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Nexus slur on port policy

Cuttack, Oct. 14: The controversy over the Orissa government’s decision to develop minor ports by involving private developers has intensified in the high court here.

While a PIL had challenged allotment of ports to private operators through direct negotiation without inviting tenders or competitive bids, the Centre has now vindicated the PIL’s contention in an affidavit filed in the high court, though in another case.

The Union ministry of shipping has accused the Orissa government of “conniving with private companies and allowing setting up of several non-major private ports along its coastline” without approval of the Centre.

The Orissa government had planned development of 12 minor ports by private operators. International competitive bids were invited for the Gopalpur port and one private party was selected through bidding process.

After this first selection process, the government had, however, allotted ports through direct negotiation without inviting tenders or competitive bids.

Three private parties had been awarded rights to develop minor ports at Subarnareka river mouth, Chudamani and Astaranga, while eight other minor ports were in the pipeline for development by private parties.

Transparency International India (TII)’s board member Biswajit Mohanty filed a PIL seeking quashing of the port policy adopted by the Orissa government, declaring all actions taken on the basis of it as illegal.

Acting on it, the high court, in an interim order on May 30, directed the Orissa government not to sign any further MoU or concessionaire agreement without the knowledge of the court.

While TII’s petition is pending before the high court for adjudication, the ministry of shipping had filed an affidavit on September 26 as a counter to another PIL (filed by the Keonjhar Nava Nirman Parishad) related to the revised limit of Calcutta Port.

The affidavit said: “None of the actions (setting up of non-major private ports) by Orissa has been endorsed by the Centre. These ports have been set up without any cargo projection with an ulterior and sinister motive to compel the trade to use their facilities at an exorbitant cost with total disregard to the national interest.”

“If this trend is allowed to continue, the entire Indian coastline would soon be parcelled out in favour of various parties leaving no space for development of any project by the Centre for national interest,” the ministry of shipping stated.

The PIL filed by TII has challenged the port policy issued by the Orissa commerce and transport department as it facilitated private participation in development of ports through MoU. The petition claimed that the “MoU route” is in contravention of the national policy, which made competitive bidding mandatory for port development through PPP mode.

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