The concept of Sagarmala was approved by the Union Cabinet on 25th March 2015. As part of the programme, a National Perspective Plan (NPP) for the comprehensive development of India’s 7,500 km coastline, 14,500 km of potentially navigable waterways and maritime sector has been prepared which was released by the Hon’ble Prime Minister, on 14th April, 2016 at the Maritime India Summit 2016.

Need for Port-Led Development in India

India is one of the fastest growing large economies in the world with a GDP growth rate of 7.3% in 2018-19 and ports play an important role in the overall economic development of the country. Approximately 95 % of India’s merchandise trade (by volume) passes through sea ports. Many ports in India are evolving into specialized centres of economic activities and services and are vital to sustain future economic growth of the country such as JNPT, Mundra Port, Sikka Port, Hazira Port etc.

However, Indian ports still have to address infrastructural and operational challenges before they graduate to the next level. For example, operational efficiency of Indian ports has improved over the years but still lags behind the global average. Turnaround time (TAT) at major ports was approximately 2.5 days in 2018-19, whereas global average benchmark is 1-2 days. Some of the private sector ports in India like Mundra and Gangavaram, have been able to achieve a turnaround time of around 2 days.

Secondly, last mile connectivity to the ports is one of the major constraints in smooth movement of cargo to/from the hinterland. Around 87% of Indian freight uses either road or rail for transportation of goods. A significant share of this cargo experiences “idle time” during its transit to the ports due to capacity constraints on highways and railway lines connecting ports to production and consumption centers. Although water-borne transport is much safer, cheaper and cleaner, compared to other modes of transportation, it accounts for less than 6% of India’s modal split. By comparison, coastal and inland water transportation contribute to 47% of China’s freight modal mix, while in Japan and US, this share is 34% and 12.4% respectively. Significant savings can be achieved by shifting movement of industrial commodities like coal, iron ore, cement and steel to coastal and inland waterways.

Mode of Transportation Transportation Cost (Rs/Ton-Km)
Road 2.0-3.0
Rail 1.2-1.5
Waterways 1.1-1.2
Pipelines 0.1-0.15

However, more than 90% of coal currently moves via railways. The constraints on connectivity and sub-optimal modal mix results in higher logistics cost thereby affecting the manufacturing sector and export competitiveness

The third factor is the location of industries / manufacturing centres vis-à-vis the ports. While cost differential between India and China is not significant on a per tonne km basis, China still has a lower container exporting cost, than the cost in India, due to lower lead distances . Presence of major manufacturing and industrial zones in coastal regions in China, which were developed as part of the Port-Led Policy of the government is the main reason for lower lead distances

Any programme for port-led development needs to consider the above mentioned factors to effectively harness the potential of India’s long coastline.