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Rediff.com  » Business » ABG pulls out of Haldia on safety concerns

ABG pulls out of Haldia on safety concerns

November 01, 2012 17:09 IST

ABGWest Bengal on Wednesday saw a Singur re-run, with private cargo handler ABG Haldia Bulk Terminals pulling out of Haldia.

Although many projects in the state are in limbo, this is the first major pullout after Tata Motors's decision to move out of West Bengal in October 2008.

What may have precipitated into the move was Trinamool Congress chief and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee's 'dissatisfaction'.

Banerjee had claimed on Tuesday that 'nothing has happened' at Haldia, when asked about the abduction of three HBT officials.

She labelled it a conspiracy of a section of the media and the Communist Part of India (Marxist).

The company's counsel today informed the Calcutta High Court that the company would terminate its operations in Haldia.

ABG has also written to the Kolkata Port Trust, seeking termination of its 10-year contract with the port.

The move would put 350 jobs in jeopardy.

The company will also approach the court seeking compensation for the losses that it suffered at Haldia, including the amount it paid for security.

Tata Motors had also asked for compensation from the state government for its losses at Singur.

The immediate trigger was the abduction of three HBT officials -- Manpreet Jolly, Jagadish Behara and Bushan Patil, including his wife and one-year-old daughter -- at gunpoint last Sunday by an unidentified mob, allegedly backed by the TMC.

Although they were later released, the officials were told 'not to come back to Haldia'.

This happened even after the firm paid more than Rs 17 lakh (Rs 1.7 million) for the deployment of police personnel towards restoration of peace, based on a Calcutta High Court order.

"The safety and security of our employees is of paramount importance and above business interests.

"We have to inform you that we have been left with no option, but to walk out from Haldia Dock Complex with immediate effect.

"We cannot work in an environment where the authorities responsible for ensuring the law and order and success of the project have openly renounced and abandoned their responsibilities," said Gurpreet Malhi, chief executive officer, HBT.
Responding to this, a senior port official said on condition of anonymity: "If the state government cannot give protection, what can the port do?"

According to Malhi, HBT has made an accumulated loss of Rs 60 crore (Rs 600 million) from Haldia operations, and that it has so far invested Rs 150 crore (Rs 1.5 billion) since inception.

KoPT was getting a net gain of Rs 150 per tonne vis-a-vis only Rs 25 per tonne from other berths.

Therefore, suspension of HBT's operations will imply an immediate revenue decrease of 75 per cent on dry bulk amounting to Rs 90 crore (Rs 900 million) a year for HDC.

Last year, Haldia Dock handled 17 mt of dry bulk cargo, which is already down by two mt this year.

Trouble started since September, when HBT decided to suspend its operations from September 8, seeking more cargo from KoPT.

However, following a court direction, it had to reach an agreement with the port.

According to the agreement, all vessels carrying dry bulk cargo arriving at HDC will be allocated to HBT berths No. 2 and 8, and if these berths are engaged, vessels will be allocated to other berths.

Things took a violent turn once the firm stopped operations on September 24 citing political unrest and retrenched 275 people on grounds of an oversized payroll of 650 and loss in operations.

There was resistance from the TMC-backed INTTUC, which said that it will not allow the firm to resume work, unless the retrenched workers were taken back.

"We were instrumental in revival of the Haldia Dock through the mechanisation of berths, which has resulted in a more than three-fold increase in productivity to more than 20,000 tonnes per day/per berth.

"Now, we regret our decision to go to Haldia.

"The economy of West Bengal has once again been denied the opportunity of growth, modernisation and development," said Malhi.

BS Reporter in Kolkata
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