The decision of China to allow access to four ports on its territory to landlocked Nepal to handle its cargo will not impact Visakhapatnam Port’s expectations to make a good business after it was declared as the second gateway port after Kolkata.
Officials and stevedores feel that as China lacked road and customs infrastructure to ferry import cargo to Nepal the latest initiative by Nepal to reduce dependence on India will not yield the desired results.
Though there is discussion over ifs and buts over the Nepal’s move, several stakeholders say Nepal’s dependence on Kolkata and Visakhapatnam Ports to receive its imported cargo will continue. Sources told that Nepal had already requested the Government of India to allow either Deendayal (Kandla) or Mundra in the West Coast as the third gateway port.
Even if Nepal decides to source its imported cargo via China, the nearest port is located at a far off place and the road distance from the nearest port to Nepal’s border is around 2,500 km.
Delay in evacuation due to congestion and labour problems at Kolkata led to convincing the Centre by Nepal to declare Visakhapatnam as the second gateway port for its cargo a couple of years ago. After several teething problems, GPS-based electronic cargo tracking system with electronic locks was introduced recently to prevent tampering and diversion of containers being despatched from Visakhapatnam.
“Visakhapatnam is located at about 1,300 km as against location of Kolkata Port at around 550 km from Nepal border. Any cargo from China has to cross rough terrains of Himalayan area making it very expensive. Even the nearest railway point is located at Lhasa,” Commissioner of Customs D.K. Sarma told.
Jhanjiang is the nearest port to Nepal. Most of the cargo to Nepal originates from Asian countries so Visakhapatnam and Kolkata have emerged as preferred gateway ports. It also sources its requirements from Middle East and Far East for which ferrying containers from India is financially viable, said Venkata Ravikiran, director, Srivalli Shipping and Transport, the clearing and forwarding agent for Maersk which handles Nepal-bound cargo.
Containers from Visakhapatnam are sent to Birgunj Inland Container Depot by the Container Corporation of India. The dwell time for ships in Kolkata is seven days compared to two days in Visakhapatnam.
Visakha Container Terminal, a BOT operator of Visakhapatnam Port, will launch work at an estimated Rs. 900 crore to expand its capacity. At present it has capacity to handle from 0.7 million 20-foot equivalent units and after expansion, it will increase by 0.54 million TEUs.