Close to 150 years, country’s oldest port staring at threats from proposed ports in Odisha and Bengal
As it is nearing the landmark 150th year, Kolkata Port Trust (KoPT), the country’s oldest surviving port that is battling declining draft for decades, is now facing the twin threats from a port in Odisha and Bengal that threaten to take away a big chunk of its business.
KoPT, which is in its 147th year, is losing out about 10-15% of its cargo to the minor port at Dhamra in Odisha. But a far bigger threat looms when the Subarnarekha port comes up, KoPT chairman M T Krishna Babu said on Thursday.
The picture looks more gloomy for KoPT as its survival plan with an alternative port at Sagar, sharing KoPT’s hinterland, virtually stands scrapped due to the new deep sea port proposed by the West Bengal government at Tajpur, close to Haldia.
“The ministry has made it clear that Sagar port is not happening if Tajpur comes up, as it will amount to bad investment. We are keen on joining state government in developing the Tajpur port and have sought 74% share from them. We are waiting for the state government’s response,” Krishna Babu said.
Dhamra port is about 250 kilometres from Haldia dock complex, while the planned Subarnarekha port will come up barely a hundred kilometers away from Haldia. Tajpur is about 75 kilometres from Haldia.
India’s oldest operational port and the first among the 12 major ports (government-owned) of India, KoPT is also the only riverine major port. Established in 1870, it now has two docks, one in Kolkata and the other at Haldia.
In 2016-17, KoPT handled 3,431 ships, the highest among Indian major ports, but its cargo throughput stayed flat at 50.3 million metric tonnes.
The state government, however, is no mood to give majority share to the Centre. It offered the Centre 24% share and planned to attract private investment for the rest. If Mamata Banerjee is able to push through her plan, it will jeopardise the KoPT further.
“Even the security of pensioners will be at risk,” Krishna Babu said, hinting at the gloomy future that three private ports in the vicinity – Dhamra, Subarnarekha and Tajpur – can bring for them.
KoPT is already burdened with meeting the expenses of more than 30,000 pensioners, whereas it has about 5,300 employees.
The KoPT chairman said they are keeping worst possible scenario in mind and planning modernisation accordingly to attract more cargo and reduce operational expenditure.
The cost of using Kolkata port or Haldia dock is 25-40% higher than at Dhamra. Haldia dock, however, enjoys the advantage of strong railway connectivity and the hinterland of the states of the northeast and Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan.