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Cargo clearances: Tech interventions to anchor efficient movement

Government agencies in collaboration with private players are introducing new technologies to counter bottlenecks in free, fast as well as safe movement of cargo at domestic ports.

Written by Aanchal Magazine | New Delhi | Published: July 20, 2016 4:42:04 am
customs, customs department, cbec, customs to go paperless, swift interface, rms, customs clearance, india news Third container terminal at Jawaharlal Nehru Port, Uran, Navi Mumbai.

The launch of a container tracking facility at Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust, the largest container port in India, earlier this month to monitor movement of cargo across the Western Corridor is being followed up with another technology-driven intervention that aims at tracking them from the port all the way till the inland container depots (ICDs), including to the one at Tughlakabad in Delhi. The plan is to use radio-frequency identification (RFID) to monitor container movement and the tracking facility as part of measures to improve the time taken for cargo clearances at the country’s ports.

“The plan is in conceptual stage. The idea is to track movement of containers from JNPT to the ICDs,” a senior Central Board of Excise and Customs (CBEC) official said. Earlier this month, a container tracking facility called Logistics Data Services was introduced at JNPT, with DMICDC Logistics Data Services Ltd — a joint venture of the Delhi Mumbai Industrial Corridor Trust and Japan’s NEC Corporation. The facility was introduced with an aim to bring in transparency in container movement and reduction in logistic costs for trade and industry.

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JNPT, which handles around 60 per cent of India’s container traffic, also plans to install more container scanners in order to facilitate non-intrusive scrutiny of goods and reduction in dwell time. The Customs department under the CBEC plans to incorporate 44 scanners at various ports before March 2017, another senior CBEC official said. Out of the proposed 44 scanners, 11 will be drive-through scanners that will be owned by the Customs department, while 33 will be mobile scanners that will be procured by private ports and operated by Customs department, the official added.

JNPT handled more than 4.49 million TEUs (twenty foot equivalent unit) of container traffic in 2015-16, out of which around 6.13 per cent of the cargo was screened with its two scanners. The port has plans to increase handling to 10 million TEUs of containers in the next five years.

A Direct Port Delivery facility has also been introduced at the port to benefit importers, with containers proposed to be directly delivered to the importers, instead of waiting in container freight stations for clearance, something that used to take 9-11 days. It is likely to bring significant cost savings for the importers on transaction, logistics and inventory. The facility is valid for the Customs department’s 375 clients under the Accredited Client Programme (ACP). ACPs refers to those clients of ports who are regular importers and are marked safe by the Customs department depending on their past records and other criterion as made by the department.

Widening of roads to terminals at the port, construction of new approach roads for faster evacuation of cargo, extension of container berth, capacity expansion with a under-construction fourth terminal are some other measures being undertaken for easing congestion at JNPT and ensuring cargo clearances within hours and not days. The National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) has also taken up a project to widen NH4B, which connects the Jawaharlal Nehru Port to Mumbai-Pune Highway NH-4 and Mumbai-Goa Highway NH-17.

“The plan is to become as non-intrusive as possible but at the same time, keep a check on illegal activities. We have managed to reduce the dwell time over the last few years,” said Rajeev Tandon, chief commissioner of Customs who oversees operations at JNPT. Time taken for a shipment to get all Customs clearances at a port, as measured by dwell time, has reduced to 3.51 hours in 2015-16 from 76.15 hours in 2003-04 at JNPT, the department officials said.

The CBEC also plans to incorporate more agencies in its single-window clearance system, introduced from April 1, 2016, along with planning to make the entire system paperless. The single-window interface for facilitating trade (SWIFT) was launched in April wherein nine separate documents have been replaced with one integrated declaration having interface with six government agencies like the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), Directorate of Plant Protection, Quarantine and Storage (DPPQS), Wildlife Crime Control Bureau, animal quarantine agency, drug controller agency and textile committee.

Inclusion of more agencies in the single-window system will ensure sharp reduction in the clearance time for imported cargo from various departments. Importers will also not need to physically submit the documents at Customs offices but will be able to upload them in a PDF format online, officials said.

India’s logistics performance has improved over the years as measured by the World Bank. In the World Bank’s Logistics Performance Index, which measures international supply-chain efficiency, India’s ranking jumped to 35 in 2016 from 54 in 2014. The index analyses countries across six components: efficiency of Customs and border management clearance, quality of trade and transport infrastructure, ease of arranging competitively priced shipments, competence and quality of logistics services, ability to track and trace consignments, and the frequency with which shipments reach consignees within scheduled or expected delivery times. It is computed from the survey responses of about 1,051 logistics industry professionals.

The improvement in ranking notwithstanding, India has a long way to go to improve its supply-chain parameters. According to the 2016 survey, only 69 per cent of shipments from India meet the quality criteria compared to 72 per cent for China and 77 per cent for Kenya. Also, India has an average of 5 forms required for imports or exports, compared to 4.5 for China and 2 for Germany. The proposed goods and services tax (GST) is likely to provide the required impetus for the transport sector in India.

Most Indian ports are struggling, especially if the efficiency parameters are contrasted with global benchmarks. Even though 94 MTPA capacity had been added through 34 capital investment projects across India’s major ports in 2015-16 , operating parameters are under pressure. During 2015-16, while eight ports showed positive growth in traffic, there were four that reported a decline. Visakhapatnam, for instance, reported a dip in iron ore traffic due to absence of exports to China owing to less demand and a decline in steam coal imports due to delay in grounding of power plants in Chhattisgarh. Chennai reported a dip due to shutdown of CPCL plant for 3 weeks in August, 2015 and thereafter maintenance of plant while the New Mangalore witnessed a decrease in coal and Iron ore traffic due to slump in the steel industry. Mumbai port too saw a dip, mainly due to discontinuance of handling of coal at Haji Bunder with effect from October 31, 2015. The average pre-berthing detention time for India’s major ports — the time taken by a ship from its arrival at the anchorage and moving to the reporting station till it arrives at the operational berth (excluding time taken for inward movement) — is also high. At ports such as Rotterdam and Singapore, the time taken is almost nil.

Shipping permits and clearances take up to 3 days in India, whereas, in Singapore or Hong Kong, arranging a shipment and get all clearances takes about a couple of hours. According to a World Bank report, India’s current port capacity can be boosted by at least 35 per cent simply by revamping port management practices, especially for the government- run major ports.

The writer was on a visit of JNPT on the invite of CBEC, Ministry of Finance

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