We believe our terminals are well placed to offer sustainable advantage to our customers: Mr Rajiv Agarwal

Essar Ports, with its commitment of continuous improvements, has been in an early adopter of digital technologies including IoT & data analytics.

Excerpt from Construction Times interview with Mr Rajiv Agarwal, Managing Director, Essar Ports Ltd

What is the overall progress on the business front at Essar Ports?

Since inception, we have ensured our facilities are state of the art and have invested heavily in mechanization which can offer clean and safe environment. Despite the pandemic, our facilities have been fully operational and we have seen interest of trade strengthening in our facilities. In fact, our Vizag Terminal – India’s largest ore handling complex has posted a growth of 7% in FY 21 despite the industry showing downward trend.  The demand of our terminals is strong and we believe our terminals are well placed to offer sustainable advantage to our customers and trade.

Infrastructure development, especially connectivity enhancement to and from the port, is critical which is envisioned by the Government of India through the Sagarmala Project. How do you see this vision in terms of planned & integrated rail, road, highways, coastal shipping lanes & inland waterways network?

I believe it as a holistic approach to drive logistics cost of the nation down from ~13%-14% of GDP to below 10% of GDP. This will not only boost EXIM trade of the country but also propel ‘Atmanirbhar’ Bharat on account of cost-effective and highly efficient manufacturing and movement of cargo.  Multimodal cargo movements from Ports is essential to enable trade to be undertaken in a fast, efficient and cost effective manner. The integration of ports, rail, road, highways, coastal shipping lanes and inland waterways will unlock untapped potential and pave way for port led development in the nation. However, the same will need to be supported through investor friendly policies and low-cost funding in the sector to boost private sector participation.

How optimistic are you about the government initiatives in the ports sector, especially on the handing over the allocated assets to private operators?

Efforts by Government, especially those of Ministry of Shipping and Gujarat Maritime Board, in boosting the sector and economy are highly commendable. The efforts are visible with plethora of new initiatives. Few of the notable ones are:

  • Major Ports Bill 2020 will enable flexibility, self-governance and swiftness in decision making
  • Investible Projects – 400 worth USD 31 Billion have been identified in Maritime Sector
  • Maritime Vision 2030 – will pave way for global maritime leadership
  • National Infrastructure Pipeline will enable the infrastructure support required for “Atmanirbhar” Bharat
  • Undertaking PPP Projects on existing assets will unlock value and boost efficiency
  • Unlocking Policy for unlocking value of Ports in Gujarat.

These initiatives will not only enhance efficiency of the port sector but also improve the country’s competitiveness. The initiatives are likely to catalyze rapid transformation of India in becoming ‘A Global Manufacturing Hub’.

How do you see the adaptation of smart technologies for digital transformation of ports like Internet of Things (IoT), Artificial Intelligence (AI), tracking system, automation, big data and advanced analytics?

Digitization and deployment of cutting- technologies is not a choice any longer, but has become imperative across sectors and industries. The ports are no exceptions. In fact, adoption of facilitating technologies has become even more rapid after the onset of Pandemic. Essar Ports, with its commitment of continuous improvements, has been in an early adopter of digital technologies including IoT& data analytics. Essar ports believes that the infusion on digitization and advancement of technology, enables better customer service, reduces operation costs, improves efficiencies and ensures environmentally conscious/eco-friendly business operations.

However, we also believe that application of the technologies will need deep functional and technical expertise at all levels. The fact that legacy systems, which were implemented with heavy investment , mandates designing of overall technology backbone which will seamlessly incorporate and enable interplay of new and old technologies. The evolution is not easy and any lack of managerial and strategic focus can result in disparate systems, heavy costs and operational complexities.

What are the significant concerns / challenges / potential in the ports sector with respect to turnaround time, cargo-handling, road networks within the port area etc.?

HIGH TURNAROUND TIME

As compared to International Leaders several Indian Ports have high turnaround time on account of low mechanization and smaller parcel size with lower drafts

  • This can be overcome by:
  • Undertaking mechanization programme and deepening of drafts
  • Allowing captive ports to handle 3rd party cargo. In fact many captive ports are state-of-the-art fully mechanized facilities. Despite being highly efficient, these facilities usually can handle limited cargo due to regulations. The prevailing scenario renders the excess capacity unused with loss to exchequer and port users alike.

INEFFICIENT CARGO HANDLIN:

Non mechanized handling and lack of visibility on operations lead to lower turnaround, increased costs and pollution to environment which are detrimental to country’s  EXIM traffic. This can be overcome by investing in eco-friendly mechanized handling systems coupled with capabilities in preventive and corrective analytics based on new age technologies.

ROAD NETWORKS IMPACTING EVACUATION OF CARGO:

A large section of road network inside the Ports and leading to Ports are under developed which pose challenges of loss in productivity, lowering throughput and environmental pollution

Focused investments with efficient system can help in addressing the issue.

Source: Construction Times