Digital Impetus

The Covid-19 outbreak has thrown the maritime sector into uncharted waters. The pandemic struck at a time when the sector was already in turbulent waters due to poor domestic performance and disruptions in international trade. Despite being allowed to operate, the port sector faced severe setbacks. At a time when reducing the extent of physical contact became a norm, the pandemic helped the sector to climb up the technology ladder. From processing electronic documents to launching digital platforms, the extent of technology penetration in cargo operations has increased tremendously.

Indian Infrastructure takes a look at the technological advancements and digitalisation initiatives undertaken in the port sector…

A gamut of initiatives

In 2015, the Ministry of Ports, Shipping and Waterways (MoPSW) launched its flagship programme, Sagarmala, to promote port-led development in the country, by harnessing its 7,500 km long coastline, 14,500 km of potentially navigable waterways and its strategic location on international maritime routes. The programme has modernisation and ease of doing business among its key components. In order to improve operational efficiency, a study to benchmark the operational and financial performance of major ports, with select Indian private ports and best-in-class international ports, was undertaken. Termed as Project Unnati, a total of 116 initiatives were identified for implementation. As of September 30, 2020, 98 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 (LDB) services across a number of ports and terminals. In a span of six years since its conceptualisation, the LDB has covered 100 per cent of ports, tracked more than 34 million containers, is present across 60 toll plazas and is visible at more than 167 container freight stations/inland container depots and nine special economic zones. Since its implementation, the LDB has resulted in significant improvement in ports’ performance, and a reduction in container transit time and ports’ dwell time.

The MoPSW has also launched a centralised web-based port community system (PCS) across all major ports, thereby enabling seamless data flow among various stakeholders, through a common interface. An electronic delivery order system through PCS has also been made mandatory, along with e-invoicing and e-payment so as to move towards a complete by paperless regime. The shipping ministry is also implementing an enterprise business system project at five major ports to provide a digital port ecosystem. The five major ports are Mumbai, Chennai, Deendayal, Paradip and Kolkata (including Haldia). The project is expected to cost Rs 3.2 billion. The system will adopt international best practices without losing its alignment to the existing local needs. Meanwhile, a total of 2,474 processes were rationalised, harmonised, optimised and standardised to arrive at a final re-engineered process count of 162.

The country’s major premier container cargo handling port, the Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust has launched a mobile app – JNP-CPP  – and eWallet for centralised parking plaza (CPP). The app will enable customers to access live data of CPP operations such as details of waiting tractor trailers (TTs), access to details of 12-hours TT movement and downloading of required data pertaining to TT movement in Excel format. It is designed to combine the best features of mobile apps and the mobile web such as speed and off-line usage, without downloading anything. The eWallet is expected to reduce cash transactions, thereby pushing the government initiative of going digital. In another development, a mobile X-ray container scanner (MXCS) was installed and commissioned at the Jawaharlal Nehru Port Container Terminal on March 30, 2021. The MXCS is a drive-by scanner wherein three-four containers are aligned in a row and drivers need to get off the trailer and stay out of radiation zone during the scanning process. The scanner moves alongside the line of stationary trailer-mounted containers to scan the same.

In February 2021, the Deendayal Port Trust inaugurated port helpdesks and a command control centre, along with a server room, for implementation of the enterprise resource planning (ERP) system at the port. This is a part of developing a common IT platform among six major ports, including Deendayal port, under the ease of doing business initiatives. Going forward, the ERP system will be integrated with the radio frequency identification-based gate entry systems, port community system and customs modules, which will facilitate further transparency in the port and enable reduced transaction cost.

In order to ensure faceless, paperless and contactless customs, the Central Board of Indirect Taxes and Customs (CBIC) has introduced a secure QR-coded shipping bill under the umbrella of “Turant Customs”. Further, in August 2020, the CBIC rolled out Phase II of pan-India faceless assessment. Phase II includes Delhi and Mumbai customs zones, besides being extended to the zones covered under Phase I (Bengaluru and Chennai customs zones). The customs authorities have also notified a new system for filing the bills of entry (BoEs) for imports. As per the new regulations, if a consignment comes from Bangladesh, the Maldives, Myanmar, Pakistan or Sri Lanka via the sea route, the BoE is required to be filed latest by the end of the arrival day. For all other countries, importers will be required to file by the end of the day preceding the day of arrival at the seaport.

Meanwhile, in December 2020, the CBIC issued guidelines to smoothen the process of faceless assessment of cargo, along with carrying out reassessment of goods/BoEs. The development comes in view of the issues faced by exporters, importers and shipping lines due to the acute shortage of containers and the surge in freight rates.

With a view to encouraging Atmanirbhar Bharat, the government launched an indigenous software solution for vessel traffic services and vessel traffic monitoring systems in October 2020. In this regard, a prototype system is expected to be developed in a 10-month time frame for testing and to operate as a parallel system until it is robust for day-to-day operations.

GOCON, a digital transport aggregator platform that connects trailers and truck operators with shippers, was launched at Syama Prasad Mookerjee port (erstwhile Kolkata port) in November 2020. The initiative will enhance the system by balancing import and export container movement inside the port, thereby reducing internal congestion and the turnaround time for trailers.

Earlier, in May 2020, Adani Ports and Special Economic Zone Limited, in collaboration with the Mediterranean Shipping Company and ODeX India Solutions, launched an integrated platform to reduce the manual process of container gate-in by road. On similar lines, PSA Mumbai, in collaboration with ODeX India Solutions, launched a digital online payments solution for its direct port delivery customers in September 2020. The OdeX portal will provide real-time status updates, uploading/amendments in documents, e-payment and confirmation of delivery.

How does the future look like?

Going forward, the opportunity for modernisation and mechanisation at Indian ports is huge. The Sagarmala programme also has modernisation as its key component. This makes it imperative for port authorities to deploy technology-based solutions to further improve their efficiency levels.

The Covid-19 pandemic has certainly cast a dark shadow on the much-anticipated maritime recovery. With the second wave of the pandemic posing a downside risk for the infrastructure sectors again, the port sector being no exception, holding the technology handle will be a sure-shot way to reduce its impact. In this respect, increase in the uptake of technology-based solutions will help stakeholders to reduce its impact on the efficiency of ports.