JNPT truckers end two-day protest, but backlogs persist

JNPT truckers end two-day protest, but backlogs persist

Though truckers at India’s JNPT ended their protest after about 48 hours, it will take a few days for the resulting backlogs to ease. Photo credit: Nhava Sheva Container Operators

Truckers at Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust (JNPT) have ended a two-day protest that ground over-the-road freight movement to a near halt and crimped cargo liftings at India’s busiest container gateway.

Truck owners late Saturday agreed to resume freight hauling after a meeting with port leaders and local traffic regulatory officials. Trade sources in the public harbor told JOC.com authorities promised to resolve the truckers’ concerns regarding road infrastructure and new regulatory measures more expeditiously.

A shipping line official said it could take a few days for carriers and terminals to clear up export-import backlogs built up during the stoppage, which truckers called a “non-cooperation movement.”

Efforts to reach DP World Nhava Sheva, APM Terminals Mumbai, and PSA India for gate productivity updates were unsuccessful.

Freight delays will likely cause a further dent in throughput at JNPT, where combined volumes in September fell to the lowest level this fiscal year at 400,367 TEU, down nearly 8 percent from August and 7 percent from September 2018, new port data showed. As a result, the pace of growth at the country’s premier port has slowed in the first half of the fiscal year, up 2 percent year over year to 2.57 million TEU.

A Saturday advisory from the Brihanmumbai Custom Brokers Association (BCBA) warning cargo owners of delays in the aftermath of the protest reflected that underlying pressure. “The situation is beyond our members’ control and our members have [a] limited role to play and should not be held responsible for the delay in [the] clearance of [export-import] shipments,” BCBA said in its notice. The group represents the majority of traditional freight brokers serving JNPT.

Protest could crimp productivity targets in short term

The disruption came at a time when the port authority and other stakeholders were preparing to meet greater productivity target challenges as part of a larger government program to further enhance the country’s “trading-across-the-border” competitiveness.

JNPT handles the bulk of India’s containerized freight, with fiscal year 2018-19 throughput reaching an all-time high of 5.13 million TEU. With ample handling capacity following the opening of a 2.4 million-TEU terminal by PSA International in February last year, the port needs to target newer cargo opportunities and simultaneously fend off aggressive efforts by the nearby Adani Group-owned Mundra port to poach its business.

At the same time, a new broader inter-terminal rail arrangement that came into effect Aug. 1 seems to have given a shot in the arm for JNPT’s battered truck-to-train freight conversion efforts. The port’s combined inland movement by rail hit a new high in September, at 16.7 percent, up from 16.4 percent in August and 15.3 percent in September 2018, according to a JOC.com analysis of the latest port data.

Bency Mathew can be contacted at bencyvmathew@gmail.com.