The board of trustees of the Kolkata Port Trust (KoPT), on Friday, took a tough stance against ABG Haldia Bulk Terminals (HBT), the Mumbai-based firm which operates Berth No. 2 and 8 of the Haldia Dock Complex (HDC). The KoPT has issued a seven-day ultimatum for HBT to resume operations, failing which its agreement with the KoPT will be terminated.
The KoPT’s highest revenue earner had suspended operations at both berths on September 22, citing labour unrest spearheaded by the Trinamool Congress. On September 25, HBT retrenched 275 workers, blaming an oversized payroll and recurrent losses.
On Friday, the board decided on the ultimatum after reviewing the entire situation and discussing the recommendations of a three-member committee comprising senior KoPT officials. The board also decided to issue an “emergency tender for evacuation of stored cargo at Berth No. 2 and 8”.
“The board of trustees will write to HBT soon. The board will also ask them to resume operations by October 19, failing which it shall be presumed that they aren’t interested in carrying out their business at HDC,” a senior KoPT official said. The official added that should HBT fail to resume operations, KoPT would take action against them in accordance with Clause 7.12 of the agreement between the two parties. The clause lays out the terms for an early termination of the agreement.
The decision came on a day when Gurpreet Malhi, CEO of HBT, ruled out taking back the sacked employees unless KoPT made specific arrangements for them to recover from heavy losses. HBT maintains that it will not be able to resume operations until law and order is restored.
But HBT officials refused to comment on the board’s decisions. “We’ll weigh all our options once we get their letter,” Jogesh Agarwala, HBT’s operational manager, told HT.
Earlier, in August, HBT wrote to the KoPT authorities threatening to quit because of the regular losses it was incurring. The KoPT moved the high court and, on September 12, signed an agreement with HBT before the court agreeing to allocate vessels to the berths operated by HBT on priority basis.
However, workers at the port’s manually handled berths objected to KoPT’s prioritisation of HBT’s mechanised berths and blocked the move. The board of trustees has decided to mechanise all the berths at HDC by installing mobile harbour cranes through a tender process and arranging for royalty payments to the KoPT by handling agents.