Commissioned in 1870, the journey of the first major as well as the only riverine port of the country continues through the tortuous process of ebb and tide, expectancy and challenges, intricately woven with the varying draft and other morphological dynamics of the river Hooghly which cradles it.
Kolkata Port, which would be shortly celebrating its 148th birthday, was once the premier port of the country but faced a steady decline in its fortunes since 1966-67, with competition from the neighbouring sea ports and the challenges of river draft, bends and bores and lock restrictions proving a growing deterrent for larger ships with higher DWT to visit the docks. However, due to its adaptability and the time tested improvisations to gravitate southwards and create sister dock systems/ anchorages to harness its deep drafted facilities and the huge potential in respect of movement of cargo through Inland Water Transport (IWT) mode, it continued to re-engineer itself in newer locales and diversifying functions.
Kolkata Port handled 57.886 million tonnes (mt) of traffic in 2017-18 creating an all time record in the history of the port surpassing the previous highest of 57.329 mt handled in 2007-08. With a slew of new investments and value driven initiatives and trade expectations also picking up, it’s most heartening to note that the cargo traffic at KoPT has clocked an impressive growth of around 25.04% from 46.293 million tonnes (mt) in 2014-15 to 57.886 mt. in 2017-18. Interestingly, our Kolkata Dock System, one of the port’s twin dock systems and the continuing legacy of the historic port of Kolkata, handled an all time high cargo traffic of 17.39 mt in 2017-18 while HDC, our sister dock, too handled 40.496 mt in 2017-18, sustaining a consistently secular growth trend of traffic in last few years. In container traffic too, HDC notched a high growth of 14.87% in 2017-18 over 1,35,828 TEUs handled in the last fiscal. KoPT donned the mantle of recording a high of 7,96,210 TEUs in 2017-18, clocking an over 3.18% growth vis-à-vis last year, while retaining its 3rd rank amongst major container handling Ports, for several years in a row. Our port continued to handle the highest number of vessels in the major port circuit.
To ensure improved productivity and faster turnaround and reduced deadfreighting of the gearless vessels carrying dry bulk cargo, we have already equipped quite a few of our berths inside the impounded dock at HDC with Mobile Harbour Cranes and other ancillary equipment viz Berths 4B, 2 & 8 & 13 while going for mechanisation of Berth no. 3 in 2018-19. Also with an aim to augment the capacity of dry and liquid bulk handling and ensure faster turnaround of vessels with improved handling rates, we have placed LoA/orders for setting up of Liquid Cargo Handling Jetty at Salukkhali, Haldia Dock-II on DBFOT basis and construction of Outer Terminal-II for handling Edible Oil and Chemicals, which, while augmenting substantially the cargo handling capacity will also ease the pressure on the lock systems. The impounded docks will also be able to cater to higher capacity of dry bulk/Container Cargo while leaving most of the liquid traffic to be catered to by the outer terminals. Apart from integrated ship-to-shore services including back-up operations at 3, 4, 5, 7 & 8 NSD at KDS and integrated container operations at Berths Nos. 10 & 11 of HDC, additional ground areas hardstanded yard space for stacking containers are being earmarked while 3rd Rail mounted Quay Crane is being deployed at HDC to cater to the surge in Container throughput.
Floating Riverine Minibulk Terminal in the upstream of 3rd Oil Jetty outside the impounded dock, has also been commissioned in June 2018 for handling dry bulk traffic, being transported through the daughter vessels from the transloading/transhipment points at Saugar/other anchorages where floating crane facilities have already been commissioned in Dec. 2017. We have already handled Baby Cape Vessel M.V. Kishore berthed at Saugor Anchorage with 54,000 Tonnes of Cargo. These facilities with synchronised functioning of the outer riverine terminals are expected to bring incremental cargo at HDC, logical to it at matching draft, through daughter vessels and barges, while serving the cluster of industries and power utilities in and around the port city of Haldia, at a much reduced logistics cost.
In view of the unique riverine potentials of the Kolkata port and in keeping with the ambitious Sagarmala project, around 61 acres of land has been awarded on long term lease basis to IWAI who had awarded the work for construction of a multi-model terminal at Haldia for transportation of Coal, Fly ash, chemical, fertiliser etc. Various land parcels are being allotted to captive users on the basis of Minimum Guaranteed Tonnage (MGT). As a part of drive to unlock estate revenue, vacant plots are being allotted through competitive bidding, preferably on up-front basis, while disposing of the legal cases on fast-track basis to unleash various plots of land for tendering out for competitive allotment. Consultant has also been appointed for formulation of TEFR/DPR etc. for exploring construction of a deep sea port at Tajpur to be set up jointly by GoI & GoWB. Tender has also been recently invited for engagement of a consultant for preparation of DPR/EIA/EMP for creation of an extended port gate facility at Balagarh (85 km North on NW1), to meet the growing traffic needs and also ease and disperse road congestion.
With customer as its focus, projects for leveraging IT and ITeS are in full swing, aimed at improved efficiency in port management by introducing web-based applications and interfaces, thus ensuring wide coverage among our clienteles and reduced transaction cost of port users. Implementation of various application software modules, like, Finance / Hospital / Materials Management / Estate Rental Billing & Recovery, implementation of VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) Telephony, augmentation of IT infrastructure, etc and implementation of e-Procurement solution are some of the important milestones in recent years. These are being followed up by a comprehensive implementation of ERP solution on cloud. Other major ongoing projects include introduction of CCTV Surveillance Systems, GIS-based Estate Management, RFID based Vehicle Tracking and Aadhaar based Biometric Attendance System.
Our Port is the pulsating lifeline of trade and has been discharging its responsibility efficiently in promoting the country’s maritime trade. The process of churning a new and expansive trading hub, on a port-centric customer base with matching logistics and competitive facilities/tariff structure, is one of the defining challenges the port faces in the years ahead. The host of schemes currently under implementation of the ambitious Sagarmala Project of the Government of the India aim to tap the coastal/IWT/maritime potential of the country along with unleashing of enterprise/opportunities in various port-led economic clusters in an energy-efficient way. The ‘Act-East Policy’of the country, which includes, connecting of the Trilateral highways, interconnecting five river systems, the Kaladan project which proposes to connect KoPT with Sittwe port of Myanmar through sea etc., I am hopeful, will contribute to making, Kolkata again a dynamic and throbbing hub port of the region.