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Calcutta 1981

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Jean Racine

Session 2. A. A Metropolis in Crisis

Addendum C. The Port Crisis

Jean Racine

Texte intégral

1The verdict given by the figures is clear. In 1977-78, with 7.5 Mt. the traffic in Calcutta port, although enlarged by the new installations of Haldia, was much less than the traffic in 1964-65 (11 Mt., of which 5 Mt. was for export).

  • 1 This note has been prepared from the documents provided by the Port Trust of Calcutta and from a s (...)

2This means an absolute decline —a port in crisis. However, from 1980 onwards the figures show a certain progress. How can we account for this? What does this crisis signify for a metropolitan city which emerged and developed precisely because it was a port? What can we expect from the operation for survival undertaken, and the present tendency to recovery?1

HANDICAPS

3Calcutta is a fluvial port: this is the essential point. Located 232 kms from the Sandheads (on the mouth of the Hooghly), Calcutta could receive all sea vessels till the sixties. This is not the case today. Kidderpore docks were completed in 1893, and are open to ships no more than 157 m long; Netaji Subhas docks, completed in 1928, receive ships 172 m long, the maximum draught of water oscillating according to the seasons between 6.7 m and 8.7 m. And yet, one has to resort to constant piloting to sail up a channel blocked by sand banks moving down stream during seasons, sometimes quite suddenly. The reduced flow in the Hooghly adds to the problems, and necessitates, more than ever, the constant dredging of the channel. The result is that the ships of 7.8 m draught of water can reach Calcutta on an average of only 50 days per year. On the other hand, Bombay, Cochin, Madras, Vishakapatnam are sea ports. Bombay or Madras may be overcrowded— particularly Bombay —but this is not a decisive handicap. In Calcutta ships loose many days in going up and down the Hooghly. Being a fluvial port, it is unfavourable to Calcutta both in regard to tonnages and in the duration of transit in its competition with its rivals.

4The condition of the channel is not however the main impediment for the duration of transit. In 1981 one had to allow an average of 18 days to rotation from Sandheads to Sandheads. Of this, only four or five days were for navigation. The Port of Calcutta has added its own handicaps to those of the river: a very low productivity —one of the lowest in the world in this field: 36,000 salaried employees of all categories for a traffic of less than 8 Mt. in 1975; 14 trade unions, each of which (dockers, dock-keepers, boatmen, warehousemen, etc.) when paralysing one section, paralyses the port. In 1979, owing to four large strikes, the activity of the port was stopped or slackened for 120 days. This low productivity causes a rise in the costs. In May 1980, a ship remained for an average of 14 days in the port of Calcutta as against 8 or 9 days in Bombay or 6 to 7 days in Madras. Exporters or ship-owners therefore try to avoid Calcutta.

5Poor natural conditions that cannot cope with the general increase in tonnage of world fleet, low productivity, mounting costs, regional economic crisis are the many handicaps which today make Calcutta port under-utilized by two-thirds (potentiality of the installations of the port of Calcutta, without Haldia: 12.5 Mt; traffic in 1980-81: 4 Mt). It is a vicious circle: under-utilized equipment costs more and the efficiency of the port is thereby affected.

TACKLING THE PORT CRISIS

6To save the port of Calcutta from an irremediable decline, the Government of India intervened on two fronts, up and down the port.

Upstream: Farakka Dam

7To provide a better flow of water in the Hooghly, particularly in the dry season, India has constructed on the Ganges, 20 km from the Bangladesh border, the Farakka Dam, completed in 1975. Its object is to maintain by a derivation of the water from a major branch into the Hooghly, a minimum of 1130m3/s required by the port of Calcutta, while guaranteeing to Bangladesh at least 80% of the water flowing in the Ganges in the dry season. This condition has been respected. But the flow has lessened in the course of the years. The pressure from Bangladesh has induced Delhi to reduce the Hooghly's share to 450 m3/s. It was increased only to 588 m3/s in 1977. This frustrates Calcutta, without pleasing Dhaka. It seems that the operation, though an incorrect evaluation of the flow of the Ganges waters, did not satisfy anybody nor guaranteed the future well-being of the port of Calcutta.

Plate 10: THE HOOGHLY

Plate 10: THE HOOGHLY

1. A wide river, which cuts the Metropolis in two elongated halves. The huge bridge linking Howrah to Calcutta is one of the rare points in the entire metropoli* where vehicles can cross the river.

2. The port. A cargo in the Kidderpore docks is surrounded with the traditionel riverboats of the Bengal bargemen.

Fig. C.1. The Lower Hooghly

Fig. C.2. Calcutta Port

Downstream: Haldia, estuarine port

8An attempt to support the flow in the Hooghly during the summer was not sufficient. The necessity of an outer harbour in deeper water was evident Haldia was the choice.

  • 2 The situation of the Port of Calcutta was so bad at the end of seventies, that the Central Governm (...)

9Built about 100 km downstream from Calcutta, Haldia seems to be the outcome of a half-measure. From its position, Haldia, an appendage to the port of Calcutta, managed by the Calcutta Port Trust, is at a disadvantage both because of its distance from the town, owing to poor road and rail connections, and also from the sea (128 kms). Haldia is an estuarine port in deeper water than Calcutta, but is accessible only by piloting. A petroleum port from its very beginning in 1968 (it has a small refinery), Haldia was the first Indian port equipped with a terminal especially designed for containers. A deep-water dock also receives ores, cements, fertilizers, coal, and the new town with an industrial base is expected to grow (21,000 inhabitants in 198l)2. At present, 81,000 DWT tankers can berth at the oil jetties. A costly control project at the mouth of Hoogly aims at keeping open a channel which can take bigger ships with a draught of 10 metres. In spite of its limitations, Haldia is not a failure and its traffic is heavier than that of Calcutta port by about a million tons (1981-1982: Haldia 5.48 Mt, Calcutta 4.45 Mt). Much is yet to be done, however, if the Calcutta-Haldia harbour complex is to match the metropolis of 10 million inhabitants.

Table C.1: Recent progress in Calcutta Port

Table C.1: Recent progress in Calcutta Port

Source: Performance of the Port for the last three years. Calcutta Port Trust 1982.

Fig. C.3. Yearly cargo traffic of the Calcutta Port 1950-1951 to 1981-1982

Fig. C.4. Commodities handled at the Calcutta port 1950-1951 to 1981-1982

WHAT IS IN FUTURE?

10The figures have underlined the port crisis, they show today a real progress: an increased productivity, more ships and an accrued traffic (Table C.1).

11A positive trend, indeed. But is it not just a temporary improvement due, to the good management by the team presently in office, which helped largely to increase productivity by meeting every week with the trade union representatives?

12A better management, modernization of its equipment, the extension of Haldia, are sine qua non conditions for the recovery of Calcutta port. But they are not sufficient. Even surmounting the problem of low waters in the Hooghly will not be enough. The crisis of the port results evidently from the crisis of the city, and from the crisis of the regional economy as a whole. The port is indeed less important for the city now than before for several reasons (riverine and Coastal navigation are not so important any longer; direct connections with the Damodar industrial node are made by rail and road). Nevertheless, its decline testifies to the industrial Stagnation affecting West Bengal, and to the backwardness of agriculture (the import of fertilizers could be higher). More and more, rival ports are competing with Calcutta on the edges of its hinterland: Vishakapatnam in the South, Bombay in the West, Paradip for the ores of Orissa. However, whatever its severe handicaps might be, the Calcutta-Haldia port is still the only means of reaching the heart of an hinterland of some 150 million inhabitants. And that is the trump card of Calcutta port. A dynamic and prosperous metropolis would find the money required for connecting Haldia and Calcutta more effectively, and for opening a deep and safe channel in the Hooghly, up to Kidderpore. But how to accomplish it?

13In this respect, the port crisis and the actions taken to tide it over are, like the urban cirsis, indeed the mirrar of Calcutta and of eastern India of today: the mirrar of their difficult legacy and uncertain, but not condemmed, future.

Bibliographie

REFERENCES

Mukherjee, N., The Port of Calcutta. A Short History, Commissioners of the Port of Calcutta, 1968.

Bagchi K.G., (ed.), The Bhagirathi-Hooghly Basin, Calcutta, University of Calcutta,. 1972. Especially the following articles:
- Banerjee, B.N., "Navigation in a tidal river with particular reference to river Hooghly", pp.154-167.
- Mistry, R.E., "Navigation problems and hazards in the Port of Calcutta", pp.168-173.
- Ghosh, H.P., "History, development and problems of dredging in the River Hooghly", pp. 174-189.

Capital.Calcutta Port Special, Calcutta, 15.2.1982.

Calcutta Port Trust, The Port of Calcutta, Calcutta, 1982

Guha, S., Chopra, K.K., Guita, A.K., "Calcutta Port, its traffic and infrastructure 1983-2001". Cyclostyled paper, presented for the Seminar on Economy and Employment in Calcutta Metropolitan District organized by the CMDA on February 16 and 17,1983.

Notes de fin

1 This note has been prepared from the documents provided by the Port Trust of Calcutta and from a study published in Capital, dated February 15, 1982, entitled "Calcutta Port Special" (J.R.).

2 The situation of the Port of Calcutta was so bad at the end of seventies, that the Central Government thought of turning Haldia (but at what cost and for what results?) into an autonomous port. The project was still under consideration in 1982. For a map of Haldia Port, see Chapter 12.

Table des illustrations

Titre Plate 10: THE HOOGHLY
Légende 1. A wide river, which cuts the Metropolis in two elongated halves. The huge bridge linking Howrah to Calcutta is one of the rare points in the entire metropoli* where vehicles can cross the river.
URL http://books.openedition.org/ifp/docannexe/image/5281/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 234k
Légende 2. The port. A cargo in the Kidderpore docks is surrounded with the traditionel riverboats of the Bengal bargemen.
URL http://books.openedition.org/ifp/docannexe/image/5281/img-2.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 204k
Légende Fig. C.1. The Lower Hooghly
URL http://books.openedition.org/ifp/docannexe/image/5281/img-3.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 320k
Légende Fig. C.2. Calcutta Port
URL http://books.openedition.org/ifp/docannexe/image/5281/img-4.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 333k
Titre Table C.1: Recent progress in Calcutta Port
Légende Source: Performance of the Port for the last three years. Calcutta Port Trust 1982.
URL http://books.openedition.org/ifp/docannexe/image/5281/img-5.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 125k
Légende Fig. C.3. Yearly cargo traffic of the Calcutta Port 1950-1951 to 1981-1982
URL http://books.openedition.org/ifp/docannexe/image/5281/img-6.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 208k
Légende Fig. C.4. Commodities handled at the Calcutta port 1950-1951 to 1981-1982
URL http://books.openedition.org/ifp/docannexe/image/5281/img-7.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 158k

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