Interview with Sarbananda Sonowal: “MoPSW is committed to making India a leader in the global maritime sector”

Sarbananda Sonowal, Union Minister, Ministry of Ports, Shipping and Waterways, and Ministry of Ayush

The Indian maritime industry has experienced significant growth in recent years. The government has increased its focus on capacity addition and efficiency improvement at ports, promotion of coastal shipping and inland waterways, and provision of robust connectivity. Moreover, in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and facilitate the transition to renewable energy, several steps are being taken to decarbonise India’s maritime industry. In an interview with Indian Infrastructure, Sarbananda Sonowal, Union Minister of Ports, Shipping and Waterways and AYUSH, highlights the ministry’s achievements and future focus areas, and discusses the sector’s performance, outlook and key growth drivers. Edited excerpts…

How would you assess the progress of the ports and shipping sector? What are the key initiatives that have been taken by the ministry?

The Indian ports and shipping sector has transformed significantly over the past few years. The government has taken numerous steps to enhance the efficiency of port operations and develop intermodal connectivity with ports. The Maritime India Vision 2030 (MIV 2030) is expected to further strengthen the sector by promoting shipbuilding, waterways and cruise tourism.

MIV 2030 outlines various themes that are es­sential for India to secure its position at the forefront of the global maritime sector. These involve developing best-in-class port infrastructure, enhancing logistics efficiency, adopting technology and innovation, and strengthening the policy and institutional framework to support all stakeholders.

On the policy front, the ministry has made many progressive interventions for the development of the sector. Some of these are the Major Port Authorities Act, the Marine Aids to Navigation Act, the Inland Ves­s­els Act, and the revision of the model concession ag­reement. The government has also taken many in­novative initiatives to strengthen the country’s national waterways. The number of operational national wa­terways has increased from three in 2014 to 24 at present and capacity has grown from 6.89 million metric tonnes (mmt) to 126 mmt.

How is the ministry planning to strengthen the ca­pa­city at major ports to make them competitive?

The Ministry of Ports, Shipping and Waterways (MoPSW) aims to promote the seamless movement of goods to reduce cost and time. The aim is to enhance capacity, upgrade infrastructure and modernise the existing major ports in the country. This is being done with the help of new technologies that will help promo­te trade and generate employment. In order to en­han­ce the operational efficiency at major ports, private sec­tor efficiency is being leveraged through public-private partnerships (PPPs) across the entire value chain. The Sagarmala programme was launched with the aim of developing world-class port infrastructure, including modernisation and expansion of existing ports, construction of new ports, and the creation of industrial and logistics hubs. The programme has taken shape and is expected to completely revolutionise not only the maritime sector but also the logistics sector.

To improve efficiency and mechanisation at the ports, the ministry is implementing a total of 238 projects worth Rs 2.54 trillion, which are targeted to be completed by 2035. Of these, 94 port modernisation projects worth more than Rs 0.31 trillion have been completed, resulting in a capacity addition of more than 230 million tonnes in the past eight years and an improvement in the average container vessel turnaround time from 41.7 hours in 2014 to about 27 hours in 2022. Further, 65 projects worth Rs 0.79 trillion are under implementation and 79 projects worth Rs 1.43 trillion are at various stages of development. The key projects currently under implementation in­cl­u­de the development of a container terminal at Tuna Tekra, Kandla, on a build-operate-transfer ba­sis; Phase II of container terminal 4 at Jawa­har­lal Nehru Port; and LNG terminals in Gujarat and Maharashtra.

The government is also developing greenfield international container ports. Of these, two key projects are the development of a mega in­ternational container transshipment port at Ga­la­thea Bay on Great Nicobar Island of the Anda­man & Nicobar Islands in the Bay of Ben­gal, worth Rs 410 billion, and an international container port at Vadhvan, worth Rs 780 billion. The­se projects will help bridge the gaps in infrastructure and improve economic opportunity, facilitating a rapid increase in size for all types of vessels. They also aim to match the service levels and facilities with those of top global container terminals and neighbouring ports.

In a recent move, the ministry has laun­ch­ed corporate social responsibility (CSR) guidelines to empower major ports to sanction and approve CSR projects. This will help streamline and expedite the approval process for CSR projects and fast-track their implementation.

“All major ports are expected to be developed as smart ports in the coming years.”

What steps are being taken to transform ports into smart ports?

Ports are making extensive use of technology for increased operational efficiency. All major ports are expected to be developed as smart ports in the coming years. To this end, the government is undertaking many reforms. Some of these are:

  • Digitalisation of 90 per cent of all EXIM transactions by 2030.
  • Adoption of drones to digitally monitor real-time construction and development activities across major ports.
  • Adoption of technologies such as IoT, big data and digital twins to digitalise processes at ports.
  • Major ports to implement the Smart Ports Ro­ad­map as per MIV 2030. For this, the In­dian Port Association, along with the minis­try, is planning to develop a smart ports sco­recard to track the progress.

On priority, the ministry has decided to transform Ja­waharlal Nehru Port and the V.O. Chidam­ba­ra­nar Port into smart ports by 2024. Fur­ther, the ministry is taking steps to promote ea­se of doing business, seamless integration of external systems and devices, and optimised workflows covering all functional areas of po­rts. The ports are also making efforts to facilitate paperless interactions.

The government has launched many online systems such as the online dredging monitoring system, Sagar Samridhi; a single-window po­­r­tal to facilitate and monitor river and sea cruises; a real-time performance monitoring da­­sh­board, Sagar Manthan; and a mobile ap­p­li­cation of the National Logistics Portal (Mari­ne), Sagar-Setu.

What are the ministry’s plans in terms of de­veloping green hydrogen infrastructure at Indian ports?

The MoPSW will play a crucial role in establishing India’s export capabilities for green hy­dro­gen and its derivatives. It will facilitate the de­ve­lopment of essential infrastructure inclu­ding storage bunkers, port operations equipment and refuelling facilities. The MoPSW will also drive the adoption of hydrogen/derivatives (am­­m­onia/me­thanol) as propulsion fuel for ships. The ministry will work towards making In­dia a green hydrogen/derivative refuelling hub. To this end, ports like Deendayal, Paradip and V.O. Chidam­baranar have been identified to be developed as hydrogen hubs and export terminals for green hydro­gen/gre­en ammonia. Addi­tio­nally, to reduce carbon intensity and develop an environment-friendly ecosystem at the ma­jor ports, the ministry has laun­ch­ed the Harit Sagar Guidelines 2023.

“Some of the key trends that are expected to shape the sector are the increased use of digitalisation and automation, energy transition towards green ports and green shipping, and a modal shift in cargo transport to inland waterways transport and coastal shipping.”

What are your key focus areas and priorities for 2023-24? What, according to you, will be the key trends and themes that will shape the sector over the next few years?

The two key short-term priorities of the ministry are the award of 20 new PPP projects worth Rs 8 billion and the completion of 95 projects worth Rs 101.31 billion by January 2024. Some other immediate priorities are the development of a mega container port at Va­dha­van in Maharash­tra, the completion of a new navigation lock at Farakka and Kalughat terminal, the completion of 50 community jetties under Arth Ganga, and the construction and upgradation of terminals at Jogighopa, Bogibeel, So­n­amura and Badarpur and Karim­ganj on Natio­nal Waterway 2 and National Waterway 16.

Some of the key trends that are expected to shape the sector are the increased use of digitalisation and automation in ports, shipping and waterways; energy transition towards green ports and green shipping; and a modal shift in cargo transport to inland waterways transport and coastal shipping.

India has achieved a new reputation globally and the ministry, in coordination with all the major organisations, is working to advance the prime minister’s vision of making India aatmanirbhar and a developed nation by 2047. The MoPSW is committed to making India a leader in the global maritime sector.