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TIN news:   After years of putting up with multiple procedures and documentations involved in export and import of goods through India’s seaports, the country’s maritime community is mustering its collective strength to lobby for a common information technology (IT) platform to facilitate ease of doing business at ports.
It’s an irony that Indian ports, which ship close to 90% of the country’s exports and imports by volume, have been very slow in adopting IT to ease paperwork and procedures involving multiple agencies despite its IT industry’s global stature.
In India, attempts so far at the automation of trade logistics business processes at ports had taken a silo approach rather than an integrated one.
As a result, it hardly made any impact on the export-import trade logistics processes.
The discussions in the maritime industry these days revolve around the urgent need to roll out a so-called pan-India port community system (PCS).
It is quite obvious that the lack of automation has started to bite all the stakeholders in the industry, be it the port/terminal operators, shipping lines, cargo owners, cargo consolidators, freight forwarders, shipping agents, and so on and so forth.
There are some 21 government departments involved in the export-import chain in some way or the other. It takes about 7-10 days—seven for exports and 10 for imports—for completing documentation in India, compared with four days in Germany. That is, if one is lucky. These agencies have different ways of interpreting procedures, leading to litigation that takes years to be decided.
Is it possible to integrate the requirements of different agencies and come up with a uniform procedure? Can we integrate the documentation requirements? Can we also bring in self-certification in this sector? Can we delegate some of these powers to the ports?
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s mantra on ease of doing business is giving the case the right momentum.
In 2007, India asked its 12 state-owned ports to roll out PCS without making compliance mandatory. So, those who wished to comply complied, while who didn’t wish to did not. And those who complied had their own procedures and policies; a little similar to each other, but definitely not a common platform.
It was also not extended to non-major ports that are outside the control of the Indian government.
Again, PCS was driven the wrong way.
Primarily, it was an electronic data interchange, or EDI, platform to exchange messages. But PCS in the global context is vastly different from EDI. It is a neutral and open electronic platform to automate and manage all trade logistics business processes. It has more to do with business process automation and change management than just exchanging data.
It’s not that ports don’t want to invest in technology. The perception among port management is that a technology that works across the world may not work in India due to customs barriers. There are many issues that don’t allow them even to evaluate the technology.
Take a simple thing like payments. Today, anybody can go to a Flipkart, Amazon or Myntra, and easily get access to an e-payment gateway where they can go and make payments for purchases. But for a port charge and customs duty, that provision is not there. So, today, as far as ease of doing business at ports is concerned, everyone is equally bad, be it the major ports (those owned by the Union government) or the non-major ports. If India wants to be a transport and logistics hub, it has no choice but to automate logistics.
Once India signs up for the World Trade Organization (WTO) Trade Facilitation Agreement, which seeks to streamline customs rules and procedures across member-nations and reduce transaction costs by expediting trade flows, a common platform is a pre-requisite to scale up to international standards.
India’s shipping minister Nitin Gadkari has been harping on the benefits of making ports suitable for bigger ships to call, in a bid to reduce high logistics costs that have dented the competitiveness of the manufacturing sector.
Hence, embracing a standardized technology to automate trade logistics business processes is not an option for India any more.
And, for that, a PCS is a must-have.
The most telling comment on the critical role of technology in port operations was made by Adarsh Hegde, executive director at AllCargo Logistics Ltd. The lack of technology adoption, Hegde says, will lead to the destruction of India’s trade logistics. “It can take away everything… even our lunch and dinner. A common platform where all port users can log on to and conduct business will improve efficiency of all the stakeholders.”

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