Shipping Ministry to hold meet in Delhi soon to resolve impasse

Santanu Sanyal Kolkata | Updated on October 18, 2012

The Union Shipping Ministry plans to hold a high-level meeting in Delhi soon to resolve the impasse over one of its decisions taken earlier. In November 2010, the 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, reacted sharply to it.

The Ministry’s notification, if implemented, would have given KoPT the right to undertake cargo handling operation in Kanika Sands, an island off the Odisha coast. A few of Odisha’s private ports in the vicinity, some already in operation and others still to start, apprehended that their future would be at stake if KoPT is allowed to operate on Kanika Sands. They 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 water is not the exclusive preserve of any State Government; only the Union Government is authorised to take a decision on its utilisation in the overall national interest.

Apex Court directive

The matter went up to the Supreme Court. The Delhi meeting is being held following a directive from the apex court that the parties involved in the dispute should try to sort out the issue among themselves. Accordingly, the meeting is to be attended by the officials of the Governments of Odisha and West Bengal and KoPT. The representatives of two private ports in Odisha —Dhamra port and Subarnarekha port — are also likely to be present at the proposed meeting.

The contention of Dhamra port, promoted jointly by Tata Steel and L&T, is that Kanika Sands being located virtually next door, any additional cargo handling facility there will pose a threat to it.

The location of Subarnarekha port, as its promoter Chennai-based Creative Port Development Pvt Ltd, points out, falls within the extended jurisdiction of Kolkata Port Trust, and therefore such an extension is unacceptable. Interestingly, the West Bengal Government became a party to the case at a much later stage, presumably at the insistence of KoPT.

While the outcome of the Delhi meeting is anybody’s guess, there is an apprehension that the decision might not exactly favour Kolkata port, more so in view of the present level of equation between the Centre and the State. In that case, the Ministry may go back on its earlier decision.

Published on October 18, 2012

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