A surge in the export of iron ore and steel products has come as a saving grace for Calcutta Port Trust during the pandemic.
Haldia has witnessed a multi-fold increase in the export of iron ore and steel from April 1 till date, when the overall volume of cargo handled shrunk by one fourth.
S. Balaji Arunkumar, deputy chairman at CPT, said the twin port systems at Calcutta and Haldia recorded a 23 per cent cargo drop till June 24, recovering from the lows of 31.60 per cent in April-May.
“We have recovered some lost ground in June, thanks to steel and iron ore exports which have gone up many times. The import of manganese ore (another raw material required in steel making) has also gone up substantially,” Arunkumar said.
Industry sources attribute the surge in the export of finished and semi-finished steel to the lack of demand in the domestic market. Integrated steel players, who still managed to operate during the lockdown, quickly shifted their focus to the export market, following the lack of demand within the country.
Port officials said Tata Steel, Jindal Steel and Power Ltd (JSPL) — who operate out of Odisha and Jharkhand — were some of the biggest steel exporters out of Haldia Port. A significant chunk of the export went to China, apart from Indonesia and Taiwan.
Indian miners also looked abroad. Rungta Group, one of the largest players in ore, was a major exporter out of Haldia, where exports surged four-fold.
During the peak lockdown period of April and May, cargo handling came down drastically at CPT, which mainly depends on container movement, going down by 46.59 per cent.
Haldia, which is known to be a port that thrives on coal movement, also suffered as demand for thermal coal required in power generation and coking coal imported by steel players came down due to lack of demand during the lockdown.
Movement of petroleum products — procured by Indian Oil Corporation and Haldia Petrochemicals — also plummeted during the period.
Abhay Mahapatra, traffic manager at Haldia Port, said, several initiatives have been taken to strengthen infrastructure. “We are expecting demand revival from July onwards and, accordingly, building a 1.5-lakh square metre of hard stand within the dock area,” Mahapatra said.
However, Unlock -1 period has infused life back to the port operation. Port workers, who stayed away fearing contracting Covid-19, have mostly returned as there has not been any spike in infection at Haldia. Sandheads, the entry point to CPT, is getting busy again with 20 ships waiting to call.