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Photo: Ashesh Shah / Mint

Photo: Ashesh Shah / Mint

Container shipments inundate JN port

Container shipments inundate JN port

Mumbai: Just inside the gates of the Jawaharlal Nehru (JN) port in Navi Mumbai, off to the right, are rows upon rows of 20ft dull aluminium-grey containers. Some 13,000 of them have been waiting for at least a week to be transported from India’s largest container port by cargo traffic.

But Container Corp. of India Ltd, or Concor, doesn’t have enough trains to move them. Concor is an arm of the Indian Railways that runs container trains between ports and inland container depots (ICDs).

The delay has thrown the manufacturing schedules of several firms out of gear and is causing shipping lines to fork out high detention charges and ground rents. Around 65-70% of these shipments are destined for ICD at Tughlakabad in Delhi, the busiest in the country.

Goods arrive in containers at various ports and are shipped by train to ICDs where they are unpacked, cleared by customs, and then transported by rail or road to their final destinations. JN port handles around 60% of the country’s container traffic.

Photo: Ashesh Shah / Mint

“We are feeling the heat," said V. Sridharan, customs operations manager at Hewlett-Packard India Sales Pvt. Ltd, an arm of the Indian unit of technology firm Hewlett-Packard Development Co.

He estimates that at any given time, at least 40 of their containers are stuck at JN port despite paying more in priority processing charges to Concor and shipping lines. Besides driving up costs, such delays also disrupt the entire inventory system, he told Mint.

Shipping company representatives said they have offered to pay additional charges, but Concor is neither ready to provide extra trains nor willing to move the containers to ICD at Dadri, close to Tughlakabad.

“Concor is not willing to address this issue by projecting nearby ICDs to make Tughlakabad congestion-free, fearing loss of business," said a shipping company representative on condition of anonymity.

Traffic at Indian ports grew 5.7% in fiscal 2010 over the previous year, while JN port’s container volumes grew 14.7%, nearing the pre-slowdown highs of 2008, according to an April report by Infrastructure Development Finance Co. Ltd.

To clear the backlog, Concor needs to deploy at least 125 additional trains, according to data compiled by the Bombay Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI), a lobbying body.

The situation is likely to worsen with the onset of the monsoon, expected to hit India’s west coast in late June, which typically exacerbates the congestion at ports.

“Consistent high pendency is a matter of concern to trade. Shipping lines lose heavily on account of detention charges and additional ground rents," said C.R. Nambiar, chairman (shipping, transport and logistics committee) at BCCI, adding that containers can be kept at the port’s yard for only a week without attracting a penalty.

In his defence, Concor’s managing director Anil Kumar Gupta said the firm is taking all possible steps to evacuate containers by moving them to other ICDs at no additional cost.

“ICD at Tughlakabad is running at full capacity. (But) shipping lines can bring cargo to other ICDs near Tughlakabad. (And) Concor can bring as many trains to JNPT (Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust) for evacuating cargo," he said.

But other ICDs are also congested. “I am open to moving goods via Dadri but people are telling me that even Dadri is congested," said Hewlett-Packard’s Sridharan.

Adding trains to Tughlakabad could bring their own set of problems, Gupta said. “More trains will result in more vehicles on the road and will collapse the entire logistics chain," he said.

With the Commonwealth Games scheduled for October, this will be a particularly bad time for a spike in cargo traffic to snarl road traffic in and around the national Capital.

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