The Gujarat Maritime Board (GMB) — an autonomous body that controls and manages ports within the state’s boundary and among the oldest such bodies in the country — has sought changes in the Indian Ports Bill 2020, the draft of which was circulated to states earlier this year seeking opinion.
It has claimed that certain provisions in the Bill are not in Gujarat’s interest and tramples over powers and functions of GMB, “rendering it almost redundant”. In its response to the Centre, the Gujarat government has said that the new rules should be applied only “after consulting” the state martime boards.
The Government of India in the draft Bill circulated among the states, points out, “Some coastal states have responded to the need for development of their respective ports by inter-alia, constituting state maritime boards for port administration, control, planning and management through their own legislations. However, there are significant variations in the state laws regarding constitution and functions of their respective state maritime boards.”
It adds, “There is also a need for coordination between the Union and the states and among states,… to enable overall structured and rapid development of the port sector… Several measures for conservation of ports and safety and security of ports, are needed to meet the mandatory obligations under maritime treaties and international instruments to which India is a party, in national interest.”
The draft Bill also states that “the unstructured or unplanned growth is considered a risk for future investments. Structured planning in the port sector is required to protect the interest of private participants and encourage their investments in this sector.”
A senior state government official from the ports and transport department told The Indian Express, “As the same party is in power in both the state and at the Centre, Gujarat has not strongly opposed the draft Bill. But it seems the powers of the state government and the Gujarat Maritime Board are being severely restricted.”
The draft Indian Ports Bill 2020 that seeks to repeal the existing Indian Ports Act, 1908, also proposes to constitute a central Maritime Port Regulatory Authority that will regulate state maritime boards and scheduled ports. For disputes and new ports, the respective state maritime board will have to take permission from the central authority.
“If you want to improve the ease of doing business, then centralising decision making process will not help. We already have a maritime board Act and our maritime board is one of the oldest. We already have our concession agreements with existing private ports and that should be protected. The Centre has been urged to study the Gujarat Maritime Board Act to ensure that the powers of GMB are protected,” the official from Gujarat added.
At present, GMB is the sole decision making body of the state government with regard to port related activities.
The proposed Bill seeks to empower the new maritime port regulatory authority with the power to decide on alteration of port limits of even the existing ports. The Gujarat government has objected to this move saying that all decisions for alteration of port limits are taken by GMB for minor ports and any alteration of “port limits of exisiting ports if undertaken, may not be conducive to the interest of Gujarat and may contradict contractual obligations that GMB and state government have with port operators”.
Under the proposed legislation, GMB or the Gujarat government will also have to approach the national authority for developing a new port in the state. In its reply to the Centre, GMB stated that “state maritime boards ought to be actively consulted by the authority, since the state maritime boards would have better understanding of need for development of new ports feasibility and viability of existing ports”.
GMB is the statutory body of Government of Gujarat which is responsible for management, control and administration of 44 ports in Gujarat state. These non-major ports in the state handle over 30 per cent of India’s cargo. Apart from private ports like Mundra, Pipavav and Hazira where GMB acts as a regulator, there are many GMB-owned ports such as Navlakhi, Bedi and Magdalla, which stand out in cargo handling.
The Gujarat government official quoted the draft as also mandating that any new port development proposed by the state government be either part of the national port plan or have the prior approval of this authority. “We thought these were regressive steps,” said the official adding that GMB has proposed that it should be consulted while formulating the National Port Policy and Plan under the proposed Bill.
“Gujarat already has rules in place for its port operations, ship recycling operations, etc. New rules that may modify the existing mechanism, should be framed only after consulting the state maritime boards,” the reply from GMB stated.
Regarding the proposal in the Bill to induct representatives into the Gujarat Maritime Board, the government body has stated, “The appointment of members of the Board shall be decided by the state government. The constitution and terms of appointment of existing board members of state maritime boards such as GMB should not be altered after the enactment of the new Act…”
Fearing curtailment of its existing powers, GMB has requested the Centre to ensure that its powers and functions remain unaffected by the proposed legislation. “In as much as GMB is concerned, the Gujarat Maritime Board Act, 1981 prescribes a detailed mechanism for governance and custodianship of state’s coastal assets. These pre-existing powers and functions must essentially remain unaffected by the enactment of the Bill,” GMB states in its reply.
This Draft Indian Ports Bill 2020 comes after the Centre’s decision to constitute a National Authority of Ship Recycling based in Gandhinagar. This authority is also expected to adversely impact the autonomy of GMB over the ship recycling yard at Alang in Gujarat.