Number of cargo trucks on highways and city roads likely to be reduced drastically

The newly launched Coastal Shipping Project, which offers immense possibilities of freight handling for the State, can decongest Kochi roads when implemented fully. The project is aimed at renovating and linking 17 minor ports across the State through small coastal vessels.

At a time when roads and highways are turning grossly inadequate to accommodate the increasing number of vehicles, the project will ease traffic flow in the city. Coastal cargo movement in minor ships also assumes significance as the existing rail network in the State is unable to cope with the demand.

“Kochi will be the main beneficiary once the project is implemented fully. The number of cargo-carrying trucks, which create hurdles on the highways and pollute the environment, will be reduced. But its success largely depends on availability of cargo-carrying coastal ships in the country, which are less in number at present, and introduction of subsidies,” said V.S. Kartha of Cochin Chamber of Commerce and Industry. He said the number of coastal cargo ships was less in India. The ships could gain the confidence of trade and industry by making transportation more economical. Development of small ports and linking them through coastal ships would ease Kochi roads and its port.

According to government sources, the biggest impediment the sector is facing is the lack of support from the Central government. Different taxation rates in States also remain a major hurdle. The government had plans to hold discussions with States to work out an appropriate level of taxation to promote coastal shipping, sources said.

“Though Kerala is the first State to introduce financial incentives for water transport, by giving a subsidy of Rs.1/tonne for cargo movement through coastal shipping, it remains meagre. Only a favourable intervention from the Central government with more subsidies can attract more entrepreneurs to transportation of cargo by ships,” said a retired officer of the port department.

“It is a welcome move for those who think about alternative modes of cargo handling. Focussing more on transporting cargo through the coast would yield results. Ferrying travellers using coastal ships will not elicit much response as travel between even Kollam and Kochi will take 10 hours,” said V.K. Raju, company secretary of Kerala Shipping and Inland Navigation Corporation.

“Logistics costs can be reduced by focussing on coastal and inland waters for exports and domestic movement. The government’s resolve to divert at least 20 per cent of the cargo through coastal shipping by 2015 and 40 per cent by 2020 also promises a lot,” he said.

The coastal traffic potential through the non-major ports in Kerala is estimated to be 4.64 million during 2012-14 and 7 million by 2019-2020, according to Minister for Ports K Babu. “This target is proposed to be achieved using a three-pronged strategy: modern infrastructure, incentives and institution building,” he said.

According to officials, the coastal shipping fleet in India accounts for less than 10 per cent of tonnage and it is still in its infancy. There is a need for comprehensive coastal shipping policy framework and proactive role by various State governments to promote the sector, they said.

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