Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Modi is duty-bound to reveal outcome of his foreign tours

Port Wings Editorial:
May 27, 2015:

Ever since taking office in May 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has visited Bhutan, Brazil, Nepal, Japan, United States, Myanmar, Australia, Fiji, Nepal, Seychelles, Mauritius, Singapore, France, Germany, Canada, China, Mongolia, and South Korea.

And there are reports coming out from PMO that in another few days time, Modi is expected to fly on another tour.
Modi’s foreign tours have drawn a lot of attention, praise and criticism from various quarters. 
While the main opposition party Indian National Congress has termed the tours as self-promotion of “Brand Modi” than the country he representing as the elected representative, BJP has categorically countered the accusation and stated that PM Modi’s foreign tours are indeed aimed at building a momentum before the global community that India has reached its stature for a greater responsibility and fully deserves a Permanent Seat in the United Nation’s Security Council.
However, given the PMO’s staunch denial to RTI queries seeking details, outcome and expenditures of such tours, the praja, which has voted him to become the Prime Minister of India, asymmetrically   divided over the PM’s frequent foreign tours and its actual results.
The social media, which had helped the Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi to become the Prime Minister of India, last May, has seen a war of words between the sympathizers of BJP and Congress in the last few weeks particularly on Modi’s unwarranted jibes on the Congress Party on foreign soil.
The whole idea of Narendra Modi’s foreign tours came under severe criticism in the social media think-tanks and a few of them even went on to the extent that Modi becomes the flying Prime Minister with no time for visiting the rural India, which has given the BJP party a concrete mandate to govern the world’s largest democracy.
Indeed, a few of those thinkers were right in blaming the denigration of institution, as Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who ought to be present at the Parliament, when it is in session, decided to go on tours giving scant regard to the Temple of Democracy.
Modi’s foreign trips have been highly publicised by media and many have criticised him for ignoring issues back at home, most recent bashing has come from Rahul Gandhi who stated that PM is busy visiting foreign countries very often, but he doesn’t go to the houses of farmers and labourers in India.
Even though the BJP has brought in a battery of spokespersons to defend such voices against the PM’s foreign tours, time has come to tell the real outcome of his foreign tours.
Social media is a regular bashing ground for PM’s trips abroad. The BJP’s line of PM’s foreign trips have been designed to meet India’s foreign policy of improving relations with various nations falls flat on a point that the country has a regular Foreign Minister and she is capable.
Until unless the Prime Minister comes out with a concrete details about the actual outcome on his foreign tours undertaken till now, people will be continue to believe that Modi is indeed touring the world as a tourist using Indian taxpayers’ money.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Pending projects: TN’s Lone Union Minister Pins Hope on Jaya


Port Wings News Network:

In a congratulatory message to Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa, who sworn in as the CM of Tamil Nadu for the record fifth time on May 23, Mr Pon. Radhakrishnan, Minister of State for Road Transport, Highways & Shipping, has said that her return as CM will foster fast-paced and better industrial growth in the of southern coastal state.
Mr Radhakrishnan, who also attended the Jayalalithaa’s swearing-in ceremony as the representative of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, said that many pending port-related projects are likely to be speeded up under the new Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa.

In an unexpected visit during November last year, Mr Radhakrishnan, who was the then Union Minister of State for Heavy Industries and Public Enterprises, met the then Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu Mr O. Panneerselvam at the State Secretariat.
During the meeting, Mr Radhakrishnan, who is the only Minister representing the state of Tamil Nadu in the Union Government,  and Mr Panneerselvam discussed the status of several ongoing port and road-related projects and acquisition of land for some projects.
Later speaking to reporters then, the Minister had stated that they discussed some of the ongoing projects including the Ennore Manali Road Improvement Project, Maduravoyal-Chennai Port Elevated Expressway project.
According to experts, eventhough five months have passed since then, nothing has moved beyond a certain point.
However, Mr Radhakrishnan, who has been now moved to Ministry of Road Transport, Highways & Shipping, pinned hope on the new Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa that she would speed up all those port-related projects, as it would bring a name and fame for the Tamil Nadu government during the proposed Global Investors Meet (GIM) slated for September as the “best destination for investment.”

It is worth recalling here that the then UPA Government at the Centre and the Tamil Nadu State Government led by AIADMK were at loggerheads on port connectivity projects like EMRIP and Chennai Port-Maduravoyal Elevated Expressway. However, scenario has changed little bit after the BJP-led Union Government sworn in May 2014.

Though the then Union Minister of Shipping Mr G K Vasan was instrumental in revitalizing the defunct EMRIP Project in January 2011, which was conceived in early 2000 and remained a non-starter for years, non-cooperation from the state government had its toll on the important port connectivity project.
However, things have started changing post May 2014after the BJP taking over the Union Government.
As one date, about 85 % of the EMRIP project has been completed and few stretches near Kasimedu along the Ennore Expressway, which falls under the Tamil Nadu Government’s ambit, are still remaining a tumbling block.
In March, Mr Radhakrishnan reviewed the progress of the project and asked the Chennai port management to persuade the Tamil Nadu State Government for early completion.

Likewise, Chennai Port-Maduravoyal Elevated Expressway project, another important port connectivity project, is stuck for more than three years.
During a visit to Tamil Nadu last November, Union Minister of Road Transport & Highways, Shipping Mr Nitin Gadkari reviewed the pending port connectivity projects in Chennai and went on an open appeal to the Tamil Nadu government to cooperate with them for speedy implementation in the interest of the nation.

While observing that the issue of Elevated Expressway between Chennai Port and Maduravoyal for providing a dedicated road connectivity to the Port is embroiled in court case, Mr Radhakrishnan, during a review meeting in March this year, had recommended that both NHAI and Tamil Nadu government should make efforts to reach an out of court settlement so that the work can be resumed.

With a view to alleviate the perennial congestion of heavy vehicles on Chennai’s arterial roads which could create serious problems for other common road users in the future if not arrested on time, major stakeholders -- Chennai Port, a Central government-maintained major port, and the Tamil Nadu state government – have planned for a better road connectivity to ensure seamless movement of cargo towards Chennai Port round-the-clock without disturbing common road users.
The need for a dedicated freight road emerged as a better solution, as Chennai Port has experienced a steady increase in the volume of traffic handled over the years, which in turn has increased the traffic on the internal roads of the Port.
The Elevated road connectivity project came in to existence due to certain traffic restrictions on movement of heavy vehicles to Chennai Port on NH-4 within Chennai city.

In the message to CM Jayalalithaa, Mr Radhakrishnan also highlighted that her return as Chief Minister would help to move forward swiftly on establishing a modern and a world-class international port at Colachel Harbour, which is now maintained by the Tamil Nadu Maritime Board.

Though the meeting between Union Minister Mr Radhakrishnan and then Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Mr Paneerselvam had rekindled the hope for changing signs between Tamil Nadu State government and Union Government, the attendance of Mr Radhakrishnan as the representative of Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the Jaya swearing-in on May 23 has further raised the hope among the Exim fraternity in the state.
A few of them even said that Mr Radhakrishnan could meet the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa in the State Secretariat soon to seek her support in completing all pending port-related projects and re-development of Colachel Harbour as a Union-Government managed international standard port.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Thiruvottiyur Parking Yard: Madras HC order puts Chennai Port in a fix


Port Wings News Network:
With the Madras High Court directing the Tamil Nadu Government as well as the Chennai Port Trust (ChPT) to return 13.93 acres land at Thiruvottiyur, where the latter had developed a parking yard for container trailers, the future of the facility aimed at decongesting the Ennore Expressway leading to the port, now hangs on balance.
Delivering the order on a writ petition filed by Ms R.Revathy, descendant of the said property, Justice C.S.Karnan of Madras High Court directed the Tamil Nadu Government and Chennai Port management to reconvey the land situated at Thiruvottiyur in favour of the petitioner within a period of three months after receiving the original compensation amount with admissible interest thereon from the petitioner.
In other words, the order has put question marks over the future of Chennai Port’s ambitious project – a state-of-the-art Container Trailer Parking Yard-cum Customs Clearance Post for port-bound containers.

According to the petitioner, the said piece of land at Thiruvottiyur belong to her ancestor late T.Shanmugam, who is none other than the grandfather of the petitioner's father. Under a family partition between the said T.Shanmugam and his son Mr.T.S.Gopal registered as document No.31 of 1960, the above lands were allotted in favour of Mr.T.S.Gopal.
In the meanwhile, the Government of Tamil Nadu had notified for acquiring the said land for the Thiruvottiyur Municipality (after 2011, the said municipality has been merged with Corporation of Chennai) for the purpose of bore well water supply to the village of Thiruvottiyur and the entire procedure of acquisition was completed and an award has been passed by the land acquisition Tahsildar on April 14, 1964 for Rs.1,53,255.91. Subsequent to the acquisition only a part of land was utilized for the purpose for which the land was acquired.
The Petitioner further stated that because of replenishment of sea water, the water available in the lands is not-portable thus the Government did not proceed with the object for which the land was acquired. 
She further stated in her petition that as per the Tamil Nadu Government Gazette extraordinary publishes section 48-B of the Land Acquisition Act enabling the Government for the reconveyance of lands that are acquired by the Government back to the original owners if the lands are not utilized for the purpose acquired for or any other public Convenience Act has been passed with retrospective effect. 
The petitioner contended that even now the land is lying idle and respondent Municipality has not put up any building or not used for any other public purpose. 
In the meantime, the Municipality leased out the lands to the Chennai Port Trust for using the same as Container Trailers parking yard.  However, the petitioner contended that the Municipality has got no right or power to lease out the same to the Chennai Port Trust.
With the view to decreasing the congestion of container-laden trailers along Ennore Expressway and Madhavaram to the port, Chennai Port Trust on Nov 29, 2013 inaugurated its parking yard cum seal verification centre at Thiruvottiyur.
In the presence of Central Warehousing Corporation (CWC) managing director Mr B B Patnaik, the then Union Minister of Shipping Mr G K Vasan inaugurated the operations of the Thiruvottiyur Parking Yard by flagging off the first container-laden trailer to the yard.
Chennai Port has developed in the first phase the parking facility for around 250 trailers investing around Rs 6 crores. On full functioning, all Chennai Port bound laden container trailers (barring those which are cleared at CFSs) should first come to the parking yard and after verification of all the documents shall proceed to the port and there would not be any waiting of container lorries in the Ennore Expressway.
Reacting to the petition, the Tamil Nadu Government submitted before the HC that the land in question has been acquired as early as 1964 and the proper compensation had been paid to the land owners.  After such land was acquired it was put to the proposed use of drawing bore well water for the Thiruvottiyur village.  Subsequently as stated, due to the intrusion of sea water, the bore wells were abandoned.  Thereafter, the lands are in the possession of the respondents herein and have been used for various public purposes from time to time.
The state government further stated that due to proximity of the lands to the first Container Terminal of the Chennai Port Trust, the lands have been leased to the Chennai Port for parking of the container trailers moving towards the said terminal. The lease deed was executed for three years from 2007 to 2010. After the said lease period ended, the fresh lease deed is to be executed and the administrative process is on.
The state government further stated that the remuneration received from the lease of the lands is being used for the public purposes and is being included in the Municipal Budget for carrying out the various activities of the Municipality under the statute, such as provision of roads, water supply, drainage, licensing, town planning, etc.  The government also termed the statements of the petitioner on possession of the lands is totally false and baseless.
The state government further contented that the provision of Section 48-B of the Land Acquisition Act will come into effect only when the land in question is vested with the State Government.  When once the lands have been acquired and have been vested with the requisitioning body, there is no question of re-conveyance that too when the land is being used for public purposes.
In reply to the petition, Chennai Port authorities stated that the container trailers are plying between the Port Trust and other destination places resulting in heavy traffic volume.  Now, the containers are parking on the acquired land, which has been leased out to the Port Trust. The Port Trust and the Municipality are in general serving the public.  After arranging these facilities the container vehicles are not parking on the road consequently traffic will not be disturbed.  Now, the public vehicles are in free passage on the road without inconvenience to anyone. 
When contacted, Mr C. Harichandran, Secretary, Chennai Port Trust, said that the port management as well as the Tamil Nadu Government (respondents) have gone on appeal against the verdict. “Our appeal is likely to be heard after the vacation,” he added.
Speaking to Port Wings, Mr.A.T.Shankar, Regional Manager, CWC, said that they are waiting for the Customs Notification to begin full-fledged operations from the Thiruvottiyur Container Trailer Parking Yard. “The day Customs gives its nod, all operations would begin from the yard,” he added.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Stirring up the South China Sea (III): A Fleeting Opportunity for Calm


The South China Sea is the cockpit of geopolitics in East Asia. Five countries – Brunei, China, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam – plus Taiwan have substantial and competing territorial and maritime claims in a body of water that is both an important source of hydrocarbons and fisheries and a vital trade corridor. 
The recent history has been scarred by cycles of confrontation. Today, the clashes are becoming more heated, and the lulls between periods of tension are growing shorter. As the region continues to grow in influence and power, the handling of the competing claims will set the tone for relations within East Asia for years. The cost of even a momentary failure to manage tensions could pose a significant threat to one of the world’s great collaborative economic success stories. Despite China’s controversial development of some of the reefs it controls, the current relatively low temperature of the disagreement offers a chance to break the cycle, but it is likely to be short-lived. The countries of the region, supported by the wider international community, need to embrace the opportunity while it lasts.

The competition in the South China Sea goes back decades if not centuries, but the dynamics of the latest round of confrontation were set in motion by China’s decision in May 2014 to deploy an oil exploration rig in waters claimed by both it and Viet­nam. The deployment provoked deadly riots in Vietnam and widespread diplomatic condemnation: the rig was withdrawn two months later. The unexpected intensity of the response and the diplomatic fallout that followed prompted some deep reflection in policy circles in Beijing and the adoption of a less provocative stance. Despite retooling its tactics, however, Beijing remains committed to consolidating its claims over the islands and waters within what is known as the “nine-dash line”, an ill-defined loop that encompasses the majority of the area of the South China Sea, as can be seen by its extensive construction on a number of reefs it controls.

Though the current situation does not inspire confidence in a lasting calm, it nevertheless offers a window of opportunity for regional stakeholders to harness China’s desire to avert another major deterioration in relations. In particular, Beijing has struck a more cooperative tone toward ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations). The ten-member grouping is pushing for a formal Code of Conduct to guard against and mitigate the impact of accidental clashes leading to confrontation.

Beijing’s tactical adjustment could be another instance of its well-established practice of oscillating between assertive actions to expand control followed by gestures to repair diplomatic ties and consolidate gains. This cycle has become more compressed in recent years, with shorter lulls and more-frequent flare-ups, owing in part to China’s increased desire and capability to advance its claims.

Beijing’s twin policy goals of stability on its periphery and safeguarding asserted maritime rights, which are inherently inconsistent in the context of the South China Sea, mean it continues to seek opportunities to gain ground when it deems tensions are manageable. Although the aftermath of the oil-rig deployment triggered a reassessment, not least because it led to a strengthening of ties between key South East Asian claimants and the U.S., the mainstream of its foreign policy analysts concluded that China needs only to push its claims with more patience and tactical savvy, rather than reconsider the claims as such.

President Xi Jinping’s foreign policy style has been characterised by a combination of soothing words and muscular actions, leading domestic and external observers to conclude he is more nationalist, more determined to assert maritime claims and less risk-averse than his predecessor. In an environment where a hard line carries far less political risk than moderation, foreign policy decision-making and implementation skew toward stridency.

Accordingly, confidence in China’s promise of a “peaceful development” has been dropping in key capitals around the region. The Philippines reacted to a sense of “being bullied by China” by tightening relations with its treaty ally, the U.S. Members of the Manila policy establishment who supported bilateral engagement with Beijing lost influence after a mid-2012 standoff that began with the Philippines trying to arrest a group of Chinese fishermen and ended with China seizing control of the Scarborough Shoal, claimed by both but controlled by neither before the incident. In January 2013, Manila initiated international arbitration of its dispute with China. Beijing was incensed, refused to participate, and bilateral relations have gone into a virtual freeze.

Although Beijing’s subsequent gestures at repairing ties with Vietnam have restored some hope in bilateral diplomacy, the deployment of the oil rig has done lasting damage to Hanoi’s confidence in both the predictability and intentions of its giant neighbour. Vietnam is hedging the uncertainty by courting Washington; pushing ASEAN to take a more proactive role in managing South China Sea issues; and preparing a possible legal case of its own against China.

Indonesia, ASEAN’s largest member and de facto leader, views Beijing’s strategic intentions warily. It says it is not a South China Sea claimant but has lodged protests against the nine-dash line, which appears to extend claims to near Indonesia’s Natuna Islands. Since 2009, China has reportedly reacted sharply to Jakarta’s attempt to enforce its laws against Chinese boats allegedly fishing illegally. The splintering of ASEAN in 2012 over South China Sea issues distressed Indonesia, which is invested in its norms and unity, and raised questions among the foreign policy elite about whether China seeks to undermine the regional body.

Beijing’s revision to its tactics offers an opportunity to break the debilitating cycle of tension spikes followed by relative calm. Overtures to secure the region’s cooperation for its 21st Century Maritime Silk Road initiative, a Xi Jinping priority, may provide further scope for multilateral diplomacy at a time when Beijing is verbally endorsing ASEAN’s lead role in maintaining South China Sea peace and stability – even if it does so mainly to block U.S. influence and rein in the Philippines. Indonesia is still resolved to guide the formulation of a maritime Code of Conduct, which would commit claimants to a set of consensus-based behavioural norms. Vietnam and the Philippines are also still invested in that ASEAN-driven process. The 2015 ASEAN chair, Malaysia, is well positioned to lead, as a claimant country that has amicable relations with China and is one of the more diplomatically capable members. The region thus stands a credible chance to experience a more durable calm in the troubled waters.


To achieve meaningful progress on formulating a Code of Conduct in the South China Sea
To the government of China and ASEAN:

1.  Implement operational details of foreign ministry hotlines to ensure:
a) they remain open at all times; and

b) the people/departments responsible for them have the authority to reach decision-makers speedily and instruct front-line personnel in an emergency.

2.  Initiate a multi-agency consultation framework – modeled on the China-Japan high-level consultation on maritime affairs – among China and other South China Sea littoral states that includes agencies with authority over foreign affairs, defence, maritime law enforcement, fisheries regulations and search and rescue in order to: 
a) help identify each agency’s counterpart;

b) clarify misunderstandings that could originate from differences in maritime laws and law enforcement; and

c) seek opportunities for confidence building, such as cooperation on enforcement of fisheries regulations.

To the governments of China and Indonesia:

3.  Expand combined bilateral naval exercises on implementation of the Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea, to include navies of all South China Sea littoral states.
To external nations, other than China, and organisations with direct ties to ASEAN:

4.  Provide technical assistance and organisational support on incident-at-sea crisis management, for example by organising and sponsoring workshops on best practices involving China and ASEAN.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Conveyor Belt Tragedy rekindles CBI’s date with Chennai Port

Port Wings News Network:

While the Chennai Port is preparing a roadmap for reviving the handling of coal in the next few months after the Supreme Court gave a direction, the recent accident, where a dilapidated structure – a conveyor belt system to move coal from vessels to dumping yard, has opened the old debate among the port employees.
For many employees in the Chennai Port, though it was a non-fatal accident, the dilapidated conveyor belt system is seen as a standing testimony of how the corruption systematically moved the coal handling away from the port.
After convinced with a tip-off from a port employee about a possible corruption in its procurement, Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) filed a case (RC0322011A0018)against the then Chairman of the Chennai Port Trust and other few officials involved in the decision making for causing wrongful loss to the Port Trust in the matter of procurement of coal conveyor system.
Ever since the case has been registered, the coal conveyor belt system, installed at an estimated cost of Rs 43 crores, literally became a cynosure among the port employees.
While the CBI made it as one of the physical evidences, and since the Madras High Court also banned handling of coal in the port in 2011, the whole conveyor belt system remained cut off from the day-to-day activities and the employees linked with the coal handling division also never enters the area.

The CBI’s Continuing TRAIL:
After registering the case, the CBI had initiated an investigation into the alleged embezzlement of funds by top port officials during installation of a conveyor belt system for transporting coal at a cost of Rs 43 crore.
According to an ex-employee of the port, the CBI probe began after a complaint alleged that the private player given contract for installation had put up only 250 metres of belt against the mandated length of 275 metres.
“The installation of the conveyor belt system and its commissioning in November 2009 has remained a mystery as the Port Trust management, which used to invite media for all its functions, did not invite anyone then and just sent a picture of the inauguration by the then Chairman of the Port Trust Capt Subhash Kumar in the presence of then Chief Mechanical Engineer K P Ramanathan. While the first installment of payment (25 %) to the contractor was released as per the agreement clause, the second installment was made in full secrecy,” said the employee seeking anonymity.
Speaking to Port Wings, another employee linked to an influential trade union in Chennai Port, said, “Contrary to a clause on payments in the contract, Mr Ramanathan, during former Chairman K Suresh's tenure had sent a note to the port’s Finance Department to release 50 per cent of the remaining amount in the interest of the project.”
“Though the contract clearly defined that the second installment had to be paid only after the full installation and commissioning of the belt, then CME, flouting all rules, sent the note asking to release the sum even though the facility was not fully installed,” he added.
Though the department turned down his plea at the first instance, the payment was indeed released within a day after intervention of top officials of the Port Trust. However, the CBI enquiry on the conveyor belt met a dead-end after the Government of India declined permission to the agency to prosecute the then Chairman of the Port Trust, who is now holding a senior administrative post in the state of Madhya Pradesh.