Kathmandu, February 11
Following the lukewarm response from traders and shipping liners to carry out third-country trade via Visakhapatnam Port, also called Vizag, the government is eyeing another high-sea port of India, which is close to the Kolkata/Haldia port and at a shorter distance from Nepal as compared to Vizag.
A team led by Secretary of the Ministry of Commerce, Chandra Kumar Ghimire, Joint Secretary Ravi Shanker Sainju and Executive Director of Nepal Intermodal Transport Development Board, Laxman Bahadur Basnet, is in the southern neighbour on a week-long visit to observe a few other sea ports that could be more convenient to carry out third-country trade.
The team has found that the Dhamra port in Odisha state is a convenient high-sea port to carry out third-country trade. As the Nepal-India intergovernmental committee (IGC) meeting, popularly known as commerce secretary level talks, is approaching, Nepal may propose to the Indian side to provide another gateway for third-country trade, which is Dhamra port, according to sources.
Dhamra port is a private sector managed port of India and is more efficient compared to Kolkata/Haldia port. The government had initially believed that the traffic of Nepal-bound cargo that is at present concentrated in Kolkata/Haldia would be diverted to Vizag. However, Vizag has not been able to attract traders and shipping liners as believed earlier despite the hassles and unforeseen costs like detention and demurrage charges of shipping line containers in Kolkata.
Kolkata is a riverine port and it can only serve feeder vessels. The cargo needs to be transshipped to feeder vessels from mother vessels in Singapore, which raises the ocean freight cost and there are other additional costs involved due to lack of predictability of delivery of Nepal-bound cargo from Kolkata port. These hassles push up the cost of third-country trade of Nepal, which is considered one of the major obstacles for industrialisation in the country as cost of the raw materials imported and intermediate goods (for value addition) is high.
Predictability of delivery of Nepal-bound cargo from Kolkata is a far-fetched dream for Nepal as the traffic in Kolkata is growing considerably in recent years and the city police allow trucks to ferry cargo containers from the port to Majerhat (MJT) railway station — cargo train departure station — only in the night.
Likewise, congestion at Kolkata port has been adversely affecting Nepali traders as containers pile up there for long due to lack of adequate rail movement to Nepal.
Against this backdrop, the government is looking for other convenient high-sea ports in India. Nepal will be organising the IGC meeting probably in March, which could be deferred if the formation of the new government in Nepal is delayed, in Pokhara andDhamra port will be a priority agenda of Nepal.
Dhamra port is 324 km from Kolkata. The Kolkata port in West Bengal is at a distance of 704 kilometres from Birgunj, where country’s only rail linked dry port is located. In this regard, distance between Dhamraport to Birgunj is 1,028 km, whereas Vizag port lies in Andhra Pradesh of India and is 1,436 kilometres from Birgunj.
A version of this article appears in print on February 12, 2018 of The Himalayan Times.