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Port players willing to work for solutions

Calcutta, Oct. 4: Calcutta Port Trust’s proposal to Haldia port operators to “share the recession” seemed to have gained muted acceptance today among cargo handlers, who sought to strike a middle path to end the impasse that has halted operations in two berths.

CPT chairman Manish Jain held a four-hour meeting at the port headquarters in Calcutta. He offered some suggestions to break the deadlock and proposed a committee comprising representatives of all stakeholders to look into ways to implement them.

“Everyone should leave reasonable space to others in these trying times. There has been a drop in cargo in all the major ports,” Jain said after the meeting, attended by private mechanised operator Haldia Bulk Terminals Ltd (HBT), handling agents Ripley and Five Star, and workers’ unions Citu and INTTUC.

Sources said all stakeholders were willing to settle for a solution that could mean sacrificing some cargo.

But the stakeholders kept up the posturing. HBT, which threatened to walk out of Haldia port if it was not given sufficient cargo, said it could not run the business for long if there were losses.

HBT’s move to sack 275 workers sparked labour unrest that led to the closure of the company’s mechanised berths.

Sources said CPT today gave HBT the option of letting out idle equipment to manual berths operated by Ripley and Five Star. Two of HBT’s six cranes are kept on standby. CPT, the sources said, may allow them to be used, increasing productivity. CPT is also believed to have offered HBT the option of taking the two cranes to other ports.

“We will evaluate the proposals made by CPT and decide tomorrow whether to join the committee or not,” HBT CEO Gurpreet Malhi said.

Ripley owner Shoumik Basu said businesses were run for profit, indicating that it should get enough cargo to handle. “We have many people to look after,” he said.

Asraf Ali Shaikh, the director of Five Star, said the group was ready to make certain adjustments if required.

Former CPM MP and Haldia strongman Lakhsman Seth attended the meeting. “The demand of ABG (a stakeholder in HBT) is justified. It should get more cargo. I don’t think there is any need for the committee. The (CPT) chairman can take decisions.” The port has to decide how to distribute cargo among the handlers,” he said. He demanded that HBT take back the sacked workers.