Home / Companies / Raj Thackeray says JNPT expansion delays helping Gujarat

Mumbai: The Raj Thackeray-led political party in Maharashtra has alleged that the country’s largest container port, Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust (JNPT), near Mumbai, has been deliberately delaying its expansion plan to help ports of Gujarat by diverting cargoes of Mumbai to the neighbouring state.

In a letter dated 26 November to JNPT’s chairman, Thackeray, president of Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS), said the port volumes have become stagnant for six years and are now shrinking while cargoes are increasing for Gujarat ports. Mint had reviewed the letter.

Maharashtra is ruled by the Congress party while Gujarat is ruled by Narendra Modi, the Bharatiya Janata Party’s prime ministerial candidate and also chairman of the Gujarat Maritime Board (GMB) that focuses on port sector.

JNPT handles nearly 50% of container traffic in the country.

Though the letter was written a month back, MNS released it to media after Modi’s rally on Sunday in Mumbai, where he listed achievements of Gujarat and said because of mis-governance of the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), Maharashtra is lagging behind Gujarat on various counts.

Sandeep Pradhan, political editor of Marathi newspaper Maharashtra Times, said: “It is a symbolic attempt by Thackeray to tell his supporters that he does not compromise on the state’s interest for the sake of friendship."

Text messages and phone calls made to JNPT chairman N.N. Kumar remained unanswered.

Incidentally, a month-long go-slow campaign by workers at two of the state-run JNPT’s private container terminals had diverted cargoes to Gujarat in November till the agitation was called off on 22 November.

Experts have pointed out that GMB is wooing private investors and setting up ports fast compared with Maharashtra Maritime Board (MMB).

“We have taken up this issue and through this letter MNS is warning the port to mend its way as well as the ways of their private partners," Thackeray cautioned JNPT.

The letter also cited delay in starting the 330-metre berth extension allotted to one of the private terminals and awarding of fourth container terminal.

“In this period, millions of TEUs (twenty-foot equivalent units) have been diverted to Gujarat ports depriving Maharashtra of the business that would have naturally come to it," the letter said.

“If the fourth terminal would have come in to existence then all the private ports that have come up in the last eight to nine years in Gujarat, would have got closed. Is JNPT protecting the interest of these ports by delaying its modernization and expansion projects?" Thackeray asked.

“Thackeray’s letter to JNPT has come too late in the day," said Atul C. Kulkarni, an independent maritime consultant. Kulkarni said Gujarat is reaping the benefit of geographical advantage coupled with proactive government machinery and Gujarat ports are at least 400-700km shorter in distance for cargo coming from Jalandhar, Ludhiana, Delhi region compared with Maharashtra ports.

“MNS has its representatives in the state assembly and should be raising these issues at that forum rather than writing to JNPT chairman. Actually, the situation is so bad that some of the cargo from Nashik is already diverted to ports in Gujarat," said Kulkarni, who was till recently chief executive officer at Chowgule Ports and Infrastructure Pvt. Ltd, that runs Angre Port in Maharashtra.

Another senior port consultant, requesting anonymity, said: “Gujarat Maritime Board, set up to administer non-major ports in that state, is quick in decision making and it has been leading non-major ports such as Pipavav, Mundra, Sikha, Bedi and others."

GMB handles 287.81 million tonnes of cargo during 2012-13. Details of cargo handled by MMB were not immediately available.

Officials of GMB and MMB were not available for comment.

The maritime states in India are directed to have a maritime board for all matters related to coastline development and security. MMB is the second board that came into existence after GMB, set up 1982. While the mandate for both the organizations is similar, there is a huge difference between the performance and achievements of the two, experts said.

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