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Fear over e-locks for Nepal cargo


A decision by Kolkata Port Trust (KoPT) to introduce electronic locks for containers bound for Nepal by rail has led to an agitation by road transporters.

Over the last several days, those connected with transporting containers to Nepal by road have organized protest meets and a motorcycle rally. They have also threatened to block the railway network inside the Kolkata Dock System (KDS).

“From February 15, KoPT plans to introduce the Electronic Cargo Tracking System (ECTS) on a pilot basis at KDS. Under this system, electronic locks will be attached to sealed containers as soon as they are brought down from ships. Alarms will sound if any effort is made to tamper with the seals of the containers. A lot of paperwork and customs procedure can be avoided as the containers are carried unopened to Nepal. The Nepal government also wants this system in place,” a senior KoPT official said.

Even as freight trains move from here towards Nepal, there is a geographical barrier that prevents tampering with the containers. Once ECTS is in place, alarms go off if any container is moved away from the tracks it is supposed to be on. For years, importers in Nepal have complained of delays and pilferage from containers passing through the Kolkata port.

“Though the Kolkata port still leads in handling of Nepal cargo, the Vizag port took advantage of disgruntlement among importers in the land-locked country. Over the last few years, Nepal cargo started shifting to Vizag gradually. While KDS handled nearly 82,000 TEUs in 2017-18, it managed only about 58,878 TEUs till now for 2018-19. After ECTS was introduced at the Vizag port, nearly 30% cargo shifted there. We want this cargo to move back to Kolkata as it enjoys a locational advantage and transportation is faster,” the official added.

A few years ago, road transporters had also agitated at KoPT’s facility in Budge Budge against the movement of edible oil by rail. They persisted with the agitation though customers get a better deal if oil is moved by rail.