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Ports Bill in works to make tariffs transparent and revamp penalties

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NEW DELHI : The Centre is working on a new legislative framework for ports, which seeks to usher in transparency in port tariffs, revamp penalties for offences, and bring over 15 sets of rules, replacing the over 110 years old act.

The proposed Indian Ports Bill, 2023, to replace the Indian Ports Act, 1908, seeks to empower the Maritime States Development Council (MSDC) and promote integrated planning between states and Centre with respect to port development, a top government official said.

The new legislation will help better determine port tariff.

“The definition of port tariff is being proposed to be made inclusive and it will include multiple components such as port duties. Focus is on transparency and de-regulation,” the official said.

Under the existing laws, major ports are governed by the Centre while non-major ones are under the control of the state. This control structure has been maintained in the new bill. But the central government can direct any port to adopt a mechanism for electronically integrating port related data with a centralised system as per the proposal.

This new amendment has taken a middle path by watering down contentious provisions that seemed to impinge upon rights of state governments which were proposed in earlier iterations.

MSDC will consult with central and state governments while issuing guidelines for port tariff.

“The council has been empowered to issue guidelines, which are solely recommendatory,” said the official cited above. Boards of major port authorities, and state maritime boards (SMBs) will also be empowered to remit the whole or any portion of port tariff, the person said.

In another significant proposal, the central and state governments can notify new ports and alter the limits of existing ones. Further, these governments have been empowered to take action to make ports or their parts non-operational on specified grounds. Besides this, the central government can de-notify a port if it has not been operating for a decade. Further, a port can be made non-operational in the interest of national security.

A three-tier dispute resolution mechanism has been proposed to address conflicts between two or more state maritime boards.

“The SMB would adjudicate disputes within a state. The state governments can review orders passed by SMB within a specified time. Appeals against these orders can also be filed with the appellate tribunal (adjudicatory board under Major Ports Authority Act),” the official said.

To contain pollution, each port needs to prepare a waste reception and handling plan.

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