logistics Data Services Limited has implemented its logistics data bank services across a number of ports and terminals. So far, these services have been implemented at 16 ports and 25 port terminals across the country.
The MoS has also implemented the PCS for providing electronic connectivity to the major ports. The system deploys a cloud-based, new-generation technology that seeks to integrate port community stakeholders on a single platform. All the 12 major ports have been integrated with the PCS. Recently, the Indian Ports Association launched e-invoice, e-payment and electronic delivery order (eDO) facilities free of charge for all the stakeholders on the enhanced PCS, PCS1x. The next-generation eDO is a single platform to perform all eDO-related activities, including e-invoice and e-payment, with highly secure data interchange between the requester and the provider. Following this, in October 2019, PortallInfosystems Private Limited partnered with INTTRA by E2open to provide container booking services for all the stakeholders on PCS1x. The key features offered by the collaborative platform Portall are auto population, reuse of data, and issuance of shipping instructions, enabling users to fast-track their interaction with shipping lines.
With the aim of promoting paperless work and improving the ease of doing business ranking, the Directorate General of Foreign Trade has introduced a new online facility for obtaining import licences for restricted category goods. Along the same lines, the Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust inaugurated its new container terminal data centre in May 2019 for seamless integration of technology into port operations. Equipped with state-of-the-art technical infrastructure, the data centre houses a new server room with smart racks with an in-row cooling system.
As a part of its next-generation reforms, Turant Customs has been introduced for speedy clearance of goods, making customs clearance faceless and further improving the ease of doing business ranking. The introduction of the Indian Customs EDI [electronic data interchange] System (ICES) is another big technological change in the customs procedure. It has been designed to exchange/transact customs clearance-related information electronically using EDI. The ICES is currently operational at 245 major customs locations handling nearly 98 per cent of the country’s international trade in terms of import and export consignments.
The road ahead
Going forward, the opportunity for modernisation and mechanisation at Indian ports is enormous. Sagarmala too has port modernisation as one of its core components. This makes it imperative to deploy technology-based solutions and modern equipment at ports to increase their efficiency levels.
While the outlook for the port sector has turned a bit gloomy due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the increase in the uptake of technology-based solutions is expected to help port stakeholders to reduce the impact. In this respect, increasing the level of mechanisation at ports is surely expected to be one of the drivers of activity in the sector.