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Port crane contract despite questions

Calcutta, Dec. 26: Calcutta Port Trust today decided to award a contract for installing mobile harbour cranes at a Haldia berth despite questions raised by its vigilance officer.

The CPT’s board of trustees, the apex decision-making body of the port that oversees operations in Haldia and Calcutta, issued a letter of intent to a south India-based company following the Union shipping ministry’s “go-ahead”.

“The ministry has authorised the board to take a decision on the matter. Consequently, the board decided to go ahead and issue a letter of intent to Seapol,” a CPT official said after a board meeting.

The CPT’s deputy chief vigilance officer, who reports to the Central Vigilance Commission, had raised questions on the profitability and operational benefits of awarding the contract for mechanisation of the 4B berth of Haldia Dock Complex in the aftermath of the exit of Haldia Bulk Terminals Ltd (HBT).

The deputy chief vigilance officer had raised the questions in a letter dated November 26, three days before the trustee board was to award the contract to a private player.

The trustee board had then decided to defer the contract, which had deviated from the more remunerative model followed by the port while hiring HBT three years ago.

Sources said CPT had replied to the questions raised by the deputy chief vigilance officer and had simultaneously written to the shipping ministry seeking its opinion on the matter.

There have not been any further questions from the deputy chief vigilance officer, indicating that he is “satisfied” with the reply, a veteran CPT official said.

“If there is no further communication over a considerable period of time, it is generally understood that the matter has been put to rest,” he said.

A month has passed since CPT wrote back to the deputy chief vigilance officer. Asked what he meant by considerable time, the official said: “Considerable is subjective. There is no set guideline.”

Another official said the port could not wait “endlessly”. “We have to go ahead with mechanisation,” he said.

The scope of work for mechanisation of berth 4B formulated under the contract with Seapol is different from what was followed in HBT’s case.

In the new contract, CPT mentions a model where manual and mechanised handlers will coexist.

At today’s meeting, only nine of the 20 trustee members were present. At least five of them are said to be associated with the promoters of Ripley, the manual cargo handler owned by former Trinamul Rajya Sabha member Swapan Sadhan (Tutu) Bose and his son Srinjoy Bose, who is a current Upper House member backed by the party.

Haldia block

Trinamul councillors and supporters today allegedly prevented CPM chairperson Tamalika Panda Seth and Left councillors from entering Haldia municipality to attend a board meeting.

One Left councillor was allegedly beaten up. Tamalika alleged the 100-strong police team in front of the office was a mere spectator.