Close on the heels of the French government’s intervention in the Haldia Bulk Terminals (HBT) fiasco, the Union shipping ministry has got into action on the matter. A three-member fact-finding team has arrived in Kolkata and will meet port officials and executives of HBT to assess and inquire about the situation.
HBT, a joint venture between ABG Infralogistics and France’s Louis Dreyfus Armateurs (LDA) had on October 28 pulled out of a 10-year contract for cargo-handling operations, blaming the political climate and “vested interest” by the Kolkata Port Trust (KoPT) authorities.
On Friday, the French embassy had confirmed it had approached the Indian government, following a request from LDA, asking for a safe exit from Haldia. This happened after the port threatened it would not allow HBT to move its equipment worth Rs 140 crore out of Haldia. “Our officials will look into the chronology of the events and what led to this problem. Thereafter steps will be taken to normalise the situation,” P K Sinha, secretary, ministry of shipping, told Business Standard.
The committee comprises two senior shipping ministry officials — S Tripathi and Anuj Agarwal and Janardhan Rao, managing director, Indian Ports Association. They will submit a final report in 10 days. “We will record the version of all stakeholders — including ABG, the port, cargo handlers and unions. We want to avoid such instances not just in Haldia, but across major ports,” Rao told Business Standard.
The three officials met senior ABG officials and KoPT officials yesterday evening. Port chairman Manish Jain, however, remained conspicuous with his absence.
HBT’s contract was for operations at berth number two and eight of the Haldia Dock Complex (HDC). The port later retaliated by blacklisting HBT and also hinted at blacklisting its parent companies.
“Such incidents give bad publicity to all foreign investors, who want to participate in the overall infrastructure sector of India. As it is they have reservation about handling local issues here, this sends out a very bad signal,” said Vishwas Udgirkar, senior director, Deloitte India.
Congress demands KoPT board restructuring
Upping the ante, minister of state for urban development Deepa Dasmunshi said the Centre would also look into corruption charges against port authorities and also demanded restructuring of the KoPT board.
“We want the board in which at least five members affiliated to Ripley and Co, the family-run business of Trinamool Congress Parliamentarian Srinjoy Bose, to be removed. Moreover, there are corruption charges against port officials and some serious operational flaws, too, at Haldia, which has to be looked into,” she said.
Dasmunshi, who had two rounds of meeting with shipping minister G K Vasan regarding the Haldia imbroglio added the ministry was also looking into the issue on how a single company, Ripley, is handling 60 per cent of onshore operations at Haldia.