It is now official. The continuing unrest at the Haldia Dock Complex was started by a group of 200-250 workers led by local INTTUC leaders who stormed the main operational building of the port, locked its gates and detained the officials inside on September 19 for six hours, a letter written by the port’s chairman-in-charge, Manish Jain, has revealed.
After the controversy took political colour, Jain began describing it as “an internal matter of Haldia Bulk Terminals (HBT) which must be settled by them”. But his own letter not only negates this claim, but also the contention that the root of the problem lay in HBT sacking the 275 employees who started the agitation.
While the employees were shown the door on September 23, in his three-page letter written to home secretary Basudeb Banerjee, Jainhas given details of those who were leading the workers and how they threatened the port officials on September 19, four days before the termination.
The port chairman also stated that the workers’ actions were preventing the authorities from implementing a high court order and said that if the law and order situation deteriorated further, the port would sink.
Jain wrote that “about 200250 workers of various private handling agents working at Haldia dock” gheraod the port officials in protest against KoPT’s decision to take vessels at Berths 2 and 8 on a priority basis.
“They said, in view of the same, their employers were apprehending a reduction in business volume for which they (employers) had already given indication of terminating them from service. They were also demanding that KoPT should arrange for alternate jobs for them in case they were retrenched from their existing companies,” Jain wrote.
These private handlers carry out shore operations without paying KoPT anything apart from a nominal license fee of a few thousand rupees a year. A firm owned by a Trinamool MP dominates the shore operations.
According to a leaflet circulated by the Haldia Dock Bachao Committee, the private agents handle about 9 million tons of bulk cargo a year and earn about Rs. 202 crore, without paying the port anything.
Jain said “labour unrest of this kind by private workers is posing difficulties in implementing the court order” and that “there is a need to take all possible action required so that unlawful labour unrest… may be dealt with”.