Last week, the Union government named Rani Jadhav, a retired bureaucrat, as the new full-time head of the port tariff regulatory body, two years after her predecessor demitted office.
The Tariff Authority for Major Ports (TAMP) sets rates for the services provided at 11 of the 12 ports owned by the government.
This is the first time a woman has been chosen to head TAMP, 12 years after the regulator was created in 1997, when India opened its door to private investment in the ports sector.
Just a few kilometres away from Jadhav’s office adjacent to Mazagon docks in Mumbai, another woman oversees rules and regulations governing India’s maritime sector. Lakshmi Venkatachalam, an Indian Administrative Service officer from the Karnataka cadre, is India’s director general of shipping.
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Ports and shipping are generally considered male bastions. Very few women are in these fields. So, for women to be at the helm of two of India’s key maritime posts is breaking the gender barrier. But by selecting Jadhav to head TAMP, the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government is continuing with what it has done in the past few months—appointing women in key positions. Pratibha Patil, the country’s first woman president, and Meira Kumar, the first female Speaker in the Lok Sabha, were both UPA candidates. Jadhav’s appointment precedes the proposed creation of a new regulatory body through a separate, independent legislation.
TAMP was set up by an amendment to the Major Port Trusts Act, 1963, as 11 of the 12 Union government-owned ports are governed by this legislation. The only exception to this is the Ennore Port in Tamil Nadu which was set up under the Companies Act, 1956, and is outside TAMP jurisdiction. The new regulatory authority will oversee all Union government-owned ports, whether governed by the Major Port Trusts Act or by the Companies Act.
TAMP has been criticized for being a toothless regulator with no powers to enforce its own tariff rulings or penalizing those found violating the terms and conditions governing tariffs. It has a limited role—to set tariffs—without any say on the facilities given to the end-use customers of port services.
Unlike TAMP, which is just a tariff administrator, the proposed new authority will be a full-fledged regulator.
It will have powers to set rates for the facilities and services provided at the 12 major ports, to prescribe and monitor performance standards for services and facilities provided by port authorities and private operators, and also to decide on disputes between port authorities, private operators and users of port facilities and services.
The new regulatory body will have powers similar to that of a civil court to call for information, conduct investigation, summon witnesses, inspect books of accounts and other documents of any port authority or private operator. It will also have powers to summon witnesses, compel them to give oral or written evidence on oath and to produce documents.
The most redeeming feature of the proposed legislation is the provision on monitoring actual performance of port authorities and private operators along with corrective or penal measures in case of their non-compliance.
Private investors and port users have welcomed the plan, saying the new regime will make India’s ports more efficient as it will have powers to settle disputes and also set performance standards for port authorities and private operators.
The new regulatory regime will be a big challenge for Jadhav as the 12 ports look to increase capacity to 1 billion tonnes by 2012 from the existing 567 million tonnes to overcome capacity constraints.
Jadhav is not a stranger to the ports sector. She ran Mumbai port, one of the 12 Union government-owned ports, for almost six years with a good measure of success.
P. Manoj is Mint’s resident shipping expert and writes on issues related to shipping and logistics every other Friday.
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