Kolkata: Helped by improved railway connectivity, cargo movement through Kolkata port has witnessed an unusual spurt in the current fiscal year, thanks largely to despatches of construction and polling material to Nepal, officials said.
Nepalese imports have jumped because the country is being rebuilt following the 2015 earthquake, said Eaknarayan Aryal, consul general of Nepal in Kolkata. With Nepal holding elections to its house of representatives and to provincial assemblies earlier this year, a lot of polling material, too, was imported through the Kolkata port, he added.
In early December, Aryal wrote a letter of appreciation to the Kolkata Port Trust, or KoPT, for expediting the despatch of landed cargo in the past two months, but there’s more to be done, he said in an interview.
Around one million tonne of bulk cargo, containing clinkers, fertilizers and cement, remain stuck at Haldia Dock Complex (or HDC, which is also run by the KoPT), Aryal said, adding that lack of rakes is the key reason for the delay in despatches.
Deputy chairman of HDC, G. Senthilvel, said the port authorities need 30 additional railway rakes to despatch the bulk cargo referred to by the Nepalese consul general, over and above the 15 rakes that are normally loaded and despatched from the port every month.
Aryal claimed Nepalese importers pay around 300 crore Nepalese rupees, or around Rs180 crore in Indian currency a year, for delays in unloading and despatch of cargo. “We hope the port authorities will step up efficiency as seen in the last two months," he said.
Things have turned around after despatch of cargo from the Kolkata port almost ground to a halt in mid-October. An accident at the port’s railway siding temporarily stalled loading of rakes while floods in Bihar disrupted despatches both by road and railway.
Some 1,500 containers, or twenty-foot equivalent units in shipping parlance, were stuck at the port. Such was the delay that ships were diverted to Vizag port, said Mahendra Dugar, an agent for Nepalese importers, adding that he himself had to divert at least 200 containers to Vizag.
KoPT chairman Vineet Kumar held several rounds of discussions with stakeholders and eventually managed to get Container Corporation of India Ltd, or Concor, to provide rakes to another siding close to Kolkata port. Previously, the port had capacity to load up to 1.5 rakes a day, the new siding boosted its capacity to 2.5.
The dwell time, or the time spent at the port before the cargo is despatched, has come down from 10.5 days at the beginning of November 2017 to 6.2 days at the end of the month, according to a KoPT official, who asked not to be identified.
The results are impressive: whereas in the whole of fiscal 2016-17, Kolkata port handled around 34,000 containers—up from 24,000 in the previous year—it has handled around 28,000 containers in only four months till November.