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Editorial: Centre in a Bind

Chennai, 28 Sept 2022:

Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M K Stalin has fired a fresh salvo against the Union government’s new draft Indian Ports Bill, which he felt would stifle the State-specific initiatives and choke their growth, and firmly told Prime Minister Narendra Modi to drop moves to “impose a Centralised regulatory regime on non-major ports” which are currently administered by the State governments.

Emphatically objecting to other centralising provisions in the draft bill that he said encroaches upon the powers of the maritime states/maritime state boards, and added: “The Indian port sector needs less centralisation and less regulation, not more.”

In a letter addressed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Stalin sought Modi’s “kind intervention to ensure the continued growth of non-major ports by increasing the ease of doing business with minimum government and maximum governance”.

Stalin contended that the attempt to convert the Maritime State Development Council (MSDC), presently an advisory body, into a regulatory body with permanent staff would surely encroach upon the powers of the States.

The proposed composition of the MSDC – five Secretaries, one Joint Secretary to the Government of India, and the administrators of the coastal Union Territories – was “inappropriate” as it excludes the Secretaries in charge of the ports in maritime States/Union Territories, Stalin observed.

 “Like the GST Council, the MSDC must continue only as an advisory body, with the relevant Ministers of the Union and the Maritime States/Union Territories as members, and officers should only be special invitees.”

Pointing out certain sections in the revised draft Bill, the Chief Minister said Tamil Nadu strongly objected to centralising provisions in the draft Bill that encroach upon the powers of the maritime States/State Boards.

For example, Chapter V prescribed the constitution, functions and powers of State Maritime Boards while there already exist State legislations governing them. “As per the proposed Bill, if any amendments are required for these Acts, they can be made by the State Legislatures based only on the recommendations of the Centre or the MSDC. This would make the legislative process dysfunctional. Also, the appellate powers against the orders of the State Maritime Boards currently lie with the respective State governments.”

However, as per the draft Bill, this power will go to the Appellate Tribunal, which has been constituted by the Central government for the major ports. This would affect the powers of the States to deal with the disputes on their own, he pointed out. “Considering the above, I request that Chapters II and III of the draft Bill relating to the MSDC be deleted entirely, and that the MSDC remain an apex advisory body as before.”

Stalin also requested that Chapter V relating to the State Maritime Boards be deleted entirely, contending that the Indian port sector “needs less centralisation and less regulation, not more.”

Even though some of the suggestions from maritime States and other stakeholders have been accommodated, the revised draft still largely continued to ignore the international and domestic experience that ports are better managed by local and regional governments, he contended.

The growth trajectory of India’s port sector clearly showed that the non-major ports managed by the maritime States have grown faster than the major ports under the Union government, Stalin said. “This was because the maritime States facilitated the growth of non-major ports through private investments and business-friendly policies.”

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