HBT may withdraw from Haldia operations

Santanu Sanyal Kolkata | Updated on March 12, 2018 Published on October 29, 2012


If the current trend is any indication, Haldia Bulk Terminal Private Ltd (HBT), the SPV floated by France’s LDA and India’s ABG Group for operation of berths 2 and 8 at Haldia dock, is likely to withdraw from the dock.

“We’re heading for a situation where the withdrawal of Haldia’s operations appears to be a distinct possibility though no decision has been taken as yet,” a spokesperson for ABG Group told Business Line.

HBT, it was pointed out, had been suffering losses of Rs 2 crore a month on average for the past two years. “We cannot sustain it any longer,” he said, pointing out that the situation would have been different had the volume of traffic been large, but unfortunately, that was not so.

In the first-half of the current fiscal, traffic throughput at the dock was less than that in the corresponding period of the previous year. The months of September and October were particularly bad. Any attempt by the dock authorities to allocate more cargo to HBT berths at the expense of other berths threw up a host of problems, including the retrenchment of 275 workers and a difficult law and order situation.

According to dock sources, any unilateral decision on the part of HBT to withdraw operations from Haldia might evoke a sharp reaction from the Kolkata Port Trust (KoPT) which might insist on payment of a hefty penalty. HBT, it is learnt, is not unaware of it. It might, therefore, try to avoid probable penalty payment by taking shelter under the “critical law and order situation”. KoPT too has gone to court demanding early resumption of work by HBT at the two Haldia berths; alternatively, the port authorities might be forced to initiate the process of terminating the contract with HBT.

What happens to the investment, estimated at Rs 150 crore or so, made by HBT in the two berths? Two options, it appears, are open to the company. It might ask the Haldia dock authorities to buy the handling equipment including the mobile harbour cranes, dumpers, pay-loaders and others deployed in the berths; alternatively, it might place a counter demand with KoPT for penalty of a huge amount. The second action might entail legal processes, including arbitration.

The ABG group, it might be noted, is already embroiled in a court case with KoPT over payment of service tax for its operations at the Kolkata Dock System.

Published on October 29, 2012
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