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‘Quit’ signal from HBT

- Haldia operator moves court, seeks govt intervention
A ship docked at Haldia port in September

Calcutta, Oct. 16: Haldia Bulk Terminals (HBT), the private loading company that laid off workers citing paucity of work, today said it would be “forced to withdraw” from the port if working conditions were not conducive and moved court seeking the state’s intervention.

A statement released this evening by HBT CEO Gurpreet Malhi said the future of its investment at the Haldia port and the fate of the remaining 350 employees were at stake as the situation continued to be volatile in the complex.

“We are extremely disappointed that Calcutta Port Trust has failed in fulfilling its obligations in providing us a normal and conducive work environment by way of taking necessary steps to maintain the law and order situation in the dock and its surrounding area,” Malhi’s statement said.

“We fear that if this volatility continues, we will be forced to withdraw from the Haldia dock complex as we cannot continue to pay salaries and incur expenses in the absence of any revenue,” he wrote.

The company today moved Calcutta High Court seeking an order directing the government to intervene and ask police to give protection to its staff. Justice Dipankar Dutta told lawyer Samaraditya Pal, appearing for HBT, that he would hear the case tomorrow.

HBT, a joint venture between ABG Ports of Mumbai and LDA of France, operated two mechanised berths in Haldia port, which is under the control of Calcutta Port Trust. It stopped work on September 25, a day after laying off 275 workers who held protests after that. Many workers are members of a Trinamul-affiliated union.

HBT’s legal move comes three days before the October 19 deadline set by the CPT to resume work or face early termination of the contract. HBT has also not replied to a notice by the CPT seeking its comments on the impasse. Malhi today wrote that the legal move should have been made by CPT to ensure a healthy work environment.

A senior official said the port had done all it could to ensure a conducive atmosphere. “We called meetings with all stakeholders several times. We requested the state administration to take up the matter,” he said.

CPT sources blamed HBT’s move to sack the 275 hands for the problem. “It is their own doing, the manner in which they sacked the people,” a source said.

HBT had said it was forced to take the 275 people under political pressure even though they were not required for the mechanised operation. It had claimed that handling agents in manual berths could be behind the agitation. HBT and manual handling agents compete for cargo at the port.