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ABG tests Calcutta waters

Calcutta, Nov. 24: A consortium of two arms of ABG Infralogistics Ltd, the parent company of cargo handler HBT which pulled out of Haldia port earlier this month alleging law-and-order problems, is close to wining a contract to manage container traffic at Calcutta port.

Officials of the Calcutta Port Trust (CPT), which manages the Calcutta and Haldia ports, said the ABG consortium had emerged the lowest bidder for the job of installing and operating mobile harbour cranes at Berth 5 of Calcutta port.

The CPT’s board of trustees, the apex decision-making body of the century-old port, will decide on the tender on Friday.

The ABG consortium is made up of ABG Ports, the leading partner, and ABG Calcutta Container Terminal Pvt Ltd. Haldia Bulk Terminals (HBT) is a joint venture between ABG Ports and LDA of France.

The development comes a few weeks after the CPT threatened to bar HBT and its parent companies from doing business at the two ports.

The CPT had contented that HBT had breached its contract by pulling out of the Haldia port.

Today, however, the CPT held up the latest development as an example of its “unbiased” attitude. “We are an unbiased organisation. We do not hold any grudge against anyone. If ABG has emerged the lowest bidder, the port will consider it with an open mind,” a port official said.

Sources said the CPT’s hands were tied as far as the ABG bid was concerned. Despite the threat to blacklist HBT and its parent companies, no legal bar has been imposed so far.

“If the CPT tries to scuttle the lowest bid by the ABG consortium, it will face a legal challenge,” a port insider said.

Another CPT official said the port had taken legal opinion from outside, besides its own legal cell, on the issue. “We have been advised to go ahead,” the official said.

ABG Calcutta Container Terminal Pvt Ltd, a joint venture between ABG Infralogistics and PSA of Singapore, now operates two berths at the Calcutta Dock System.

Unlike Haldia, which has witnessed a decline in dry bulk cargo such as coal and iron, container traffic is on the rise in Calcutta. ABG sources said this was one of the reasons it bid for the contract at Calcutta port. Another reason, the sources said, was that ABG “saw a good future” at the newly set up Berth 5.

ABG’s move to seek more work at Calcutta while pulling out of Haldia had earlier drawn criticism from the CPT, whose chairman Manish Jain had accused the company of double standards.

“It (ABG) is accusing the CPT of non-cooperation at Haldia but at the same time, it is participating in a tender to handle containers at Berth 5 of Calcutta port. How can it be happy with the CPT in Calcutta and unhappy in Haldia? Both docks are run by the CPT,” Jain had said at a news conference on November 3.

Sources said the two factors that allegedly led to HBT’s pullout from Haldia were not so dominant in Calcutta. The factors were: a well-entrenched manual operator whose owners are associated with Trinamul, and strong-arm tactics with political undertones that forced the mechanised cargo handler to keep a bloated workforce.

Ripley, the Haldia port manual operator that is owned by a family which has a former and a current Trinamul Rajya Sabha MP as members, does not have a significant presence at Calcutta port.