The Future of Indian Port Infrastructure

India has a 7500 km long coastline, running from the west coast to the east coast via the south. Surrounded by seas, India has always had significant routes of trade and tourism along its shores. Due to our geographic location making trade easier worldwide, ports have been an integral part of Indian history. Today, ports handle 95% of India’s external trade by volume and 70% by value. Cargo traffic handled by India’s major ports reached 406.98 MT in FY22, up 14.59% from last year, pointing at a growing national economy from the sector. 

The design of infrastructure is dictated by ship design, cargo size, and shape. Most countries also base their port infrastructure on detailed traffic forecasts and a detailed analysis of engineering options. However, complex projects with a long lifetime, such as ports, inevitably involve high uncertainty. Unfortunately, the current approaches to port planning, design, and evaluation do not consider these uncertainties, resulting in plans and designs for port infrastructures that prove inadequate under changing requirements.

Today there is an inherent need for efficient and effective port infrastructure in India. Apart from efficiency in storage and safety, ports today need a seamless flow of multiple modes of transport systems working cohesively to provide a strong and smooth transport system compliant with logistics and innovative technology. Modern technology is being implemented within the maritime industry, and the shape and texture of the traditional container terminal are changing in response. Additionally, developments in construction materials and technology and increasing globalisation allowing access to worldwide best practices have an enormous impact on port planning. Another upcoming concern is sustainability and designing for climate change. Rising water levels and geographical anomalies, such as the warming rate of the Indian Ocean being three times that of the Pacific Ocean, are essential factors to consider while designing. 

Ports are an extremely volatile and fast-growing sector. Considering the uncertainties in the design brief, the possibility of extending quays and terminals when necessary and infrastructure designed to cope with technical changes of the superstructure, equipment, etc., is the need of the hour. Therefore, design interventions such as spacious marine layouts, terminal areas with sufficient depth and length and long quays to improve the flexibility for operations and vessel berthing can be seen trending in port infrastructure and design today in India. 

Large infrastructure projects such as ports directly affect the national economy and markets. India has a network of 12 major ports and 205 minor ports, making it the 16th largest marine industry in the world. Today the biggest challenges faced by the country’s ports are congestion, high ship turnaround times and limited Hinterland linkages, which efficiently planned and well-designed ports can resolve. Recognising these gaps, the government of India is working on a Maritime India Vision 2030 by investing 1.2 Lakh Crore Rupees in port infrastructure. With such foresight, regulatory and financial interventions and design clarity, Indian ports are heading towards a wave of development leading to economic growth.