The two-year-old stalemate over Kolkata Port Trust’s plan to launch a transloading operation at Kanika Sands, a cluster of islands off the Odisha coast, is likely to be resolved soon.

This follows a high-level meeting held in Delhi recently. The meeting was presided over by the Secretary, Ministry of Shipping, and attended among others by the Chairman of Kolkata Port Trust (KoPT), CEO of Dhamra Port and representatives of the Odisha Government and Subarnarekha Port, another private port to be developed in Odisha by the Chennai-based Creative Port Development Pvt Ltd.

“We’ve narrowed down our differences and are hopeful of a resolution of the stalemate within the next couple of weeks,” R. P. S. Kahlon, Chairman of KoPT, told Business Line. “The developments are in positive direction.”

Asked what kind of solution was likely to emerge, Kahlon replied that KoPT would be allowed to undertake transloading operations in Kanika Sands. “We’ve identified the location which will be different from the ones identified earlier and the proposed operation will be undertaken over two nautical miles in the new location,” he said.

The KoPT Chairman indicated that the objections raised earlier by the Odisha Government would be withdrawn and a necessary notification in this regard issued from Bhubaneswar shortly. “We’re working on it,” he said.

Once the stalemate is resolved, the case pending in the Supreme Court would also be withdrawn. “In fact, the Delhi meeting was held at the direction of the country’s apex court which insisted on an amicable settlement,” he added. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court has extended the deadline for an amicable settlement till March 11, 2013.

A spokesman for Dhamra Port Company Ltd (DPCL), a joint venture between Tata Steel and L&T that runs a port at Dhamra in Odisha, confirmed that the dispute over transloading by KOPT at Kanika Sands would be settled soon. “The new location identified for the proposed operation, unlike the earlier one, would not create much of a problem for Dhamra Port,” he observed.

In November 2010, the Shipping Ministry, in a notification, had extended the limit of Kolkata Port Trust (KoPT), also covering certain stretches of the Bay of Bengal bordering Odisha. The Odisha Government, reportedly at the prodding of promoters of some private ports in the State, had reacted sharply to it. The contention of DPCL was that Kanika Sands being located virtually next door any additional cargo handling facility there would pose a threat to it. The location of Subarnarekha Port, as its promoter Chennai-based Creative Port Development Pvt Ltd, had pointed out, would fall within the extended jurisdiction of Kolkata Port Trust and, therefore, such an extension was unacceptable.

A few other of Odisha’s private ports in the vicinity, some already in operation and others still to start, too had expressed apprehensions that their future would be at stake if KoPT was allowed to operate on Kanika Sands and, therefore, strongly urged the State Government to fight it out with the Centre. The argument of the Ministry and KoPT, on the other hand, was that international waters could not be the exclusive preserve of any State Government; only the Union Government was authorised to take a decision on its utilisation in the overall national interest. The matter went up to the Supreme Court. Interestingly, the West Bengal Government became party to the case at a much later stage, presumably at the insistence of KoPT.

santanu.sanyal@thehindu.co.in

(This article was published on February 6, 2013)
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