Calcutta, Oct. 17: The impasse over private port operator Haldia Bulk Terminals (HBT) has put a question mark on the mechanisation drive of Calcutta Port Trust (CPT), prompting it to look at a mix of manual and automated operations.
“Our experience with HBT is not very good. We have to examine the model. It is a complex exercise. The port may need to come up with different ideas,” CPT chairperson Manish Jain said today. CPT runs the Haldia port.
The rethink comes after nearly two years of successful mechanised operations, until the HBT deadlock surfaced three weeks ago.
HBT suspended operations at its two berths on September 24 alleging lack of security for its employees. A joint venture between ABG Port of Mumbai and LDA of France, the firm runs mechanised operations with six cranes that are four times more productive than handling agents who handle cargo manually in other berths.
The company claimed it suffered losses because of inadequate cargo allocation by the Haldia port and high costs arising from a bloated workforce. In a bid to turn the corner, it had laid off 275 workers on September 23, sparking an agitation by those sacked.
But while HBT claimed a loss of Rs 34 crore over two years, CPT made Rs 80 crore in revenues from the two berths assigned to the private operator. By contrast, CPT earns around Rs 60 crore from seven berths operated manually by the handling agents.
Jain stressed the need for all kinds of models at Haldia. “All five fingers are equally important even though they are of different sizes,” Jain said.
One option being considered by the CPT is to limit mechanisation to handling cargo from the ship to the berth.
Some contractors will be asked to bring cranes to load/unload cargo from the ship. Manual handling agents will step in after this point, moving the consignments from the berths to storage depots before they are sent to the users.
A section of CPT officials feared revenue losses under this arrangement but others argued that even the HBT model offered only partial mechanisation. After using cranes to bring down cargo from ships, the officials pointed out, the goods are moved by dumpers and pay-loaders. Full mechanisation would have meant moving the cargo through conveyor belts.
Chairperson Jain sought to highlight the importance of the manual process, saying other berths had saved the day for the port in the three weeks since HBT suspended operations.
However, CPT sources said many ships had shifted to other ports, such as Paradip in Odisha, because of the problems at Haldia.