Signs of recovery: Cargo handling at ports gains momentum

In an early indication of economic recovery, cargo handling in Indian ports is witnessing a spike. The trend was noticed since mid-December and gained momentum in January.

Cargo handling at ports normally improves in December-January. But this year has been different due to sluggish economic growth during the last two quarters. The manufacturing sector suffered contraction for nearly five months with trailing effect on port operations.

According to Indian Ports Association (IPA), 12 major (government-run) ports reported barely 0.98 per cent growth in cargo during April-December 2019. Though the growth is still lower than last year, things have certainly changed for the better in January in both bulk and containerised cargo.

At Paradip, iron ore and pellet exports are maintaining a robust growth in January, leading to congestion and waiting at berths.

Paradip is primarily into bulk cargo. A robust 90 per cent growth in iron ore, which is one-fifth of the total cargo handled, helped the port compensate the fall in many major categories and post 3.97 per cent growth in cargo during April-December 2019.

The change in mood is more evident in coal, which makes up roughly one-third of the total cargo at Paradip. During the past nine months, thermal and coking coal imports were down by 21 per cent and 4.6 per cent, respectively. According to port sources, traffic was up in January.

At Kolkata, Chairman Vinit Kumar confirms a definite uptrend in bulk and container cargo since mid-December. Kolkata is the second largest container port in the East coast, after Chennai.

“Cargo is growing by 3-4 per cent in in all segments. Container cargo is rising by nearly 4 per cent,” Kumar told. According to IPA, during April-December, the port reported 2.8 per cent growth in the handling of twenty-feet equivalent (TEU) boxes. Total cargo grew by 2 per cent.

Strong recovery

What is significant about Kolkata is, apart from domestic demand, the city caters to nearly 80 per cent of Nepal’s $3-billion third-country trade and the entire third-country import demand of Bhutan. Kumar says cargo for both the countries is witnessing a strong recovery.

Though details are not available, sources confirm similar trends in Visakhapatnam (Vizag) port. It reported a 8.64 per cent growth — strongest in the East coast — during April-December, riding on petroleum cargo, iron ore and coking coal.

Sources say the growth has picked up in recent weeks.

Dhamra (Odisha) of Adani Group witnessed a distinct rise in cargo this fiscal. However, sources are not ready to link it to the general economic recovery, as the port suffered from “massive shortage” of rakes during the previous year.

“There is a general upswing this year. This is due to improved wagon supply and induction of rakes by Adani Logistics and Tata Martrade International Logistics Ltd (TMILL) under the GPWIS (general purpose wagon induction) scheme,” a source said.