New Delhi, Feb. 13: The Supreme Court today issued notices to the Centre and the Odisha government, asking them to present their views on a plea by the Calcutta Port Trust to lift a status quo order passed against it on September 29 last year by Orissa High Court. The high court had directed the port trust to maintain status quo on the territorial limits of the port.
“This is a very serious and interesting matter,” a two-judge bench, consisting of Justice D.K. Jain and Justice Anil R. Dave, observed while issuing the notices. At one stage, the bench wondered whether in the “present scenario” the central move to extend the limits of Calcutta port was prompted by “two different political compulsions”. The central government had without consulting the Odisha government increased the territorial limits of Calcutta port to the detriment of seven minor ports in northern coastal Odisha, prompting the lessees to challenge it in the high court. While this was pending, the Odisha government filed a suit in the top court on the ground that it was an interstate dispute, which could only be adjudicated by the state.
On November 25 last year, acting on a plea by the lessees and a PIL petitioner, Orissa High Court quashed the central notification, redrawing the boundaries of Calcutta port. The ministry of shipping and transport had supported Calcutta Port Trust in the high court.
On January 9, the Calcutta port authorities tried to get the status quo order lifted, but a top court bench turned them away on the ground that the high court had ruled against them.
Calcutta Port Trust then filed an appeal against the high court judgment.
Hearing the port trust appeal today, a top court bench also issued notices to the Centre and the Odisha governments, the lessees of the minor ports, and an NGO, which had agitated the issue in Orissa High Court.
The court also asked all parties to file their submissions on interim stay, pending disposal of the appeals by March 12. The port trust’s plea for vacating status quo will then be decided.
Senior lawyer Fali S. Nariman appeared for the port trust whereas a battery of senior lawyers such as Harish N. Salve, A. Sundaram and K.K. Venugopal appeared for Odisha and other private parties, respectively.
Nariman made out an emotional case for extending the limits of Calcutta port. “The Calcutta port is decaying, it is not flourishing,” he said, blaming it on the silt deposits because of the Farakka barrage. The port could only be used in the eight non-monsoon months, but in the four monsoon months, ships entering the port needed a 2sqkm area in the high seas to drop anchor, he said.
“This area could also be used by ships entering Dhamara,” he said. But, Salve was quick to reject this offer.
Salve said Odisha had already notified the areas to be covered by its minor ports and the Centre could not extend the Calcutta port limits after this space had been occupied.