After Singur, now it is time for the Haldia Dock Complex (HDC) to witness a legal battle between the government and a private industrial house, with the Kolkata Port Trust management declaring they would not let Haldia Bulk Terminals (HBT) remove its machinery from their berths until they pay compensation for quitting their contract with KoPT.
HBT, on the other hand, made it clear that it will not pay a penny as compensation, since they were “forced to quit due to the deteriorating law and order situation.”
At its two berths, HBT has six mobile harbour cranes, 26 payloaders, 50 dumpers, two dodges, two railway bridges and two roadway bridges. KoPT officials have estimated the total cost at Rs. 140 crore. However, their claim of compensation from HBT is going to be much bigger.
“If they frustrate our contract, then we are duty-bound to claim financial demurrage from them for our losses for the remaining period, as per our contract with them,” Manish Jain, chairman-in-charge of Kolkata Port Trust, said. Jain did not agree that there was any “political interference” obstructing HBT’s operations.
“As per the contract, they cannot terminate it. Only we have the right to terminate it. And we have not accepted their letter of quitting,” he added. KoPT would, when the contract is terminated, invite fresh global tender for the two berths. HBT entered the contract with KoPT for 10 years in 2010, which means the KoPT would charge demurrage for the remaining eight years. Jain said they are yet to evaluate the exact amount to be claimed. Gurpreet Malhi, CEO of HBT, however, ruled out paying any compensation.
“We won’t pay anything and no question of that comes either. We were not allowed to work even though we wanted to. We were forcefully thrown out of Haldia. We will make clear our stand before the court,” Malhi told over the phone.
The two berths operated by HBT are going to lie idle for sometime, and the KoPT management could not give any indication of how long that could be. Before that, however, the KoPT will appeal to the court to direct HBT to resume operations when, on November 2, KoPT’ petition with the same demand is heard in Calcutta high court.
KoPT moved the court on October 27, seeking its direction in setting a deadline for HBT to resume operations, failing which the KoPT would be free to terminate the contract and charge demurrage.
“We have done everything on our part to help them resume operations. But I’m not seeing the seriousness, eagerness and sensitivity on their part to resume operations. I still hope that good senses would prevail on all stakeholders of the Haldia docks, especially the HBT,” Jain said, adding, “All my efforts so far has been vitiated by them.”
In case of Singur, the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee government had refused to pay the Tatas any compensation for getting the land plot back when the later quit Singur four years ago. The government argued that the Tatas had quit despite government’s assurance for ensuring law and order.
However, the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee government did not prevent them from taking away the machinery from the abandoned plant. The Mamata Banerjee government is still fighting the case, now in Supreme Court, over taking the 997-acre land plot back from the Tatas, without paying them compensation for their investment.