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Port workers beaten, security onus on govt

Calcutta, Sept. 28: The Calcutta Port Trust (CPT) today put the onus of maintaining law and order at the Haldia port on the government, hours after which a group of sacked workers and manual berth labourers allegedly assaulted those unloading a ship.

The CPT’s board of trustees, the apex decision-making body of the port, requested the chief secretary to hold a meeting “at the earliest” with all stakeholders to defuse the labour unrest sparked by the sacking of 275 workers by private port operator Haldia Bulk Terminal Ltd (HBT).

The trustees also directed HBT, which has terminated the services of a contractor that employed 400-odd workers, to resume operations at the two mechanised berths it runs at the Haldia port. Work was stopped on Monday night because of the unrest.

“(The) CPT would be providing general security inside the dock area for your employees with the help of (the) CISF as per usual practice. The same is being provided by (the) CPT on round-the-clock basis. It may be appreciated that the CISF is there to protect the port properties but law and order is maintained by the state government,” HBT CEO Gurpreet Malhi quoted from a CPT letter.

Soon after the resolution requesting the meeting with the chief secretary was passed at an emergency board meeting of the trustees in Calcutta, around 400 sacked workers and manual berth labourers attacked those unloading MV Kyra Zafira. Four HBT workers and two port officials were injured.

In a statement, HBT alleged that employees working in the manual berths and those sacked were part of the group that attacked the workers.

“HBT wants to express its greatest concern in regard to the state of lawlessness in which Haldia Dock and its surrounding are now plunged despite the declaration of the CPT that everything is normal,” Malhi said in the statement.

He alleged that the CPT was trying to shake off its responsibility of providing a congenial atmosphere for working by demanding that the private operator fulfil its contractual obligation.

Asking HBT to resume operations, the CPT cited an agreement reached in Calcutta High Court under which the port authority agreed to divert more ships to HBT’s mechanised berths from the manual ones. The CPT said in a statement: “Any violation of the settlement arrived at before the court of law and provision of the said agreement will be dealt with as per law.”

Sources said the agreement had angered the manual workers.

Today’s trouble at the Haldia port started when the HBT workers started unloading the ship, which was carrying 20,000 tonnes of hard coking coal from Australia for the Steel Authority of India.

Those injured were junior assistant manager Mohammed Reja, assistant manager (shipping and cargo handling) Soumen Bandopadhyay, HBT shift leader Subhroto Mondal, crane helper Rehman, water tanker helper Hajibul and a loader operator.

CPT chairman Manish Jain said he had no knowledge of any port official being roughed up. “Police and the port can take action only after an FIR is lodged,” he said.

Jain said he was not aware of any FIR lodged by the company, appearing to question the veracity of HBT’s claim.

Malhi said he had “zero incentive” in making any false statement. “I am a contractor. I want to work and make money. I have no other ambition, political or otherwise,” he said.