Seven years after the launch of Sagarmala, the National Democratic Alliance regime is bringing new momentum to the flagship project that seeks to harness the potential of India’s 7,500 km of coastline, 12 major ports and 200 non-major ports and 14,500 km of potential waterways. . It aims at modernizing ports and developing new ports, reducing logistical costs for both domestic and export-import cargo through port-led industrialization, coastal and inland water transportation. Significant progress has been made in increasing the capacity of major ports with installed capacity increasing from 871.5 metric tons per annum to 79% in 2014-15. Waiting time for inbound and outbound cargo has been reduced from 96 hours in 2014-15 with an overall turnaround time of 52.80 hours. There is also the acquisition of skills with port arrangements for easy data flow, such as direct port entry, direct port delivery, and upgraded port community systems. Inland waterways are being built because it costs 10 times less to transport goods on a river than on a densely populated highway.
The multimodal terminals at Varanasi, Sahebganj and Haldia along the Ganges enable the transport of goods through Bangladesh to the north-eastern states. River Cruise Terminal infrastructure and jetty are being set up. Recently, the National Oceans Apex Committee (NSAC) announced projects for the overall development of coastal districts.
Despite these gains, overall progress has been scattered বিশেষ particularly in major government-run ports-limited private sector investment in key areas such as land acquisition problems, inadequate funding, and port modernization, among other factors. According to a report in the newspaper, a parliamentary standing committee reviewed the project in its report published in March and observed “unsatisfactory progress” in port modernization, increased port connectivity and port-led industrialization. It noted that only one port modernization project was completed last year when no progress was made on the all-weather, all-cargo Bhadhavana port in Maharashtra. The cost of port modernization project has also increased. In the case of port connectivity in the west, there were several projects for connection with non-major ports. In the case of port-led industrialization, it has started on only 8 specific lands out of 12 major ports. The committee recommended accelerating port-led industrialization and integrating land acquisition and port connectivity projects with global benchmarked targets. In inland waterways, the share of freight traffic was low due to lack of depth of waterways for carrying goods and shortage of inland vessels.
Despite this track-record, NSAC has approved 735 more projects worth 1 1 trillion for Sagarmala, bringing the total number of projects to 1,537 worth 6.5 trillion. Union Minister for Ports, Shipping and Waterways Sarbananda Sonwal explained that the decision to increase the number of projects was taken at the request of various states. The big challenge, however, is to provide a sustainable dimension as the coastline is fragile. The sea level is increasing at an average rate of 1.6-1.7 mm per year and the effects of coastal silt transport and coastal erosion are being felt. Where are the resources for this project? The resource monetization drive for the port has rarely stopped because MoPSW can monetize only three of the 13 identified projects. During Prime Minister Modi’s visit to Europe, he invited Nordic countries to invest in the seas. Last but not least is the fact that only 8% of India’s Exim trade and 40% of coastal cargo is carried by Indian ships. Through a comprehensive review of the Merchant Shipping Act, 1958 – increasing the share of Indian ships to carry cargo will truly fulfill Sagarmala’s ambitions.