Before the development of railway networks, waterways were the main mode of transportation in the country. Waterways are the cheapest and more suitable means of transportation for carrying heavy and bulky goods. Ports play a crucial role in water transport. A port is a marine facility consisting of loading areas, where ships load and discharge the cargo & passengers. Ports also facilitate international trade, leading to the development of the nation.
India, having the main coastline of around 7516.6 km, has more than 200 ports. Out of these, there are 13 major ports in India. The major ports are managed & maintained by the Central government, while the intermediate and minor ports are maintained & managed by the respective State governments. These major ports handle a large volume of container and cargo traffic.
Out of thirteen major ports of India, six ports are located on the western coast, the other six ports on the eastern coast, and one port on Andaman & Nicobar island at Port Blair.
Ports on the Western Coast
Kandla Port, also known as Tidal Port, is located at the head of the Gulf of Kutch in Gujarat. This port was built after the Independence to take up the place of Karachi port on the western coast. It is also acknowledged as Free Trade Zone. It is known for handling the crude oil imports of the country. Its other main imports are petroleum products, fertilizers, sulphur, and phosphate, whereas the exports include food grains, naphtha, cotton, salt, and sugar. The port has a vast hinterland in Gujarat, Rajasthan, Punjab, Haryana, and Himachal Pradesh.
Mumbai Port is the most important natural port along the western coast of the country. Its India’s largest port in terms of total trade volume. It has a natural harbour of about 12m depth. It’s a fully integrated multipurpose port that handles the container, liquid bulk, dry bulk, and breakbulk cargo. It handles approximately 1/5th of the total traffic of ports. The main items of imports of Mumbai seaport include mineral oil, petroleum products, fertilizers, chemicals, electronic goods, and paper, while the main exports are cotton goods, cotton yarn, and machinery.
Jawahar Lal Nehru (Nhova Shiva) Port
Jawahar Lal Nehru Port, also known as Nhova Shiva, is located at Elephanta Island, about 14 km to the south of Mumbai. It was inaugurated in 1989 and developed to ease the pressure on the Mumbai Seaport. The Jawahar Lal Nehru Port is the largest artificial port and a world-class port equipped with all modern facilities. It is India’s largest container port, handling about half of the containers of all major ports.
Marmagao Port is located at the entrance of Zuvari-estuary in Goa. It is India’s leading iron-ore export seaport. The main imports of this seaport include manganese, crude oil, food grains, fertilizers, and machinery, while the main exports include cashew-nut, betel leaves, and salt.
New Mangalore Port
New Mangalore Port is situated at Panambur (Mangalore) along the coast of Karnataka. The port is linked with Mumbai through National Highway NH-17 and Broad Guage railway line. It handles the iron ore export of Kudremukh in Karanataka. The main import of this port includes crude oil, edible oil, LPG, fertilizers, cement, and petroleum products. The main exports are manganese ore, cashew nuts, forest products, coffee, and timber.
Cochin Port is located on Willingdon Island (near Vembanad Lake), along the coast of Kerala. It is a natural seaport and also the largest shipyard in the country. The port is also famous as the natural gateway to the agricultural produce markets of South-Western India. It is best known for the export of spices, salt, tea, and coffee. The port has great commercial and strategic importance for being located on the crossroads of the East-West Ocean trade, situated close to the Suez-Colombo route. Chemicals, edible oils, fertilizers, metals, and machinery are the main imports of this port. The main export includes cashew kernel, coir goods, oil lubricants, rubber, fish, and seafood.
Ports on Eastern Coast
Tuticorin port, renamed as “V. O. Chidambaranar Port Trust“, is one of the major ports located in the Gulf of Mannar along the Eastern Coast of India in Tamil Nadu. It mainly handles dry cargo. The main imports include petroleum products, fertilizers, and machinery, whereas the main exports are cardamom, spices, coconut, cotton, and hides.
Chennai Port is the largest port on the eastern coast and the second biggest artificial port after Jawahar Lal Nehru port. It is the second-largest port in terms of traffic volume (volume of traffic handled). It is also the oldest artificial harbour on the eastern coast of the country. It is situated along the northeastern coast of Tamil Nadu. The port imports are chemicals, edible oils, petroleum, fertilizers, metals, and machinery. The main exports of Chennai ports are food grain, iron ore, mica, hides and skins, turmeric, sugar, and timber.
About 20 km to the north of Chennai, Ennore Port (renamed Kamarajar Port) was developed to ease the pressure on the Chennai seaport.
Vishakhapatnam port is situated in Andhra Pradesh along the eastern coast of India. It is the deepest landlocked port in India. Vishakhapatnam port is also located near the strategic oil reserves of the country. It is known for handling the bulk of cargo on the eastern coast. It also deals with iron ore exports to Japan. The main imports are crude oil, chemicals, fertilizers, petroleum, and metals. Its main exports include manganese ore, leather goods, food grains, and timber.
Paradip Port is a deepwater seaport situated along the coast of Odisha. It also has the deepest harbour in the country. It is also located near the Chotanagpur plateau. It mainly deals with the export of iron and aluminium (especially to Japan). The main imports of the Paradip port are edible oils, petroleum products, and electric goods. The main exports include iron ore, iron & steel, manganese, cotton goods, and scrap.
Kolkata Port, also known as Diamond harbour, is India’s only major riverine port. It is situated along the Hughli river in West Bengal. It is known for its twin dock system: the Haldia Dock Complex (HDC) on the western bank and the Kolkata Dock System (KDS) on the eastern bank of the Hugli river. It handles the diversified commodities coming from South Asian countries, Australia, and New Zealand. The imports and exports of Bhutan and Nepal are also done through the Kolkata Port. The main imports include edible oils, fertilizers, railway equipment, and petroleum. Its main exports are iron and steel, mica, jute products, lac, leather goods, tea, and timber.
Haldia port is situated south of the Kolkata river port along the coast of the Bay of Bengal. It has been developed on the river Hoogly to ease the pressure on the Kolkata port. It mainly accommodates the modern larger ships.
Port on Andaman and Nicobar island
Port Blair port
Port Blair port is situated along the coast of Andaman and Nicobar Island. It has strategic importance for being located between the two international shipping lines: Saudi Arabia-Singapore and US-Singapore. It is also the youngest major port of India, connected to the mainland through ship and flight.