Jindals offers berth for Haldia

JSW Group, led by Sajjan Jindal, has submitted a bid for a 30-year concession to mechanize and operate a berth at Haldia Dock Complex (HDC), becoming the second national operator after Adani to show interest in the port.

JSW Infrastructure, the maritime arm of the $22 billion JSW Group, is one of four bidders in the tender for Berth No. 5 (formerly 4B) at Haldia, which requires an investment of approximately Rs 350 crore.

This is the second port development project in Bengal where JSW Group has participated in a competitive selection process. The company had lost by a whisker to Adani Ports & Special Economic Zones (APSEZ) in its bid to develop the Port of Tajpur in 2022.

Before winning the bid from Tajpur, Adani had opened his shipping account in Bengal by signing the mechanization contract for Berth No.2 at Haldia. JSW Infrastructure did not participate in the tender, which opened in October 2021.

Adani has stayed away from the tender for mechanization of berth no. 5, meaning JSW is the only pan-India operator vying for the port contract. The other companies involved include OSL, IRC and a consortium of Ripley & Co, port sources said.

Syama Prasad Mookerjee Port (SMP), Kolkata, which operates HDC, hopes to complete the process of identifying the winning bidder by September. Applicants must obtain several approvals from the center, including a national security clearance, before submitting the prize offer, which will be called later.

“Yes, we have received four bids, including one from JSW Infrastructure, for the mechanization of Berth #5,” confirmed AK Mehra, Vice Chairman (Haldia) for SMP, Kolkata.

JSW’s plan

Born out of a need to handle coal and iron ore to support its fledgling steel business, JSW Infrastructure is evolving into a full-fledged port operator with ambitions to serve third parties along the entire coast of India.

Currently, the company’s business is concentrated on the west and south coasts, near JSW Steel’s plants in Karnataka and Maharashtra. JSW Infra is strengthening its east coast operations with the recent acquisition of the operating Bhushan Power & Steel Ltd iron ore mines in Odisha and Jindal’s bid to establish a greenfield steel plant in the state.

JSW Infra, which is expected to go public later this year, has an operating capacity of 154 million tonnes (mt) and intends to reach 200 mt capacity by 2024.

A terminal at Haldia can complement JSW’s port facilities at Paradip, where it operates an iron ore terminal.

In contrast, the Haldia facility, which offers unmatched rail connectivity with the steel producing hinterland, could focus primarily on coal.

A JSW spokesman did not comment on the company’s plans for Haldia.

The project

SMP, formerly Calcutta Port Trust, plans to award the successful bidder a 30-year design, build, finance, operate and transmit (DBFOT) concession. The optimal capacity of the berth is predicted to be 5 tons of cargo per year, and the target cargo is bulk cargo such as coal, iron ore and manganese ore.

Scope of work similar to what was proposed in berth no. 2, envisages a fully mechanized operation that includes unloading from the ship by a mobile harbor crane, loading the cargo onto a conveyor belt to storage, and then loading it onto railroad rakes through a wagon loading station.

The automated process will increase cargo handling capacity by weeding out the existing semi-mechanized system where cargo is moved from the berth to the yard by truck and then loaded onto railroad rakes using cranes. Faster evacuation of cargo would result in savings in logistics costs for trade.

However, it could also mean more ships entering the dock navigating the narrow river channel of the River Hooghly from the Bay of Bengal. Due to the silting up of the river bed, large ships cannot dock at Haldia, which limits cargo loads to 30,000 tons per ship. Shipping experts said the port must find a way to widen the canal to accommodate more ships calling at the dock.

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