Monday, May 20, 2013
Last Updated: 19 May 20:04 PM IST
11 November 2012
Issue 1 ~ The Haldia turmoil has proved that despite regime change, Bengal is not an industry-friendly state
Kolkata Port Trust (KoPT) responded with threats of punitive action on 31 October, 2012 when Haldia Bulk Terminal Service (HBTS), a joint venture between ABD-LDA that used to earn the highest revenue for Bengal’s trouble-ridden Haldia Dock Complex (HDC) decided to stop operations. The firm said its decision had been prompted by the government’s inability to provide a secure environment for it to work in. KoPT also refused to allow HBTS to take out its machinery worth about Rs 140 crore from Haldia if the firm went ahead with “unilateral termination of the cargo handling contract at the HDC”. Whatever be the magnitude of intimidation alleged to have been weathered by three HBTS officials, the cargo handler should have sought the KoPT chairman’s intervention before deciding to end the contract. When Mr Gurpreet Malhi, CEO, HBTS categorically said that his firm had not been looking for an “excuse to exit the contract” one cannot help but think if the opposite was true since neither party had exhausted the options for arbitration.
The top leadership of the Trinamul kept on insisting that there were “no problems” at Haldia and that the HBTS, “with poor track record” was only looking for an excuse to move out of HDC. Trinamul MP Saugata Roy, made an adviser to the state industry department by the chief minister, too did not think that ABG’s exit would have any long-term impact on industrial development in the state. He dismissed such apprehensions as “newspaper fodder for two days”.
Thanks to a three-decade-old Left legacy, Bengal has a terrible reputation with its labourers opportunistically unproductive and occasionally militant. The political rivals of the present ruling dispensation seem to be working overtime to project the state government as industry-unfriendly. Interestingly, some importers and exporters operating at Haldia, obviously with vested interests, have urged the Centre to intervene so that HBTS reconsiders its decision to withdraw.
arun kumar bhaduri,
5 november, kolkata
I am neither in favour of casting any aspersion on the state government nor holding it responsible for the sudden exit of ABG from the Haldia port. There was no political interference in the battle between ABG and Haldia port authorities. If the labour unions were giving the cargo handler so much trouble, why did it not move the High Court against them? I think, it is ABG that should be held solely responsible for failing to care for its workers who ultimately turned hostile. When work was halted at the berths leased out to ABG, it was because of the firm’s mismanagement. Not a single vessel entered the port and no cargo could be loaded or unloaded then. When the chief minister is making an earnest effort to project an industry-friendly image, will it not be ridiculous to assume that she will deliberately undo her own efforts? Miss Mamata Banerjee, despite her mercurial temperament, understands the state’s interests.
5 november, kolkata
The current turmoil in Haldia is rooted in political rivalry. The current dispensation is bent on wiping out everything that has a link with the previous regime. Both the current dispensation and the Opposition (the Left) are wearing their vested interests on their sleeves and undermining all efforts of the government to redeem Bengal’s image as an industry-friendly location. During the Left regime, Haldia used to be CPI-M’s strongman Mr Laxman Seth’s fief. At that time, he was a law unto himself and also responsible for labour unrest and nepotism at the docks. The same legacy is now being carried forward by Trinamul MP Subhendu Adhikari. Political tussle leading to HBTS’ withdrawal and the KoPT’s inability to resolve the crisis are causing terrible damage to this port of international renown. People had sought paribartan but it looks like a distant dream. The unstable situation in Haldia is sending a wrong message to leading investors. Which sensible industrialist will consider investing in Bengal where militant trade unionism is still rampant and work is disrupted at the drop of a hat? The powers-that-be must change their mindset; otherwise no investor will look twice at Bengal. The state will remain a laggard if the chief minister does not intervene to end the Haldia turmoil.
7 november, siliguri
Investor faith shaken
Yes, the Haldia troubles make it clear that West Bengal has barely changed. The incident has also proved that our leaders lack vision and administrative clarity. ABG entered the Hadia docks through an open tendering process after being named the successful bidder. But it could not do justice to its contract because of heavy political interference and influences. The firm decided to call it quits after being unable to withstand dirty political pressure any more. The state government continues to say that nothing is amiss and there is no need to worry. Owing to dredging problems and poor depth of the Hooghly river, the Kolkata port is no longer an option for large ships and barges. Haldia port was the state’s saving grace. But it too has been sacrificed at the altar of militant trade unionism.
We have already earned a bad name so far as the state’s industrialisation record is concerned. No investor considers investing in Bengal in spite of the availability of cheap labour. Political squabbles always keep them at bay. The new government promised better governance and a better quality of life for the people of Bengal. But, it has not acquitted itself well, especially as far as Haldia is concerned. The crisis became a media circus. We need a politician and administrator of Dr BC Roy’s calibre to rekindle the investors’ faith in Bengal.
5 november, kolkata
Since 1970s, Bengal has been described as a state that is not industry friendly. Industrialists and politicians continue to blame the state’s people for that. And, after the trouble that compelled the Tatas to quit Singur, Bengal’s notoriety has only solidified. Workers are usually seen as foes of industry, especially if they owe allegiance to trade unions. But, trade unions are legal in this country and no company worth its reputation operates without one. Just as workers need trade unions to defend their interests, unions too need to be responsible and be able to see the larger picture. It is really astonishing to see world-renowned companies seeking concessions from the government to set up shop in this country. This apart, provident fund embezzlement, defalcation of welfare funds and frequent violation of labour laws show how singularly profit-minded big companies can be. Seen from this perspective, the Haldia crisis is no exception. The cargo handler that ended its contract with the docks may beg sympathy by shrilly blaming West Bengal but had its own labour practices been entirely above board and compliant to local laws? Maybe industrialists from other states are purposely maligning Bengal’s work culture.
7 november, howrah