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SFAPL’s ‘Ro-Ro’ to decongest Kolkata roads


‘SFAPL Ro-Ro Service’ reads a banner on the vessel anchored at the BISN jetty of Inland Water Authority (IWAI) on the river Ganga. An empty truck, coming out of the vessel, is going to the Kolkata Dock System (KDS) of Kolkata Port Trust, barely 900 metres from the jetty, to pick up import cargo.

Initiated by the city-based Rs 200-crore logistics player Suman Forwarding Agency (SFAPL), last month, this is the latest logistics move to decongest the choked Kolkata roads from heavy vehicles and help Kolkata port grow.

The two (traffic and growth opportunity) are related. The century-old dock system, which was once outside the city limits, is now in the heart of the city. Naturally the heavy cargo vehicles face traffic restrictions. The restrictions increased after a few bridges collapsed in recent times.

The net result is that the average turnaround time of a truck to enter the city, pick up (or deliver) cargo at the port and leave the city limits, is 24 hours or more. And, that’s precisely the problem of the port, which is also the gateway-port for Nepal and Bhutan.

High turnaround time leads to cost escalation for users, a pile up of cargo at the port choking its handling capacity, all of which impact the profit margins. An increase in the pace of truck movement can be a viable solution to this problem.

SFAPL is offering that by initiating the Ro-Ro service with a small vessel which can carry nine trucks. The pace of services is expected to pick up by the end of this month as there is a plan to deploy bigger vessels to shuttle between KDS and Salkia across the river. Salkia is located near the highway way outside city limits.

The company has already chartered two vessels with a capacity to carry 25 loaded vessels each, from Singapore. However, their deployment will take time as they have to be re-registered in India to operate either on coastal or inland waters.

“Together the two vessels can make 10 trips a day ferrying 500 loaded trucks each. Including the port operations, the turnaround time of trucks should be six hours,” Amitisesh Singh CEO of SFAPL told.

SFAPL is building a 20-acre jetty based logistics park aided with warehouses at Salkia at an initial investment of Rs 20-30 crore.

All this is music to the ears of both the city authorities and the Kolkata port. Currently 1,700 trucks report to the port every day. The traffic is expected to increase by 400 trucks once the upcoming port-based bagging facility of Penna cement starts operations in early 2019. If the Ro-Ro service lives up to its promises, the port can easily handle extra cargo and the net flow of heavy vehicles on city roads will reduce by nearly 600 a day.

But port cargo is not the only option for future growth of Ro-Ro services. There are two railway cargo terminals in Kolkata that attract massive heavy vehicular traffic.

Kolkata being the largest consumption centre, trucks carrying goods ranging from vegetables to cement entering the city limits every day and crossing the river Ganga create serious pressures on the limited entry and exit points. Trade suffers from high logistics cost.

The river was a major mode of transport during colonial days. With the Centre making huge investments to revitalise the waterways and, with the State government’s support, SFAPL is hopeful of opening four-five such Ro-Ro services in the city in the near future.