Local Trinamool Congress MP Suvendu Adhikary threatened Haldia Dock Complex authorities to lock up their office and gherao the port if they did not shift a cargo-laden ship from a mechanised berth to a non-mechanised berth.
HT has obtained a copy of the letter written by Damodar Nayak, manager (shipping and cargo handling) of HDC, to Manish Jain, the chairman-in-charge of Kolkata Port Trust (of which the HDC is a part), i n forming him of the development.
The ship, MV Nanos, was carrying coking coal from Durban in South Africa. Significantly, the law of the land has bestowed on the port authorities the powers to allocate berths to vessels.
According to Section 37 of the Major Port Trusts Act, 1963, the port management has the authority to allocate particular berths to the vessels, provided the management “shall have regard, as far as possible, to the convenience of such vessel and of the shippers, in respect of the use of any particular dock, berth, wharf, quay, stage, jetty or pier”.
Moreover, on September 12, Kolkata Port Trust (KoPT) and Haldia Bulk Terminals (HBT) agreed before Calcutta high court justice Sanjib Banerjee that “dry bulk vessels calling in Haldia Dock Complex (HDC) will be allotted berths two and eight on priority basis.” The order clearly states, vessels would be allotted non-mechanised berths only if the mechanised ones are occupied. Nayak’s letter is dated September 19 and describes in detail how Adhikary, who is also the chairman of Haldia Development Authority (HDA), threatened him. “At about 9.46 hrs Adhikary had called the undernamed over mobile phone and wanted to know the reason for berthing of MV Nanos at berth no eight, when the importer had opted to work the vessels … at berths other than two and eight. He also said that he will not tolerate such action of HDC and will put a lock at Jawhar Tower office and also gherao Chiranjibpur office,” Nayak wrote. “He (Adhikary) also said that even if the cargo is unloaded from the ship, he will not allow a single truck of cargo to move out of the port,” wrote Nayak.
When contacted, Adhikary told HT he did not know Nayak. “This is absolutely baseless allegation. I won’t comment.”
However, on September 19, Jain wrote to the home secretary, informing that Shyamal Adak, convener of Trinamool’s trade union wing at Haldia, led an agitation at non-mechanised berths and locked the HDC’s administrative building, alleging that priority to mechanised berths might risk their jobs.
“The labour unrest of this kind by private workers is posing difficulties in implementing the court order,” Jain wrote, while soliciting the home secretary’s intervention.
However, Trinamool supporters carried out their threat and did not allow unloading of the ship. Three days later, the HDC authorities were forced to shift the vessel to a non-mechanised berth. Operators at the non-mechanised berths (4B, 5,6,7,9, 10, 11 and 13) also moved court, seeking cancellation of the agreement between KoPT and HBT, but court rejected the appeal. On September 22, HBT suspended operations. They also sacked 275 employees, blaming it on recurring losses and the sacking further complicated the situation.