<u>Ports & Shipping</i><br>Ferrying in the future
The 'Vision Statement' on the door to the office of G.S. Sahni, Director General of Shipping (DGS), says, "We shall strive to become the best maritime transport system which is modern, economically sound and internationally competitive for India and Indians." Dev Dutt meets him to find out more…
What are the three priorities for the overall development of Indian shipping?
The most important thing we want for the all-round growth of the Indian shipping industry is implementation of Tonnage Tax in place of Corporate Tax for the shipping companies. Although the Union finance ministry has already announced the government's intention to do so, as part of the last interim budget, it has to be implemented formally through a new Act to be passed by Parliament. This would be possible in the very first budget session, maybe during the ensuing monsoon session of the new Lok Sabha. In the meantime, the draft Act for Tonnage Tax is ready and has already been sent to the shipping ministry, which has forwarded it to the finance ministry.
Secondly, to develop a good shipping industry we need good seafarers and to retain good Indian seafarers for Indian shipping companies; we need to offer them either total exemption from income tax or a nominal rate of income tax. Otherwise they would go to work for foreign flagships for which they are not taxed at all. Shipping Minister Shatrughan Sinha has already taken up this matter with Prime Minister Vajpayee. We expect this problem to be sorted out after the new government takes over.
Our third priority is to do proper marketing of Indian seafarers. Although there are about 40,000 Indian seafarers working on foreign flagships at any given time, there is tremendous scope for more employment opportunities for Indian seafarers even after meeting the requirements of Indian flagships. Every year about 5,000 successful cadets come out of 132 maritime training institutes. Out of these only 15-20 per cent get actual sea time training and the remaining don't get employment opportunities due to lack of sea time training. It's a catch-22 situation: There is a shortage of well-trained seafarers on the one hand and there is unemployment among freshly trained cadets on the other. All we need is to facilitate sea time training for our cadets in order to create ample employment avenues for them, both domestic and foreign.
What is the government's immediate action plan for the growth of coastal shipping?
We are in the process of implementing the recommendations of a Tata Consultancy Services' study on the potential of Indian coastal shipping. The shipping ministry has in principle already accepted the recommendations. Presently, only 7 per cent of the total movement of Indian cargo is carried through coastal shipping in spite of the tremendous scope for its quantum growth. It is quite possible to double its share to 14 per cent. The government is more than keen to develop coastal shipping for the simple fact that it is cheaper, environment-friendly and create job opportunities.
The immediate task of the shipping ministry is to provide basic infrastructure like capital dredging, breakwater, berths and backup areas at as many as nine minor ports, to be developed by the private sector on BOT basis exclusively for coastal shipping. This could be one of the projects under the 'Sagar Mala' programme. The ports include Gopalpur (Orissa), Cuddnore (Tamil Nadu), Vizhinjam and Azikkal (Kerala), Malpe and Karwar (Karnataka), Ratnagiri and Dharamtar (Maharashtra) and Magdalla (Gujarat).
What is your long-term vision to bring Indian shipping on par with global shipping?
The 'Sagar Mala' project makes up for a real and ambitious long-term vision for bringing about a revolutionary change in the Indian shipping sector. Upgradation and modernisation of the fleet, modernisation and expansion of the sea ports, systematic R&D for both sea ports and ships, large-scale shipbuilding and world-class maritime training are the other areas on which the government will focus in the coming years.
What is the current status of the proposal to launch the Mumbai-Karachi ferry service is?
We have thrown open this idea to the Indian shipping industry. We have discussed it informally with leaders in the shipping industry who are yet to get back to the government with a concrete proposal. In any case if at all the proposed ferry service between Mumbai and Karachi takes shape it will have to be a purely commercial venture. It has excellent potential for at least shipping of cargo if not passengers. Besides, if such a service starts, it can have halts in Gujarat, at places like Surat, Jamnagar and Kandla. Such halts can certainly ensure financial viability of the service. In fact, the government would like to have the Mumbai-Karachi ferry service and if any party comes forward with plans to launch it, the government may consider providing ferry ships out of some of the idle ships of SCI. Nonetheless, the entire proposal is at a very nascent stage and all the necessary details are still to be worked out.
Is any other ferry service being planned?
Yes, the shipping ministry is toying with the idea of facilitating ferry services between India and Sri Lanka and the Gulf countries. However, this idea is only at the discussion stage.
What are the latest schemes and incentives being offered by the government to boost inland water transport (IWT)?
Inland transport, i.e. river transport, is also on the priority list of the shipping ministry. The Inland Waterways Authority of India (IWAI) is planning to develop more National Water Highways. Currently, three NWHs, the first in river Brahmaputra, the second in river Ganga connecting Patna and Allahabad and the third in the south, are doing well. Recently, a fix-time cargo liner service was launched between Patna and Allahabad.
Are any structural changes or reforms in the DGS set-up on the cards?
We have already undergone a number of structural changes within the last one year. For instance, we started four new regional offices of our mercantile marine department (MMD) at New Mangalore, Karnataka, Kandla, Gujarat, Paradip, Orissa and Haldia, West Bengal. These have provided great relief to the local shipping community which till now had to run all the way to Mumbai, Chennai or Kolkata for any small or major work. Moreover, we also started maritime examination centres in Delhi, for the northern students, many of who had to come to Mumbai. Besides, the process of E-governance has been launched in MMD and DGS offices; they will have total E-governance by the end of 2004 and 2005, respectively. And we have also begun the process of converting the Mumbai-based Indian Institute of Maritime Studies (IIMS) into a Maritime University, the first one in India.
<u>Ports & Shipping</i><br>Ferrying in the future