Some politics, ineptitude and some serious bureaucratic bungling, with one department not knowing what the other is doing has sourced a good deed okayed by the government six months ago.
A shipment of thousands of tonnes of foodstuffs of humanitarian assistance for Nepal is lying unused and spoiling in Chennai harbour as the government pays large amounts in demurrage charges.
Rice, sugar and skimmed milk powder (SMP), initially proposed as Indian Humanitarian Assistance (IHA) for Sri Lanka, was diverted by the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) to Nepal in December 2006. But till ten days ago, the entire shipment was gathering dust in Chennai port.
A classified report presented to the Committee of Secretaries recently states, “initially, under IHA, MEA issued a work order dated November 3, 2006 for shipment of stocks of food items” comprising “5,000 metric tones of parboiled rice and raw rice, 1.5 MT sugar and 300 MT SMP for Sri Lanka.
The shipment had been moved by NCCF (National Cooperative Consumers Federation) to Chennai harbour for onward shipment to a Sri Lankan port. However, due to local problems in Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka, the vessel for moving the shipment of stocks from Chennai harbour to a Sri Lankan port could not be placed by Government and the cargo continued to lie at Chennai harbour.”
The MEA then decided to send the entire shipment as humanitarian assistance to Nepal instead of Sri Lanka and made out an order arranging the shipment to Nepal on December 12, 2006.
“However,” the report states, “due to intermittent political conflict in Nepal, the cargo including SMP could not be moved” and “is lying at Chennai harbour.”
According to the Financial Adviser at the Chennai Port, there is no concession in demurrage charges for government cargo.
The government has incurred enormous penalties on this cargo at the rate of Rs 59 per tonne per day, the standard rate after the first 47 days for which it is stored.
Goods can be stored in the port free of cost for the first 30 days. The next seven days incurs a charge of Rs 11.80 per tonne. From 7 days to 17 days, it is Rs 23.60 per tonne.
From 17 days to 47 days, it is Rs 35.40 per tonne.
Meanwhile, the government banned all exports of SMP from February 9. The ban is in place till September 30, 2007.
The MEA in March reported that tensions in Nepal had sufficiently eased and the cargo could be “moved immediately to Nepal.” The NCCF informed the Directorate General of Foreign Trade in late March that the ban on SMP be exempted in this case.
The cargo however, is still in Chennai. Hassles will not end for the exporter once the cargo is removed and on its way to Nepal, particularly if routed through the Raxaul- Birgunj border crossing.
Lack of alignment of documentation between customs regulations of the Indian and Nepalese governments means that the exporter needs 26 documents, of which 96 copies have to be submitted and a total of 338 signatures of various functionaries before the cargo can get into Nepal.