EDITORIAL: Reduce red tape

The government has done precious little to make good use of Vizag port that opened for Nepali traders two years ago

One of the key developments of KP Oli’s visit to India during his earlier stint as the prime minister in February 2016 was signing of the letter of exchanges for the operationalisation of Visakhapatnam (Vizag) port as an alternative gateway port in India for Nepal’s third-country trade. Negotiations were held for years for India to allow Nepali traders to use the port in Andhra Pradesh to import goods from third countries. The port finally opened for Nepali business in October 2016. Nepal otherwise had been using the Kolkata for its third-country trade, but traders were suffering largely due to lack of adequate rail movement to Nepal, which would result in high detention and demurrage charges. Hence, opening of the Vizag port was expected to facilitate Nepal’s third-country trade. A new port in India for Nepali business meant availability of two ports for Nepal’s third-country trade. But reports of 1,800 containers being stuck at Vizag port tell a different story.

There seems to be some gross negligence on the part of traders as well as the government when it comes to effective utilisation of the Vizag port. Some of the containers are said to be stuck at Vizag for several months. The reason sounds a bit bizarre – the validity of letter of credit (L/C) expired due to “delay in forwarding import documents” from the Embassy of Nepal in New Delhi. As though that was not enough, the embassy had forwarded the import documents through private e-mail accounts. The port customs refused to accept, demanding that the documents be forwarded through official e-mail, and rightly so. The Embassy of Nepal in Delhi has been dealing with the customs clearance process of the Nepal-bound cargoes in Vizag, for Nepal does not have its consulate or liaison office there. Traders (importers) too need to share some blame, as they are learnt to have been placing orders from their suppliers to ship the cargoes to Vizag while delaying the process to open L/C, resulting in the pile-up of containers.

Vizag port is a great example of how the government as well as Nepali beneficiaries themselves, the traders or importers in this case, fail to effectively make good use of something which is at their disposal. It appears that the red tape on the Nepali side is holding up Nepal-bound containers at Vizag. The current paper work is a bit lengthy. After traders forward payment certificates and L/C documents to the Embassy of Nepal in Delhi, the embassy verifies it with Nepal Rastra Bank before forwarding them to port customs. By the time the shipments arrive at Vizag port, the validity of L/C expires. The result: containers languish at the port. This is not the first time Nepal-bound containers are stuck at the Vizag port. Despite traders facing problems time and again, the government has done precious little to address them. If effective utilisation of the Vizag port has been hampered due to lack of a consulate or a liaison office, then the government should establish it. The concerned authorities need to reduce the red tape to ensure effective utilisation of the Indian port and smooth movement of cargoes.

Work in tandem

Stakeholders and concerned agencies have stressed the need for an inter-ministerial coordination mechanism to address overall migration governance issues in the country. Currently, the Department of Immigration functions under the Ministry of Home Affairs which is tasked with monitoring, controlling and regulating entry, exit and stay of immigrants. The Department of Foreign Employment which is under the Ministry of Labour, Employment and Social Security maintains data on regular migrants abroad. The Department of Consular Services functioning under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs deals with diaspora-related matters.

All these departments can be brought together to provide effective services from a single window. They work in similar nature and have to deal with a range of migration and immigration management issues. The stakeholders have stressed the need to form a joint mechanism as per the findings of Migration Governance Indicators Assessment with support from International Organisation for Migration. The finding has recommended for aligning and raising standards of the departments, putting in place necessary structure and developing national programme to mange labour migration and labour demand in international market.