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Foreign partner speaks out

Edouard Louis-Dreyfus, the chief executive officer of LDA, the French partner in HBT

Calcutta, Nov. 1: Louis Dreyfus Armateurs, the foreign partner in Haldia Bulk Terminals (HBT), has said it has been forced to conclude that “in Bengal, especially in Haldia, the private and personal interests of some people always come before the general interests of the port and the country”.

The foreign company had partnered ABG Ports of Mumbai to form HBT, the cargo-handler that announced its decision to pull out of Haldia after the alleged abduction of its officials and other intimidatory tactics.

LDA, a century-old French company with interests in port, shipping and logistics operations, has a presence in 15 countries. LDA’s parent company was founded in 1851 and it established one of the wealthiest dynasties in Europe through activities that included shipping, weapons manufacturing and banking.

Edouard Louis-Dreyfus, the chief executive officer of LDA, told The Telegraph in an email interview that investors needed stability and a climate of trust. When political leaders are denying that violence has taken place, “this is not democracy any more”, he added.

Excerpts from the interview:

Q: What is LDA’s reaction to HBT’s decision to pull out of Bengal?

Louis-Dreyfus: This is a very sad decision, but we have been forced to take itů on account of the current situation in Haldia. We have been suffering forů years in Haldia and we are forced to the conclusion that in West Bengal, and especially in Haldia, the private and personal interests of some people always come before the general interests of the port and the country.

Q: Why do you think the pullout was necessary?

Louis-Dreyfus: When workers are attacked at gunpoint by a mob wearing masks to hide their face, when a small child is traumatised, when the police is not responding to emergency calls and not protecting its citizens and when political leaders are denying that these facts ever happened, this is not democracy any more.

In democracies, law and order are respected. So when the safety of our employees is in jeopardy, there are no other options but to protect them by ceasing operations immediately. For LDA, safety of its employees is the first priority.

Q: What do you think will be the impact of this on LDA’s business in India?

Louis-Dreyfus: As you may know, we are already — and successfully — providing our services in other major Indian ports (Vizag, Tuticorin, Mangalore). We are welcome and we get a lot of positive support at these ports. We are keen on developing our activities in India.

We are very confident that we can develop port infrastructure in India for the benefit of Indian economy. India is already playing a key role in the world economy and this role will definitely expand in the future.

This expansion needs investments and knowhow. Louis Dreyfus Armateurs Group, which has been present in India for over a hundred years, is proud to participate to this development.

Q: Do you think LDA would consider fresh investments in Bengal’s port sector?

Louis-Dreyfus: No, not under the current dramatic situation. India being a major democracy, we believe law and order must be applied everywhere to everyone.

Q: Do you think it will impact Bengal’s business prospects in France?

Louis-Dreyfus: The least we can say is that it will not help.ů

Q: What will be your suggestion to prospective French investors?

Louis-Dreyfus: As we have said repeatedly, business needs stability and climate of trust. Investments need long-term perspective. But more important than anything else, business needs safety. When it comes to local employees’ safety, when they and their family are threatened in their very lives, there is no room for investment any more.