Centre wades into port impasse

The notification by the ministry of shipping, granting permission to the Kolkata Port Trust (KoPT) to extent its jurisdiction to 200 km south of Haldia will continue to remain in effect, but the Centre has assured Orissa chief minister Navin Patnaik of a high-level meeting by February 12 to address his concerns on the subject.

On Wednesday, Patnaik met shipping minister G K Vasan in Delhi and urged him to roll back the notification, saying it would seriously affect upcoming ports in Orissa. Immediately after the notification, Patnaik had called it arbitrary and said that the decision would affect 6-7 private ports that are coming up along the northern coast of the state.

Naveen told Vasan that Orissa had, in accordance with law, notified seven non-major ports (Dhamra, Chudamani, Chandipur, Inchudi, Subarnarekha mouth, Bichitrapur and Bahabalpur) in northern parts of the state prior to the revision of KoPT’s territorial limits, overlapping the north Orissa coast.

“This would jeopardise the state’s effort to develop the maritime sector and seriously impact the industrial and economic development of the state,” an official release quoted Naveen as having told Vasan.

“The chief minister expressed his apprehensions. To allay his fears and find an amicable solution, senior ministry officials will hold a meeting with those from the state in 10 days. I have assured him that extension of KoPT’s jurisdiction will not impact the growth of upcoming ports in Orissa,” Vasan said in Delhi after the meeting on Wednesday.

The KoPT had been apprehensive of such a reaction from the Orissa government and turned to railways minister Mamata Banerjee to take up its cause in Delhi. Mamata will meet KoPT officials in Haldia on Friday to discuss the matter. On that day, she will also lay the foundation stone of the Haldia-II port facility that is coming up at Shalukkhali.

The tiff between the Orissa government and KoPT dates back several years when the latter explored possibilities of transloading operations from Cape-size vessels in deeper waters. Large ships of 125,000 tonnes capacity or higher can’t enter the ports of Kolkata or Haldia due to low draught. Transloading was attempted at the Sandheads beyond Sagar but this was possible only during the fairweather season (September to February).

KoPT then set its sights to a silted area’ off the Orissa coast where transloading of cargo was possible throughout the year. The proposal is to anchor a vessel at this point permanently and offload cargo into it from larger vessels. This cargo would then be loaded on to barges and taken to the ports of Kolkata and Haldia.

The Orissa government had been against this move from the start. Patnaik has pointed out that the port facility being set up by the Tatas at Dhamra will be the worst affected. According to sources, Dhamra’s future depends on transloading cargo from larger vessels and shipping it on barges to ports like Kolkata and Haldia. Read more….

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