Mumbai: In a bid to improve efficiency and cut down the turnaround time of ships calling at ports and the dwell time of cargo, the 13 major ports that the Central government runs will soon start working 24x7 round the year.
Currently, the major ports are not working round the clock due to statutory holidays and time lost during shift change. This has resulted in operational delays. About 90% of India’s export-import trade takes place through ports.
The ministry of shipping has directed the port managements to implement a hot seat exchange system by December this year to eliminate the time lost in shift changeovers and recess hours. “If the non-working time is reduced from three hours to half an hour each day, the turnaround time of ships will reduce by 10%,” said a ministry official who did not wish to be named. This would translate into a saving of 12 hours for dry-and-break bulk carriers calling at these ports to load and unload cargoes such as steel, coal and iron ore and five hours for ships that haul cargo-laden containers.
“Round-the-clock navigation, operations and documentation are necessary to ensure higher productivity and eliminate delays owing to restricted working hours and holidays,” the official said.
Cargo- and container-related dwell time refers to the time cargo and containers stay in a terminal’s in-transit storage area while awaiting shipment by vessels in the case of exports or evacuation by rail or road for imports.
On the other hand, the turnaround time of a ship refers to the time the vessel reports at the anchorage of a port to the time it sails out from the berth. They broadly reflect the efficiency of the port.
The average container dwell time at major ports is 1.88 days for imports and 3.78 days for exports.
In the case of dry bulk cargoes, the average dwell time is 38.23 days for imports and 27.14 days for exports. For break bulk cargoes, the average dwell time is 15.49 days for imports and 17.2 days for exports. The average turnaround time of vessels at major Indian ports ranges from 1.77 days to 4.82 days.
In comparison, the dwell time for containers and break bulk cargoes at Singapore port is less than a day.
The port workers are in favour of the move to make ports function round the clock. “If India has to compete internationally, then round-the-clock working of ports is essential provided facilities are given to workers,” said Mohammed Haneef, general secretary, All India Port and Dock Workers Federation and working president, Cochin Port Staff Association. “The management of ports should also share the gains arising from the new arrangement with the workers,” he added.
The port labour unions will discuss the issue at the national level to “reach a consensus” before allowing any changes in the existing system, he said.
There are about 63,000 direct workers at the 13 major ports while another 25,000-30,000 are employed on contract basis, depending on the needs of each port.
The labour productivity, measured in terms of output per gang shift, or the tonnage achieved by one gang per shiftis an average of 493 tonnes across the major ports.
“Comparison between two Indian ports or with other international ports for labour productivity is not possible as it depends on various factors like the degree of mechanisation, infrastructure and working conditions, which vary from port to port,” the ministry official said.
At Indian ports. the manning scale for handling various commodities is based on fixed gang composition. “The manning scale of the gangs is disproportionate to the requirements. Enforcement of discipline among the unionized workforce is difficult and poor work ethics such as the tendency to report late and break early lowers productivity of the individual as well as the gang’s productivity in the shift,” the official noted.
To make 24x7 working effective, it is also imperative for 24x365 working by other government agencies such as customs, plant quarantine authorities and port health organization by deploying a skeletal staff that can perform essential tasks round the clock.
The port health organization is responsible for the inspection of hygiene in ships and among the crew so as to check the spread of infectious diseases from incoming vessels. Plant quarantine authorities are vested with the task of preventing the entry and spread of pests in India as per the provisions of The Destructive Insects & Pests Act, 1914.
According to the ministry official, the fumigation of plant products, port health organization clearance and independent sample collection by different agencies in an uncoordinated manner force ships to wait at anchorage.
Moreover, the plant quarantine authorities report only during the day in some ports. The delay in formalities such as customs examination and clearance, also hamper discharge and delivery of cargo.
The assessment and appraisal units of customs work only for five days a week from 9.15am to 5.45pm. The appraiser at the docks, the examination staff as well as the bank where duty payment is to be made, work only for five and a half days in a week. Thus, for regular weekends, containers and/or cargo is stranded for want of statutory agencies for processing work.