A ‘One Nation, One Port’ idea is slowly taking shape with the Centre drafting an Indian Ports Bill to replace the Indian Ports Act 1908 that will give it sweeping powers to “regulate and control” ports which are in the concurrent list of the Constitution.
Coastal States, which have been aggressively pursuing development of ports under their jurisdiction, are expected to balk at the plan that will dilute their freedom over this key infrastructure sector, port industry sources said.
The draft Bill will blur the distinction between major ports (owned by the Centre) and non-major ports (owned by the States) as private investors have been preferring the latter for putting their money due to lighter regulations and liberal terms, particularly on rates.
Formation of regulator
Central to this idea is the formation of a Maritime Port Regulator Authority comprising a chairperson and two members, all full-time, nominated by the Centre and two part-time members nominated by coastal states.
It will be tasked with advising the Centre and State governments on drafting and implementing a National Port Policy and Plan for sustainable port development, formulating short-term and perspective plans for the ports sector, regulate the functioning and practices of scheduled ports and co-ordinate the activities of planning agencies for optimal utilisation of the coastline, according to the Bill drafted by the Centre.
It will make recommendations, either suo moto or on a request, on the necessity, feasibility and viability of new and/or existing ports, suggest steps to promote investment, facilitate competition, promote efficiency in port operations and facilitate growth of the ports sector.
It can review the draft of concession agreements and advise the State Maritime Boards on whether the terms are incompatible with the promotion of competition, may amount to an anti-competitive practice or may result in an abuse of dominant position.
It will be empowered to register scheduled ports and renew, withdraw, suspend or cancel such registrations by maintaining a Maritime Ports Register.
The Authority will specify the model terms and conditions for different types of contracts related to operations and services of scheduled ports, including those contracted out to third parties.
It can pass order to bundle any number of ports (excluding major ports) in the State into a single port and monitor the performance of scheduled ports and give directions.
It can conduct periodical studies and performance audits of the scheduled ports.
The Authority can make regulations or guidelines or directions which shall be binding on the ports, its operators, service providers and State Maritime Boards.
Based on the recommendations of the Authority, the Government has the power to declare a port (called scheduled port) and define the port limits and extend or withdraw the law to/from any port.
The planned law also confers powers on the Centre to alter the port limits of a scheduled port by uniting such port with any other port or any part of any other port.
The Centre will also have the powers to declare or describe the precise distance between two scheduled ports or the precise extent of such limits.
The Centre will consult the Maritime Port Regulatory Authority before notifying a new port or altering the port limits of scheduled ports.
While giving its recommendation, the Authority shall consider the minimum distance from existing ports, investment made in existing ports and such other factors.
The Authority will seek comments from the coastal state governments in this task and its recommendations will be binding on the Centre.
The new act will also allow for deletion of scheduled ports for violating the law or for lack of feasibility.
Source: The Hindu Business Line