Five years ago, (the year ended March 1996), the Mumbai port had a peak surplus of Rs. 268 crores, which gradually slid to 48 crores in 1999-2000 -- when the port handled a traffic of 34 million tonnes.
Mumbai Port today employs around 30,000 workers to handle 30 million tonnes of cargo. More than half of it is liquid cargo, the handling of which is fully mechanised. In contrast, the neighboring JNPT employs 3,000 workers to handle 14 million tonnes of cargo. Mumbai Port has one of the highest manning scales among all the ports, and an internal study has identified 14,000 employees to be made redundant.
The state of affairs at Mumbai Port is testimony to the utter lack of vision and strategy on the part of those responsible for the management and development of the country's ports. Secretary to the Surface Transport Ministry, Mr. R. Vasudevan, called fo r a rethinking of the national port development strategy. At a recent gathering of port managers and users, he highlighted the need for a new style of dialogue between labour and port management.
The Government is eager to create additional port capacity in the private sector. It is estimated that by the end of the Ninth Plan, the country needs port facilities to handle 424 million tonnes of cargo, of which 45 million tonnes will be handled by mi nor ports. So far, 15 projects, aggregating 57.30 million tonnes, with an estimated investment of Rs. 4,736 crores, have been approved and another eight projects, involving 34.90 million tonnes, are in the pipeline.
Even now, the port's management does not appear to be worried about the situation. The management lacks the approach and attitude of a commercial organisation, which is crucial to face private sector competition. Time is running out for Mumbai. The port management and workers unions should work out a time-bound strategy to save the port from sinking. The Surface Transport Ministry should also play its part well.