In your interest.
Online Personal Finance Magazine
No beating about the bush.
By some indications, this is a scam of larger proportions than the Commonwealth Games fiasco. Take a huge unnecessary project, inflate the costs, get your cronies to cover the inflated expenses by bringing in a private player like DP World in this case, and when the project obviously fails, cry wolf, and then get out
We had earlier reported (See: (See: Cochin Port Trust bats for DP World, LBW cabotage ) on how a one-sided contract between Cochin Port Trust and DP World Ports Vallarpadam Container Terminal, its tenant, had sparked off intense lobbying over cabotage rules. Now we dig a little deeper.
Nothing works better towards getting the truth than digging out the dirt by actually going onsite and sifting through the sediment as well as getting a first-hand grip on matters.
So when my reports on the whole Cochin Port Trust, DP World Ports Vallarpadam Terminal and ICTT (International Container Trans-shipment Terminal) at Kochi started doing the rounds (see link above) and were being quoted—amongst other places, at the Ministry of Shipping and elsewhere, I felt it was time to actually go down to Ground Zero and take a look.
Obviously, it is not easy to get an entry into such high-security areas, but then, where there is a will, there is a way, and the report was too important to be abandoned half-way just because the follow-up needed some solid hard work.
This was not really planned, it was supposed to just be a short detour in life to go back on a ship for a few months, but as things turned out, of all things, I found myself working on a ship, dredging the bottom of the sea right off the Vallarpadam Terminal in Kochi, at times just metres away from the jetty. And more importantly, working with people who knew every inside secret of what was really happening there, and the real games involved. But we get ahead of the report.
Go to Kerala today and talk to most anybody even remotely connected with shipping, and many of them will make it sound as though the removal of cabotage is the ultimate and only way to ensure the development of Kerala, every other logical argument or reason is put aside. And towards that, the reasoning trotted out is that the DP World's Vallarpadam Container Terminal's sheer survival is directly connected to Kerala's industrial development, and that in turn will not happen without cabotage being withdrawn. An issue of national importance and security is to be forsaken because, it is argued by those who push this in Kerala for their UAE-based masters, the commercial and technical importance of Vallarpadam is just too brilliant for the Nation.
That is the major flaw, but like the emperor who wore no clothes, nobody will tell the Chief Minister and his cohorts this. There are those, of course, who know the realities and are now beginning to come out. Speaking to some of them involved the usual "off-the-record" aspect, so, in this article, we present some simple facts, without attributing sources, but which can be easily re-verified.
a) The Vallarpadam Container Terminal even at its best-projected levels will simply not be feasible for 4th Generation and upwards container ships. Third generation container ships are midgets compared to the 6th Generation mainline container ships swinging past through Colombo on their East-West runs. These ships will not be able to enter the Cochin Harbour channel itself, leave alone the Port and the Vallarpadam terminal. A good explanation of the various generations of container ships is given here: http://people.hofstra.edu/geotrans/eng/ch3en/conc3en/containerships.html and you can see that even today, Panamax-sized 3rd Generation ships can hardly call Cochin Port. Still, to give the devil his due, to start with even a 3rd Generation container ship of the 3,000-4,000 TEU (twenty-foot equivalent unit) capacity level at Kochi is very welcome.
To break even, Vallarpadam will need to do between 3 million and 5 million TEUs per annum. As of now, it is doing about 0.3 million through 0.4 million TEUs. Where is this massive jump going to come from? Will shippers from the north suddenly lose interest in Gujarat ports and Mumbai/JNPT to come all the way to Kerala? Will those from the eastern parts abandon Chennai or Tuticorin (or Thoothukudi, as it is called now)? Here's a reality check—which ports are more customer-friendly, and have better rail linkages? The answers are there, clear to see.
b) The Vallarpadam Container Terminal is not going to be commercially feasible as a mainline container port for multiple reasons. For one, the hinterland is seeing development for a variety of reasons—none of which are really industrial—Kerala's economy is growing more due to tourism, remittances and some agriculture than any heavy industries. Sure, there is consumption, but one-way inbound traffic cannot sustain a mainline port—it has to be two-way.
And there is simply not much outward traffic. The terminal, even now, appears to be full of empty containers awaiting repositioning back to the north and west of India, or abroad.
c) Another myth is that Cochin Port is just 10 miles off the main sea-lanes. This would be true for coastal traffic or for ships hugging the Indian coast for whatever reason—mobile phone signal, piracy avoidance, or specifically heading for Indian ports or the Persian Gulf. But a fast container ship with high freeboards and guards on board would use what is called the 8-degree Channel, or other options, well south of Kochi by about 80 miles or even more if it were headed for Colombo, Singapore or Malaysia, to run what is called the "pendulum" between the Red Sea on one side and the Malacca Straits via Colombo on the other.
d) This is not substantiated because like in all things pertaining to shipping, the real numbers never seem to be emanate, but Colombo Port is supposed to be about 2.5 times as efficient in terms of speed of container handling and one-quarter of the price in terms of cost to shipping line, when compared to Cochin Port and its tariff structure.
In any case, the relationship between the corporate entities that operate Colombo Port and Cochin Port are deep to say the least, and they can easily play one off against the other if required. However, as of now, Colombo has dozens of cranes and over six deepwater jetties, while Cochin has only four cranes and two jetties-of which one jetty, the eastern one, is surrounded by extremely shallow water where the port appears to have now realised that the bottom is rock & shale, which will have to be cut out and then dredged. At a very high cost.
e) There has been constant dredging of silt going on for years in Kochi harbour now, and a short stint onboard one of these dredgers reveals that it would be a joke, if it were not for the fact that it is the taxpayer who is paying for this joke. Literally, these dredgers are in the hands of bandicoots and bedbugs, who simply transport some silt and more water from the port to the dumping ground about 10 miles outside, but probably in the interest of prolonging their engagement, are playing some really stupid games which consist of the same silt, sediment and water going in and out of the port. A bit too technical to explain—but you can imagine the process is akin to taking water from Cochin Port, dumping it into the Arabian Sea, and then coming back for more.
f) The side-effect of these silt- and water-movement games is what is known as the 'littoral' effect. This is impacting the beaches, and especially the strips near, for example, Fort Cochin and the famous fishing nets. These areas are being effected, as well as the beaches in and beyond the gut which leads to Vypeen (one of the islands that form part of the city of Kochi), and Fort Cochin. There is every chance that after the beaches, which have already been eroded, the next to go will be the beachfront properties themselves. Either that, or look for huge expense in building retaining walls, rising waters due to climate change adding to the complications.
g) Kochi Refineries Limited (KRL) realised this years ago, its report on this exists and was ignored by the powers-that-be when greedily swallowing the bait for Vallarpadam of heavy capital expense and all that went with it, and so it decided to move out of Cochin Port. Since it made for almost 90% of the revenue and movement, it was persuaded to stay back, and at a huge cost—a new tanker & gas terminal which could easily have been an offshore SBM (Single Buoy Mooring) anywhere along the coast, with deepwater, is coming up along the northern shore outside Kochi harbour. Needless to say, more dredging and port works, as well as deepening of the channel is going to be in order here too—when there were ample less environmentally-sensitive spots all along the Kerala coast which could have been made into deepwater ports for tankers and gas carriers, at much lower cost and disruption.
For some people I spoke to, the whole DP Ports/Vallarpadam Terminal is a scam of larger proportions than, for example, the CWG scam. Take a huge unnecessary project, inflate the costs, get your cronies to cover the inflated expenses by bringing in a private player like DP World in this case, and when the project obviously fails, cry wolf, and then get out.
Whether it is really a huge scam or not, time only will tell, but as of now, the taxpayer has largely paid the bill for a port terminal going nowhere.
The bets are out in Kochi, the money is on DP World likely abandoning the Vallarpadam project and leaving the Government of India with a huge bill paid for a terminal that is going nowhere, and continuous high-cost maintenance dredging at great environmental cost a side-effect. The whole noise about cabotage is just humbug dreamt up to divert real attention.
If anything, a full & proper enquiry should be done on how this
high-cost white elephant came into being in the first case. There is room for good Kerala cuisine in Tihar Jail, too.
In the next article, we will come up with a detailed analysis of the few numbers available for this project.
You might also want to read:
Why are overage ships with improper documents being chartered for Indian ports?
The regulation enforced by TRAI to curb pesky messages or calls sounds very good on paper. Unfortunately, the broad categorisation under which a subscriber can receive such SMS messages may be misused by telemarketers
Shakuntala Chavan was very happy that from 27th September onwards, no one would call or send an SMS to her and offer a free credit card, free ticket or home loan. However, as the regulation by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) came into force, Shakuntala is in a dilemma whether to opt for a blanket ban or partial ban on pesky calls and SMSs. Shakuntala's case is not an isolated one. Almost every mobile subscriber is facing the same Catch-22 situation.
If a subscriber opts for complete ban on all unsolicited commercial communication (UCC) or pesky or marketing calls and SMSs, he will even be barred from receiving alerts from his bank. In case he decides to allow his bank to send UCC, then there is no guarantee that other banks or institutions falling under this particular category would leave him alone.
Telemarketers and many companies, including e-commerce sites like Flipkart, have sent messages to their customers informing them that if they wish to stop or continue receiving updates, then they have to re-register to a category under which the website falls. Flipkart has asked its customers to send an SMS "START 5" or "STOP" to 1909, for the option of receiving or not receiving messages from it.
What is interesting is that the numeric '5' mentioned above belongs to the consumer goods and automobiles category. This also means that if you want to receive messages from Flipkart, then you need to keep your doors open to receive UCC from other companies, which fall in the same category as well. This is still okay, but in case of the numeric '1', subscribers do not seem to get a reprieve. The first category belongs to banking, insurance, financial products and credit cards. This means, if you want to receive messages from your bank then you need to be prepared to accept calls or messages for credit cards or insurance as well!
There are seven such categories. Accordingly, to stop or to continue getting SMSs for financial products, the number is '1' followed by or preceded by START or STOP respectively; it is '2' (with the same options) for real estate; '3' for education; '4' for health; '5' for consumer goods & automobiles; '6' for communications/ broadcasting and entertainment and '7' for tourism & leisure. The subscriber can also opt for a complete or blanket ban and would not receive any UCC in whatsoever form.
"I am a regular buyer from Flipkart. I always get the status of the payment made and the shipment from the company through SMS. And I wish to continue such a service. But if I allow consumer goods promotional messages to be received, I am sure everyone else along with Flipkart will flood my message box with unwanted offers," says Alok Kumar, salesperson (name and profession changed on request) with a consumer durables company.
Telecom service providers were supposed to have started sending detailed messages to their subscribers. However, users reported today that only Airtel has sent out such an informative message.
Surprisingly, many subscribers who tired to reply to such messages by giving a space between 'START' and '0', found that their request was not accepted. However, when the same message was sent without any space between 'START' and '0', it worked. Sudhir Badami, Mumbai-based transport expert, told Moneylife, "I noticed that these SMSs showed no space between 'START' and the number. I tried START0 (without a space) instead of START 0 tried at first. This worked."
Now how would an average user know that this is the case?
Subscribers also complain that they continue to get such unwanted promotional messages on their mobile phone, despite the TRAI diktat. "This morning I got three messages on various offers. Interestingly, the messages are with random numbers as subject lines, as compared to product names provided earlier," says P Jadhav, research analyst.
TRAI, following concerns raised by telecom lobby Cellular Operators' Association of India (COAI) on limiting the SMS entitlement to 100 per day, exempted various service providers today from this stipulation (See: TRAI clears SMS confusion; exempts certain services ). This includes dealers of telecom operators and DTH (direct-to-home) operators, e-ticketing agencies, social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, Orkut, LinkedIn and GooglePlus and directory services providers like Justdial, Zatse, Callezee, Getit and Askme, said TRAI in a notification issued on Tuesday.
Late evening on Tuesday, the telecom watchdog said that it is also planning to impose a five paise termination charge per SMS from 15th October on service providers on whose network commercial SMSs originate, to make it further difficult for those who broadcast millions of SMSs in a day.
"We are actively considering and we are likely to issue a regulation by 15th October to impose five paise termination charge on commercial SMS, and not on general SMS," TRAI chairman JS Sarma said at an event held at New Delhi.
A few operators charge up to 15 paise per SMS as termination fee on mutual agreements, but the same is not mandatory. The proposed TRAI directive will make it mandatory for all operators to charge termination fee for commercial SMSs, at least.
"We have issued a direction exempting certain categories from limitation of 100 SMSs per day. If genuine cases come to us, we will accept their request and exempt (them) from some clauses. People need to inform us," Mr Sarma told the media confirming TRAI's earlier directive today.
He added that on festival days there will be no limitation on the number of SMSs that can be send out from a single SIM. Meanwhile, the government today launched the 'Telecom Commercial Communications Customer Preference Regulation', which plans to give users across the country respite from pesky calls and SMSs. However, the implementation of these directives looks like a tough task for the regulator.
You may also want to read:
1) Telemarketers flood subscribers with messages before the implementation of new TRAI rule banning bulk SMS transmission
Making noise is a political statement just as speeding in a sports utility vehicle with number plates in local script. It is the “dare-you-stop-me” challenge which has to be countered by sticking to the rule book. People must not take this issue lying down. They must approach the environment secretaries in the respective state governments and also the secretary in the Ministry of Environment and Forests
In Maharashtra, efforts are on by the government through notification and to some degree follow up by the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB) to reduce noise levels during festivities such as the recently-concluded Ganesh immersion, Eid, Navaratri, Durga Puga immersion, Diwali, Christmas and New Year. A mild campaign starts, even by educating school children on the noise issue. There is a formal course on environment science in schools from the 5th Standard. Then why are our festivities noisy?
Noise Pollution (Regulation and Control) Rules, 2000 clearly categorises noise levels at four zones—residential, commercial, industrial and silence zones. The decibels (dB), the unit of measuring noise levels, for daytime and nighttime are specified—the nighttime levels are lower by 10 dB(A) generally and by 5 dB(A) for industrial areas. The noise rules specify that nighttime starts at 10PM and ends at 6AM. Rest of the time is daytime.
The noise rules themselves have undergone a change over the past 22 years. In the aftermath of the Bhopal Gas Tragedy in 1984, the Environment (Protection) Act was enacted in 1986, commonly known as the EP Act (1986). Noise was not addressed to any degree of detail until 1989 when World Health Organization (WHO) norms were adopted as studies showed that noise had health repercussions not limited to causing hearing impairment. This rule specified nighttime as 9PM to 7AM. Meanwhile, the police continued to treat noise as of a mere nuisance value and 11pm was specified by various forces as the start-time of night. With much gain in knowledge and requirements of our social norms and much Parliamentary debate and 'public consultation', the year 2000 saw the emergence of the Noise Pollution (Regulation and Control) Rules 2000, commonly known as Noise Rules 2000. This relaxed the 9PM to 7AM nighttime period and the redefined period was specified as 10PM to 6AM.
To ensure that peace prevailed to enable people to get restful sleep and the noise levels during the nighttime were kept within the specified limits, further restrictions were imposed on activities like blowing horns, playing noise-emanating musical instruments and using loudspeakers in unenclosed areas. These restrictions were valid for silence zones irrespective of day or nighttimes. The Rules also specified that an area not less than 100 metres from a hospital, educational institution, court or religious place falls under a silence zone.
The Rules 2000 underwent amendments to cater to some situations not anticipated at the time of finalisation. Some were getting stricter while one major concession or relaxation was introduced in the amendment on 11 October 2002. What that is, is best to quote the amendment: while the portions in normal font are of the original rules, the ones in italics were made in the 11 October 2002 amendment and the ones in bold were made in the 11 January 2010 amendment.
5. Restrictions on the use of loudspeakers/public address systems and Sound Producing Instruments.
(1) A loudspeaker or a public address system shall not be used except after obtaining written permission from the authority.
(2) A loudspeaker or a public address system or any sound-producing instrument or a musical instrument or a sound amplifier shall not be used at night time except in closed premises for communication within, e.g. auditoria, conference rooms, community halls, banquet halls or during public emergency.
(3) Notwithstanding anything contained in sub-rule (2), the State Government may subject to such terms and conditions as are necessary to reduce noise pollution, permit use of loudspeakers or public address systems and the like during night hours (between 10.00 p.m. to 12.00 midnight) on or during any cultural or religious festive occasion of a limited duration not exceeding fifteen days in all during a calendar year. The concerned State Government shall generally specify in advance, the number and particulars of the days on which such exemptions shall be operative.
(4) The noise level at the boundary of a public place, where loudspeakers or public address systems or any other noise source is being used shall not exceed 10 dB (A) above the ambient noise standards for the area or 75 dB (A), whichever is lower.
(5) The peripheral noise level of a privately owned sound system or a sound producing instrument, shall not, at the boundary of the private place, exceed by more than 5 dB (A) the ambient noise standards for the area in which it is being used.
[Complete Noise Pollution (Regulation and Control) Rules 2000 as amended up to the last amendment of 11 January 2010 can be accessed at https://sites.google.com/site/noiserelated/home/updated-noise-rule-2000-as-of-2010].
Having placed before you the background, one can now look at the politics of noise. Most contentious is the clause 5 (3) which grants permission to use loudspeakers etc., even during the night hours till 12 midnight. What is being forgotten is that it asks the state government to take all measures to keep noise levels low, i.e., within the stated limits.
The government has been sensitising Ganesh Mandals and social organisations and the police too have not been lagging behind. That is one of the reasons that one sees the loudspeakers not blaring and switched off at 10PM. If this has been the case, why did the four larger Ganesh Mandals in Pune not adhere to the 10PM shutting-off of the loudspeakers?
Going by the arguments put forth by the representatives of these Mandals, they feel that it is an infringement on their rights to continue with traditional celebration of the Ganesh immersion, notwithstanding that the tradition never existed in this form and that the method of celebration causes untold misery to the people living along the route of the immersion procession and last but not the least, the Noise Rules have come about in 2000 and the relaxation of use of loudspeakers till midnight came about in 2002, superseding 'tradition' or any other rule that existed up till then, including the police rule on noise. These representatives went on to argue that they would ask the government of Maharashtra to allocate one full night for such immersions.
Following an extract from the Supreme Court ruling is sufficient to let not only these Mandals but also the State government and the Ministry of Environment and Forests of the Union government that such tampering with the rule will not stand the provisions of Article (14) and Article (21) of the Constitution.
The Supreme Court Ruling of 11 October 2005 extract says it all:
Looking at the diversity of cultures and religions in India, we think that a limited power of exemption from the operation of the Noise Rules granted by the Central Government in exercise of its statutory power cannot be held to be unreasonable. The power to grant exemption is conferred on the State Government. It cannot be further delegated. The power shall be exercised by reference to the State as a unit and not by reference to districts, so as to specify different dates for different districts. It can be reasonably expected that the State Government would exercise the power with due care and caution and in public interest. However, we make it clear that the scope of the exemption cannot be widened either by increasing the number of days or by increasing the duration beyond two hours. If that is attempted to be done, then the said sub-rule (3) conferring power to grant exemption may be liable to be struck down as violative of Articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution. We also make it clear that the State Government should generally specify in advance, the number and particulars of the days on which such exemption will be operative. Such specification would exclude arbitrariness in the exercise of power. The exemption, when granted, shall not apply to silence zone areas. This is only as a clarification as, this even otherwise, is the position of law.
With the oncoming Navaratri and Diwali festivals, there is a need to talk on this subject. Diwali also brings in air pollution aspects. We shall take these issues up in the run-up to these events.
Before closing, I must express my appreciation of efforts of the Pune Police to (a) sensitise the public and Mandals on noise pollution and (b) charge-sheeting the people who violated the rule even as they were told to stop making noise after 12 midnight. Though Mumbai was by and large noise-free, there were violations here too and it would be interesting to know whether the Mumbai Police took any strong measures to dissuade future noise-making by anyone.
[Sudhir Badami is a civil engineer and transportation analyst. He is on the Government of Maharashtra's Steering Committee on Bus Rapid Transit System (BRTS) for Mumbai and the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority's (MMRDA) technical advisory committee on BRTS for Mumbai. He is also member of the Research & MIS Committee of Unified Mumbai Metropolitan Transport Authority (UMMTA). He was a member of the Bombay High Court-appointed erstwhile Road Monitoring Committee (2006-07). He has been an active campaigner against noise pollution for over a decade and he is a strong believer in a functioning democracy. He can be contacted on email at su[email protected].]