Monday, 23 June, 2008

ODC forced to take the tortuous route

With the economic boom lot of mega projects are being set up and many others in the pipeline. These projects depend on massive imports including turbines, huge plate mill and presses, naphtha cracker units, reactors, crusher plants, etc. All these being heavy lift cargo of over-dimensional sizes have to be transported by road to the project site in the hinterland after being unloaded at the port concerned. Considering the prevailing infrastructure in India and there being no common regulatory authority nor any specific laws guiding the movement of heavy lift cargo. It calls for a lot of expertise, presence of mind, and innovativeness on the part of the operator to overcome the myriad hurdles that are faced until they reach the destination.

Unfortunately the road is littered with corrupt practices, procedural delays, obstacles poor road condition and lack of infrastructure, the past few years have seen several operators entering the field to grab a share of the growing pie. As the pie keeps growing more players are entering the fray.

Traditionally called over-dimensional cargo (ODC), it has taken on a wider focus and is also commonly known as project cargo. According to Mr. Nilesh Gandhi, Director, Express Transport Pvt. Ltd., handling project cargo is a professional task requiring technical expertise, an experienced team, and the right people on the job, infrastructure, and hands-on management.

Mr Pawan Agarwal, Director of India based MFC Transport Pvt. Ltd. says “There is not much competition in this field. This is because most of the time operators find that it is not practical or feasible to handle such heavy cargo. Considering the constraints one has to operate within and the distress and the disappointment that we have to put up with having to deal with the bureaucracy, no one wants to get into this field.”

Transporting ODC is a long drawn-out process according to Mr Lawrence Fernandes, National Manager – Industrial Projects Operations of Hindustan Cargo Ltd., which has handled imports of lube reactors, generators, rotors and large size equipment for ABB, NTPC, IOL, HPCL etc. Most of the bridges in India are not standardised with overhead clearance that could range between 19 to 24 feet, he points out. Few bridges can take a load of over 150 metric tons. Much time is lost in acquiring permission from several different authorities.

“We have to do a dry run before undertaking any ODC transport,” says Mr. Fernandes. “PWD permission is necessary for cutting telephone wires. If high tension wires or any other such electrical wiring has to be removed to make way, then we need to approach the Electric department. If the power lines are connected to the National grid then we have to approach the proper authorities in the Government informing them about the time that will be required to undertake the crossing. If the cargo has to be moved over railway crossings over which trains like the Rajdhani travels, the train tracks and over head wire have to be removed.


“We have to ensure that the costing is correct; otherwise we could end up losing money and suffer,” says Mr Gandhi. “When we suffer our customers suffers as well. Hence, it is important that every aspect is crossed-checked and examined thoroughly, debated, questioned and surveyed. For instance, just because someone has been able to transport an over-dimensional package of say 6 metres, it does not always follow that one can transport a 6.1 metre package.”

Project transportation would include shutdown of power lines, shutdown of telephone lines, strengthening of bypasses and bridges, other obstacles such as trees or wires and other hurdles coming in the way may have to be removed or it may involve dismantling a railway crossing. In cities many islands at road crossings often have to be removed and rebuilt after the ODC has passed.

“Some bridges may be weak and we may have to strengthen them. Alternatively, an alternate route being longer would involve higher diesel consumption. The detour may also involve constructing a bypass. A river crossing would mean taking permission from the Inland Waterways Authority to build a jetty and seek permission from the local authorities for the crossing with the use of pontoons.”

Mr. Shivraj Tiwari, Manager for Logistics Operation of Premier Transport says, “Transport of very heavy consignments is done by hydraulic-axle trailers using prime movers with high engine capacity. Depending on the weight of the cargo multi-pullers are employed especially on gradients. There is no limit to the weight of the cargo that should be carried since by using hydraulic trailers with multiple axles the weight can accordingly be divided. Cranes and other heavy lift equipment are available with us in case of necessity. We carry metal sheet ramps for use in places where the trailer has to pass over soft terrain. But many operators prefer to hire out the equipment rather than owning them.”

There is a need for a standard procedure for ODC. “In Gujarat a high cube container at one point of time was not treated as standard cargo and was subjected to fines,” says Mr. Gandhi. “So if high cube cargo is treated as non standard cargo how does one move project cargo. All procedures are made to function according to the whims and fancies of the officers seated at different points and they are the law because there are no set rules and regulations in place.”

Today for example, Gujarat has a ridiculous law that if transporters use a crawler crane within the state – which would normally be used in private premises like a project, the authorities force such crawler crane (which do not have a registration number) owners, users and operators to pay an RTO tax. If it is not going to ply on a public road what are the grounds for its registration with the RTO. In short, when it comes to transporting ODCs every state is exploiting the public. Even if someone comes forward to pay the tax voluntarily he is made to cough up the tax for the past three years without any justification. Besides he is told that taxes and penalties are extra. So there cannot be a defined project cost.

Most agree that the government is the real reason for creating a nightmare for project cargo because every district and every state has its own procedures for the transportation of ODC cargo. The authorities need to wake up to the reality and bring in some consistency if the economic boom is to continue.

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