Interpretation Of Provisions Of Major Port Trusts Act: SC Refers Matter To Larger Bench [Read Judgment]

Interpretation Of Provisions Of Major Port Trusts Act: SC Refers Matter To Larger Bench [Read Judgment]

The Supreme Court has referred the following issues in relation to interpretation of the Major Port Trusts Act, to a larger bench:



  • Whether in the interpretation of the provision of Section 2(o) of the MPT Act, the question of title of goods, and the point of time at which title passes to the consignee is relevant to determine the liability of the consignee or steamer agent in respect of charges to be paid to the Port Trust;

  • Whether a consignor or a steamer agent is absolved of the responsibility to pay charges due to a Port Trust, for its services in respect of goods which are not cleared by the consignee, once the Bill of lading is endorsed or the delivery order is issued;

  • Whether a steamer agent can be made liable for payment of storage charges/demurrage, etc. in respect of goods which are not cleared by the consignee, where the steamer agent has not issued a delivery order; if so, to what extent;

  • What are the principles which determine whether a Port Trust is entitled to recover its dues, from the steamer agent or the consignee; and

  • While the Port Trust does have certain statutory obligations with regard to the goods entrusted to it, whether there is any obligation, either statutory or contractual, that obliges the Port Trust to de-stuff every container that is entrusted to it and return the empty containers to the shipping agent.


A bench of Justice RK Agrawal and Justice DY Chandrachud was considering batch of appeals against division bench order of the High Court of Kerala.

The issue before the high court was whether the liability to pay ‘ground rent’ on containers unloaded at Cochin Port, but not cleared by the consignees/importers and refused to be de-stuffed by the port, on the ground of inadequate storage space, can be imposed on the owners of the 3 vessel/steamer agents beyond the period of 75 days, fixed by the Tariff Authority of Major Ports, a statutory body constituted under Section 47A of the Major Port Trust Act, 1963.

The order of the high court that there is no justification for the Port Trust to collect ‘ground rent’ charges in respect of the containers indefinitely, was challenged before the apex court.

The bench referring to many earlier decisions in the subject observed that there is inconsistency and a larger bench need to resolve them.

Read the Judgment Here