The Odisha high court on Friday quashed the notifications issued by the central government and Kolkata Port Trust (KPT) relating to extension of KPT's territorial limit well into Odisha's non-major ports' water space.
Hearing a public interest litigation (PIL) petition by Dilip Kumar Mohapatra, secretary of civil society group Keonjhar Naba Nirman Parishad (KNNP), a bench of Odisha high court comprising chief justice V Gopalagauda and justice BN Mohapatra ruled that the notifications were arbitrary and unjust and in violation of the Article 14 of the Constitution of India.
The bench said the state government had been vested with power under the law to notify the port areas of non-major ports. Since it had exercised its power and notified the areas of seven non-major ports, the bench said, the central government could not encroach upon those areas by extending limits of any major port without prior consultation with the concerned state government.
"The judgment is unique in the sense that prior to this case the centre and states never had conflicting interests in the matter of ports," said Narasingha Mishra, Mohapatra's lawyer.
Odisha minister of state for transport and commerce Sanjib Sahu said: "We welcome the order of the high court. We had been reiterating that the notifications were arbitrary and unjust. The order has vindicated our stand."
On October 22, 2010, exercising powers vested under section 5 of the Indian Ports Act, 1908 and section (2) (q) of the Major Port Trust Act, 1963, the central government had issued a notification extending KPT's territorial jurisdiction. In pursuance of the notification, KPT issued another notification on November 10, 2010, extending its limit to 200 km south of Haldia Port.
The notifications were opposed by the people as well as Odisha government on the ground that seven non-major ports of the state 'Dhamra, Chudamani, Chandipur, Inchudi, Subarnarekha South, Bichitrapur and Bahabalpur' would be blocked with their operations fully controlled by KPT, resulting in huge financial loss to the state.
The Odisha government had written letters to the central government to voice its protest. A delegation of Odisha Congress leaders had met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh urging him to roll back the notifications.