Haldia port equipment handler quits West Bengal over safety concern

Port equipment operator Haldia Bulk Terminals (HBT) Wednesday quit West Bengal, citing "poor law and order" and "safety" concern for its employees.

Kolkata: Port equipment operator Haldia Bulk Terminals (HBT) Wednesday quit West Bengal, citing "poor law and order" and "safety" concern for its employees.

HBT, a joint venture of ABG Infralogistics and French Louis Dreyfus Armatuers, was operating at two mechanised berths - 2 and 8 - at the Haldia Dock Complex and handled five million tonnes of cargo per year.

"We have decided to pull out from the Haldia Dock Complex," HBT chief executive Gurpreet Malhi said in a communication to the Kolkata Port Trust (KoPT).

"For us, safety and security of our employees is of paramount importance," said Malhi, referring to the abduction of three of the company`s officers Sunday.

The state government and the police have, however, termed the abduction as a "cooked up story".

Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has also said the Haldia Dock imbroglio has been "exaggerated".

Talking to the media, Malhi said, "We cannot work in an environment where the authorities responsible for ensuring the law and order have openly abandoned their responsibility."

"And we have been writing to the Kolkata Port Trust (KoPT), as they are the principal employers, but no action has been forthcoming from it and the district administration."

HBT`s decision would further complicate the situation at labour unrest-hit Haldia Dock Complex, which handles an average 14 million tonnes of dry bulk cargo a year, including critical raw materials for eastern region steel plants.

The development "will surely have a negative impact on the state`s image" said chambers of commerce.

The deadlock at KoPT`s Haldia Dock Complex over operations of HBT has been continuing ever since the company retrenched 275 employees in September.

Following the unrest, HBT had stopped operations at the second and eighth berths of the dock complex, resulting in KoPT moving the Calcutta High Court for permission to terminate its agreement with HBT.

The Congress and the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) attacked the Trinamool Congress-led government for "vitiating" the industrial environment in Bengal.

Entrepreneurs and several industry lobbies observed that the development would further worsen the state`s industrial prospect after the Singur fiasco.

Tata Motors had pulled out its small car Nano project from the town in Hooghy district following an often violent and sustained anti-land acquisition movement, spearheaded by then opposition leader Mamata Banerjee in 2008.

The newly inducted union Minister of State for Urban Development Deepa Dasmunshi demanded a Central Bureau of Investigation probe into the Haldia stalemate.

"It is unfortunate. First the Tatas left, now HBT... If everybody leaves the state for law and order and problems like the Haldia stalemate, then that is unacceptable. This (forcing HBT to leave) has been done to serve partistan interests. A CBI probe is needed," Dasmunshi said.

CPI-M central committee member Mohammed Salim expressed "shock" over the "irresponsibility" of the state government.

"They all ganged up. What has happened in Haldia is against the interests of the state, port and particularly Haldia Dock Complex employees whose jobs are now at stake."

Reacting to the HBT`s decision, Kallol Datta, president of Bengal Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said: "It is an unfortunate incident and it will surely have a negative impact on state`s image."

"The state government now must look into roping in a big ticket investment in West Bengal," he added.