EDITORIAL: Clear the decks

Disruption in the flow of cargo containers through Kolkata port is therefore a matter of high sensitivity for Nepal

Over 1,800 Nepal-bound cargo containers are reported to be stuck at Kolkata port after the Kolkata Police prevented them from being released during the daytime since last month, citing traffic problems at the Khidirpur dock, a residential area near the port.

Almost all goods shipped to Nepal from third countries come via Kolkata port as landlocked Nepal has only that port available for its imports and exports other than by air route.

Kolkata port is considered relatively small and narrow and is very busy and thus congested. Kolkata port is a vital lifeline for Nepal. Even a partial stoppage of the flow of goods from there reduces the supply of the items concerned in Nepal, probably affecting their prices and economic activity here.

But for India, Kolkata port is only one of the various ports. Because of this, goods bound for Nepal or exported by it to third countries through Kolkata port should logically and fairly be accorded the highest priority.

Such disruptions at Kolkata port affecting Nepal are not rare happenings. But these certainly increase the cost and time of trade spent in transit.

Time for loading and unloading of containers has been much reduced as the hours available now for this job are between 8pm and 4am.

According to the Nepal Freight Forwarders’ Association (NEFFA), 950 containers handed over to the Container Corporation (CONCOR), a subsidiary of Indian Railways, which transports Nepal-bound cargoes, have been stuck at private container freight stations.

A similar situation had arisen when supply lines from and through India were obstructed last year, leading to the piling up of containers at Kolkata. When the new rule is lifted is uncertain and therefore the partial disruption seems to continue indefinitely for Nepal.

Stuck containers also mean other things. It takes a longer period to receive cargo containers at Nepal’s border points; for example, since the new rule was imposed, it took over a month to receive cargo containers at the Inland Clearance Depot (ICD) at Birgunj, the country’s only rail-linked ICD after they had been delivered at Kolkata port, according to NEFFA officials.

It also means that there will be a delay for the Nepali traders and freight forwarders in returning shipping line containers within the given time.

If the time-limit is exceeded, traders will have to pay from US$80 to US$120 per day for holding containers. Delay in releasing the cargo containers from Kolkata port also means that traders and freight forwarders carry their containers to private container freight stations (CFS’s) which charge high parking fees.

Disruption in the flow of cargo containers through Kolkata port is therefore a matter of high sensitivity for Nepal. The Indian authorities should demonstrate the required level of seriousness and promptness in resolving such problems for Nepal. Such situations should not be allowed to arise in the first place.

On the part of the Nepalese authorities who also from time to time fail to act with the needed sense of urgency and effectiveness, they must take the matter with the Indian authorities at various levels to end this costly disruption and prevent such problems from arising in the future.

Road expansion

It is taking an inordinately long time to expedite the road expansion projects in the capital city. The Department of Roads have finally come up with a scheme in order to facilitate the expansion project, by among other things, relocating electricity and telephone lines as well as drinking water and sewage pipes attributed for the delay.

The Central Regional Road Directorate is to request an emergency budget from the Ministry of Finance. It is submitting the detailed estimated cost. The request would be submitted to the cabinet for approval. There are many bodies involved in the road expansion projects and a consensus is being sought.

These organizations include the Department of Roads, Kathmandu Valley Development Authority and the Kathmandu Metropolitan City.

Although the deadline has been set for the completion of expansion of some roads it is unlikely that they will be able to complete the task in the given time. The construction works so far are slow.

We need to work faster in order to complete the road expansion projects timely. The stakeholders need to work in cohesion so that these projects are completed as soon as possible.