The revised draft Indian Ports Bill, 2022, in the present form, will stifle state-specific initiatives by imposing a centralised regulatory regime on non-major ports, Tamil Nadu chief minister MK Stalin said on Thursday.
Strongly objecting to other centralising provisions in the draft bill that he said encroaches upon the powers of the maritime states/maritime state boards, Stalin said, “The Indian port sector needs less centralisation and less regulation, not more.”
In a letter addressed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a copy of which was made available to the media here, he sought Modi’s “kind intervention to ensure continued growth of non-major ports by increasing the ease of doing business with minimum government and maximum governance”.
On the long-term impact of the revised bill’s intent to centralise and regulate the sector now administered by state governments, Stalin said, “Even though some of the suggestions from maritime states and other stakeholders have been accommodated, I am afraid the revised draft bill still largely continues to ignore international and domestic experience that ports are best managed by local and regional governments.”
Growth trajectory of India’s port sector clearly shows that non-major ports managed by maritime states have grown faster than the major ports under the union government. This was because the maritime states facilitated the growth of non-major ports through private investments and business-friendly policies. Many such states, especially Gujarat, Tamil Nadu and Andhra pioneered such facilitatory development of minor ports and have contributed to an increasing share of maritime cargo handling, he claimed.
“I wish to point out that this draft bill will stifle such state-specific initiatives by imposing a centralised regulatory regime on non-major ports,” the chief minister said.
The most significant change is the attempt to make the Maritime State Development Council (MSDC) a regulatory body for minor ports. Currently, it is only an advisory body and converting it into a regulatory body with permanent staff will surely encroach upon the powers of States, he said.
“This may end up choking the future development of minor ports,” he said. In addition, the proposed composition of the MSDC, with five secretaries and one joint secretary to the government of India, along with the administrators of the coastal UTs, as members is inappropriate as it excludes the secretaries in charge of ports in the maritime States/UTs, the Chief Minister argued.
Like the GST Council, the MSDC must continue only as an advisory body with the Ministers concerned of the Union and the Maritime States / UTs as members and officers should only be special invitees.
“We also strongly object to other centralising provisions in the draft Bill that encroach upon the powers of the maritime States / Maritime State Boards,” he said. The proposal to make amendments to these Acts by State Legislatures based only on the recommendations of the Centre or MSDC would make the legislative process dysfunctional. Also, the appellate powers against the orders of the State Maritime Boards currently lie with the respective States. However, as per the draft Bill, this power will go to the Appellate Tribunal which has been constituted by the Centre for the major ports. This would affect the powers of the States to deal with disputes on their own. Hence, considering the above reasons, Chapters II and III of the draft Bill relating to MSDC should be deleted entirely and MSDC should continue to remain as an apex advisory body. “I also request that Chapter V relating to the State Maritime Boards be deleted entirely,” he urged.