An Update on India’s Ports

Mihir Sharma, in Restart, about a decade or so ago:

When the manufacturers’ trucks arrive at the port in Mumbai, it isn’t just that the warehouses there are too crowded, it is that there aren’t enough officials to oversee the docks’ smooth operations. Sometimes, it takes four or five days just to assign a truck a spot to unload—not because there aren’t any spots, but because the port authorities are busy doing other stuff. Other stuff that may be as important, mind you. The simple ‘reduce paperwork’ prescription hardly works here. Central coordination of where a truck sets down its load, and whether it’s close to the place where its container will be loaded on, is pretty essential. It isn’t a red-tape problem; it’s a capacity-constraint problem. Things are so bad that in 2013 India’s largest port was—Colombo. Yes, that’s right; that year, the Sri Lankan capital sent more Indian exports abroad than Mumbai did.

Sharma, Mihir. Restart: The Last Chance for the Indian Economy . Random House Publishers India Pvt. Ltd.. Kindle Edition. (Emphasis added)

Before we proceed, a slightly technical question. How did Mihir figure out which of the exports from Colombo’s ports were of Indian origin? I don’t know, and I would like to. If anybody can help, please do reach out, thank you.

Right, so ports in India – not the best. Which is why this made for encouraging reading:

The average turnaround time at major ports has fallen from 127 hours in 2010-11 to 53 hours as of 2021-22. It was nearly 200 hours in the early 1990s as seen in chart 1 (click image for interactive chart).

The entire report is worth at least a quick glance, and is available here. I found this table to be particularly interesting:

Basic Port Statistics of India, 2021-22 (pp XXIII)

Turn arounds took 12 days in Calcutta’s case in 1990-91. JNPT is the most efficient today, but note that it also is one of our newest ports.

If you are looking for international comparisons, this table migh help: (pp 82)
  1. This is median time, not average, but I’m still curious about why the difference should be so large (0.93 days for India in this table versus 53 hours, so a little more than 2 days in the chart above). Probably a combination of median v average and the fact that the UNCTAD table is for container ships, while Basic Port Statistics is for all ships – but that’s a guess on my part. If anybody knows for sure, please do tell.
  2. We’re doing better than the UAE, Germany, Singapore and Hong Kong in terms of turnaround times [Median time in port (days)]. Whatay!
  3. Virtually all ports show a decline in efficiency – the annual change is an increase for almost all ports in this table. I’m guessing this the world stumbling back to normalcy post the pandemic.
  4. The number of arrivals in Chinese ports is roughly eight times that of India

Bottomline: there certainly seems to be good progress, but we have a long ways to go.