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Pillai roots for private role in ports

Calcutta, Sept. 6: Bengal should look to bring in private players to provide a fillip to its ports, according to Union secretary for commerce and industry G.K. Pillai.

Pillai said the state could miss out on port development if private participation was not initiated with immediate effect.

“Private port companies maintain an average growth rate of 35-40 per cent year-on-year. It is very difficult for public companies to grow at this rate. Hence, it is important to encourage greater private participation in our ports,” Pillai said.

Mundhra Port has ramped up its cargo handling to 50 million tonnes this year from 6 million tonnes in 2004. Its capacity is expected to reach 100 million tonnes by 2010, the commerce secretary said.

In comparison, since 2001-02, the Calcutta Port Trust has increased its cargo volume by 26.88 million tonnes to 57.2 million tonnes in 2007-08.

JNPT clocked a traffic of 55.76 million tonnes in 2007-08, including non-container cargoes, a growth rate of 24 per cent.

The Mumbai port touched the 57.04-million-tonne mark at a 9 per cent growth rate during the same fiscal.

While container cargo shored up JNPT’s traffic, it was general cargo that helped maintain a steady traffic flow in the Mumbai port.

During 2007-08, the 12 major ports of India handled 519.10 million tonnes of cargo against 463.74 million tonnes in 2006-07. By the end of the Eleventh Five-Year Plan, the major ports of India are expected to handle a traffic of 708.09 million tonnes.

SEZ rules

A new set of amendments to the Special Economic Zone (SEZ) Act 2005 will be issued by the end of this month, Pillai said.

The amendments propose to reduce the minimum area for handicraft SEZs to 10 hectares from 100 hectares. Service tax paid, both within and outside, for authorised activities of SEZs will be eligible for refund.

Trade talks

Indian officials will visit Geneva next week to resolve the contentious issue of safeguards for developing nations against higher farm imports from developed countries but are doubtful of a resolution any time soon.

With the US presidential polls in November and India’s general elections too nearing, it appears doubtful that any consensus could be arrived on the special safeguard mechanism any time this year, Pillai said.

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