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December 2, 2021

Top 10 Busiest India Ports

There are multiple reasons why India is a major hub of maritime trade. It is surrounded on three sides by water – the Bay of Bengal in the east, the Arabian Sea in the west, and the Indian Ocean in the south. It has  7,517 kilometers of coastline, making it the 16th largest maritime country. It ranks 18th in terms of global shipping tonnage (tonnage is a measure of a ship’s cargo-carrying capacity). Most cargo ships sailing between East Asia and America, Europe, and Africa pass through Indian waters.

That’s not all. India has 12 ‘major’ and more than 200 ‘non-major’ ports. (A major port is one that is owned, managed, and controlled by the Union government and has nothing to do with cargo volumes, connectivity, or port facilities. The privately owned and operated Mundra Port in Gujarat counts as a non-major port despite being India’s busiest port at the moment.)

To know about the 12 ‘major’ ports in India as well as interesting snippets on the country’s container trade, click here

In this piece, we rank the 10 busiest ports in India based on cargo traffic handled by each in 2020-21, as per the Annual Report 2021 of the Ministry of Ports, Shipping and Waterways. Read on.

India’s 10 busiest ports

1. Mundra Port, Gujarat

It hasn’t been long since Mundra edged out Mumbai’s Jawaharlal Nehru Port as India’s busiest container port, handling 5.7 million TEU (twenty-foot equivalent unit) of cargo in 2020-21 compared to 4.7 million TEU for the latter. Mundra is owned and operated by Adani Port and Special Economic Zone Limited (APSEZ), India’s largest private port operator that, by its own admission, accounts for 24 percent of the country’s port capacity. Located on India’s west coast, Mundra provides road and rail connectivity to the country’s northern hinterland while also offering excellent connectivity with international ports. Besides container shipping, Mundra specialises in bulk and oversized cargo such as fertilisers, minerals, agricultural goods, steel, and machinery. It has 10 berths dedicated to dry bulk and three to liquid bulk while six berths serve containerised cargo. The port also boasts of the world’s largest coal import terminal with an annual capacity of 40 million tonnes. Apart from state-of-the-art infrastructure, this all-weather port offers complete cover for cargo in the monsoons thanks to its large covered storage areas. In its quest to improve connectivity, APSEZ is looking to develop an air cargo complex in Gujarat. Get more information on Mundra Port here.

Total cargo handled in 2020-21: 144.4 MT (million tonnes)

Known as: India’s largest private port, India’s largest commercial port, largest coal import terminal.  

Mundra is India’s largest privately-owned port
Mundra is India’s largest privately-owned port

2. Deendayal Port (Kandla), Gujarat

Just 75 kilometers from Mundra is Gujarat’s next big port and India’s second busiest – Deendayal Port, previously called Kandla Port. It is situated in the Kandla Creek and protected by a natural harbour. This government-owned facility is one of four Indian ports to be named after prominent individuals, the others being Jawaharlal Nehru Port in Mumbai (see Number 5), VO Chidambaranar Port in Tamil Nadu (see Number 10), and Kamarajar Port also in Tamil Nadu. Deendayal Upadhyaya, after whom the port in Gujarat is named, was a political leader. Deendayal Port was established in the 1950s, borne of necessity after the Partition of India left Karachi Port on the Pakistani side and the Indian west coast missing a major sea port. Today, the facility houses a Special Economic Zone (SEZ), the first built in Asia. The mainstay of Deendayal Port is crude oil imported for Essar Oil’s Vadinar refinery. It accounts for half of the port’s cargo traffic. Major exports include oil, textiles, grain, and salt. The port is set for a major expansion and infrastructure development drive with a planned investment of Rs 9,757 crore to improve existing berths and build new ones, construct new roads, godowns, and storage areas, and improve rail connectivity. Get more information on Deendayal Port here.      

Total cargo handled in 2020-21: 84.37 MT

Known as: India’s biggest container port by cargo volume.

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3. Paradip Port, Odisha

Paradip Port is the only major port in Odisha and a key point of departure for the state’s exports, mainly coal. The port sits on the Bay of Bengal in India’s east coast. A flourishing port city has come up around it. Paradip has notched up several important achievements in recent years. In April-June 2021, it rose up the ranks to become India’s top port in terms of volume of cargo handled (25.73 MT) despite the period coinciding with the brutal second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic. In the current financial year (2021-22) up till October, the port has handled 65.28 million metric tonnes (MMT) of cargo, a 5.33 percent increase that takes it within striking distance of crossing the 100 MMT mark for the sixth consecutive year. Paradip port houses 14 berths. Its great depth makes it perfect for handling bulk cargo such as iron ore and coal, although it also deals in containerised cargo. The port has a supply chain advantage because it has its own railway system with a track length of 82 kilometers. A new coal import berth is on the cards. Get more information on Paradip Port here.            

Total cargo handled in 2020-21: 82.44 MT

Known as: India’s first major post-Independence port on the east coast.

4. Visakhapatnam Port, Andhra Pradesh

Also located on the east coast, Visakhapatnam Port lies off the coast of Andhra Pradesh and is midway between Kolkata and Chennai. Visakhapatnam – also called Vizag – is a historic port city with trade links to the Middle East and ancient Rome. It served as a base for a branch of the East India Company in the late 1600s as well as a military base during World War II. It remains a major commercial city today as well as a key shipbuilding hub. Lying within a natural harbour, Visakhapatnam is India’s deepest landlocked port (one encircled by land with an opening to the sea). Infact, the port has three harbours – an inner harbour, outer harbour, and fishing harbour. The area is considered cyclone-prone but, again, the port is naturally protected by low-lying hills. It has 26 berths and the deepest container terminal among all of India’s major ports. Vizag Port serves the country’s central and southern hinterlands and major industries such as steel, fertilisers, power, petroleum, and mining. It is also strategically important to trade with China and other Asian countries. Therefore, it is set to undergo massive expansion and modernisation with the aim of making Vizag South Asia’s most preferred port. Get more information on Vishakhapatnam Port here.

Total cargo handled in 2020-21: 44.74 MT

Known as: India’s deepest landlocked port, India’s oldest shipyard.

5. Jawaharlal Nehru Port (Nhava Sheva), Maharashtra

Some 300 nautical miles from Mundra is Jawaharlal Nehru (JLN) Port, India’s top container port with connectivity to 200 international ports. It has consistently topped the list of India’s busiest ports in recent years before losing its position in the last financial year. Strategically located off the eastern shore of financial capital Mumbai, JLN port is also called Nhava Sheva, named after two villages situated in that area. The all-weather port is owned by the Indian government and managed by the Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust (JNPT). Commissioned in 1989 as a satellite port to the congested Port of Mumbai, it started off with single terminals for bulk and containerised cargo. Today, it has five fully automated container terminals – four of them privately managed – that handle 55 percent of India’s container traffic. It is the only Indian port to make the world’s top 30 container ports (it ranked 28th in 2019). In 2020-21, containerised cargo accounted for 89 percent of JLN’s total cargo. However, it also deals in liquid bulk and cement. Like Mundra, JLN port is a gateway to the land-locked north. Additionally, it serves cargo originating from or bound for Maharashtra, Gujarat, Karnataka, and Madhya Pradesh. In terms of infrastructure, it has a customs house and connectivity to 50 inland container depots (ICDs) and 30 container freight stations (CFSs). Since its humble origins as a satellite port, it now plans to build its own satellite port. Get more information on Nhava Sheva Port here.  

Total cargo handled in 2020-21: 44.74 MT

Known as: India’s largest container port, India’s top container port, India’s largest artificial port.


6. Mumbai Port, Maharashtra

In operation since 1873, Mumbai Port is India’s second oldest port (Kolkata being the oldest). It is also India’s largest port by size, spread over a 46.3-hectare area with a pier length touching 8,000 km. Mumbai Port has one of the best locations for an Indian sea port. First, it sits on the midway mark of the west coast. Second, it boasts of a 400-square-km natural deep-water harbour that is protected by the Konkan mainland on the east and the island of Mumbai on the west. The harbour is 10-12 meters deep, easy for large ships to make their way in and out. The natural protection allows the port to provide shelter for round-the-year shipping. The deep natural harbour also makes Mumbai India’s largest natural port. Mumbai is a multi-purpose port, which means it can handle all types of cargo. It has 32 berths with re-fueling facilities in all berthing areas. It has its own railway system, which is connected to two arms of the national railway network – the Central Railways and Western Railways. The port also has enviable road connectivity. Get more information on Mumbai Port here.  

Total cargo handled in 2020-21: 38.04 MT

Tags: India’s largest port, India’s largest natural port, India’s second oldest port.

Mumbai Port is India’s largest natural port.
Mumbai Port is India’s largest natural port

7. Haldia Port, West Bengal

Haldia Port, also called the Haldia Dock Complex, is India’s fourth biggest port. It lies at the confluence of the Hooghly and Haldi rivers and is located just 50 kilometers southwest of state capital Kolkata and 90 kilometers upstream from the Bay of Bengal. Due to its excellent location, this port serves a large hinterland comprising West Bengal, Bihar, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, and the northeastern states. Additionally, it is the main gateway to neighbouring Nepal and Bhutan as well as the Tibetan Autonomous Region. Haldia Port initially came up as a satellite port for Kolkata Port but now rivals the older port. Much of its success is due to its contribution to the development and growth of the now flourishing port-based industries in the Haldia region. It supports these industries through the import of raw material and industrial machinery. Get more information on Haldia Port here.

Total cargo handled in 2020-21: 32.60 MT

Haldia Port is located at the point where the Hooghly river (pictured here) meets the Haldi river
Haldia Port is located at the point where the Hooghly river (pictured here) meets the Haldi river

8. Chennai Port, Tamil Nadu

Chennai Port in the southern city of Chennai is the third oldest port in India. It was established in 1881, although sea trade along its undeveloped shores is said to date back to the 1600s. This facility is the largest port in the Bay of Bengal and is also called the “Gateway to South India”. Like Haldia, Chennai Port is a major contributor to the economic development of the city as well as the state of Tamil Nadu. It is particularly important to the growth of the state’s manufacturing sector. Major exports that go through Chennai Port include cotton, textiles, automobiles, iron, and leather. The main imports are wheat, machinery, iron, steel, and raw cotton. The port comes with its own extensive railway operations. It has three docks and 24 berths – including a cruise terminal. Chennai Port also happens to be a tourist attraction with its lighthouses getting a fair share of visitors. Get more information on Chennai Port here.

Total cargo handled in 2020-21: 30.50 MT

Known as: India’s third oldest port, largest port in the Bay of Bengal, Gateway to South India.  

9. New Mangalore Port, Karnataka

Situated on the backwaters of the Netravati and Gurpur rivers off the coast of Mangaluru (previously Mangalore), the New Mangalore Port is the only major sea port in the southern state of Karnataka. The “New” in its name distinguishes it from the city’s old port, which is called Mangalore Bunder or Old Bunder and primarily caters to fishing and small cargo vessels. Major exports from New Mangalore Port include petroleum products, iron ore pellets, and containerised cargo. Crude oil, cement, coal, fertilisers, and liquid chemicals comprise the major imports. New Mangalore is a solar-powered port. It is accessible through three national highways. Like Chennai Port, it has a cruise arm with extensive facilities including an air-conditioned lounge, priority berthing, e-visa on arrival, fast immigration check, and currency exchange. The port has a turnaround time (the time between the arrival and departure of a ship) of 46.79 hours, lower than the national average of 63.74 hours. This can be attributed to improved efficiency by allowing customs and forwarding agents to take delivery of cargo, thereby reducing truck-trailer movement, manpower requirement, and documentation. Get more information on New Mangalore Port here.          

Total cargo handled in 2020-21: 25.79 MT

10. VO Chidambaranar Port (Tuticorin), Tamil Nadu

When Tuticorin Port was renamed VO Chidambaranar Port in 2011, it took on the name of eminent freedom fighter VO Chidambaram Pillai, whose moniker “Kappalottiya Thamizhan” in the local Tamil language translates into “the Tamillian man who rode the ship”. Before its modern version came into being, Tuticorin was a historic sea port dating back to the 6th century. It mostly traded in pearls and fishery products. Today, this port in Tamil Nadu serves cargo ships from China, Sri Lanka, Europe, and the United States. Its main imports are coal, cement, fertilisers, petroleum, coke, and edible oils. Key exports include ores and minerals, sugar, liquid cargo, granite, and building material. Like the ports of Chennai and New Mangalore, VO Chidambaranar Port also houses a cruise terminal. Its location in the Gulf of Mannar makes it a naturally sheltered port, with the existence of two rubble mound breakwaters (artificial offshore structures protecting a harbour) giving it further protection. Get more information on Tuticorin Port here.

Total cargo handled in 2020-21: 23.61 MT

India Port Trivia: Did You Know?
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Editorial Team
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