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Optimizing India’s port systems

Optimizing India’s port systems

NEW DEHLI: In this series, Sramana Mitra shares chapters from her book Vision India 2020, that outlines 45 interesting ideas for startup companies with the potential to become billion-dollar enterprises. These articles are written as business fiction, as if we’re in 2020, reflecting back on building these businesses over the previous decade. We hope to spark ideas for building successful startups of your own.
As the daughter of a shipping man, I grew up listening to my father’s ideas on Indian shipping: the vast opportunities for container, feeder, and barge services; the need for infrastructure development at sea and river port levels; dredging and revival of once active waterways. And as I grew into adulthood and India’s stature in the world economy grew – as its ships set sail for China carrying iron ore, and the US carrying clothes and textiles – so too grew the need for more robust port infrastructure to reach these ends. Gone was the manual era; today’s first-world countries moved at the speed of automation.
To make such an evolution possible, one thing was very clear to me: the major Indian ports needed to be privatized and run as professional corporations, not administered by IAS officers with limited business experience. Both the financial engineering and the operational experience necessary to run a several-hundred-million-dollar-a-year corporation is substantially different from the experience typically possessed by an IAS officer. Bureaucrats by background, most of them lacked the requisite knowledge of corporate finance, especially fund-raising, to scale the businesses, and they were not the leaders required to oust the unions and mafia that had infested the ports. As a result, as businesses these ports ran at sub-optimal levels, unable to attract top talent.