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Cap on Haldia cargo fee
- Centre tries to rein in handling agents

Calcutta, July 18: Calcutta Port Trust today placed a cap on the rates of cargo handlers at Haldia port, a move aimed at reducing the cost of business and reining in handling agents who charge high fees.

The trustee board of the CPT “operationalised” the tariff structure following a directive from the Centre. Haldia, where a cargo handling company owned by a Trinamul MP’s family is the biggest player, became the first port in the country where such a ceiling has been put in place.

In an attempt to shore up its income, the CPT board has also fixed the minimum amount the handlers will have to share with it for every tonne of cargo. Till now, the handlers had been doing business at Haldia port by paying a nominal yearly fee to the CPT. Agents will now have to share with the CPT a minimum of Rs 13 per tonne of cargo handled.

According to the new tariff structure, the handling agents will not be allowed to charge more than Rs 120 a tonne to move cargo from jetties to the stockyard or load goods onto trains or trucks. The handlers had been charging between Rs 180 and Rs 200 a tonne. The ceiling will bring down the profit margin of the agents but reduce the cost of business at Haldia.

Shipping sources said cargo handling at Haldia would become cheaper by at least Rs 60 a tonne because of the cap, bringing the rate almost on a par with that of Odisha’s Paradip, the nearest big port.

The handling fee ceiling will be applicable to bulk and dry bulk cargo such as coal, iron ore and limestone. Lower fees will reduce input costs of core-sector industries such as power, steel and cement.

“The Union shipping ministry had directed the CPT to operationalise the new system by July 23. We have adhered to it. By early next week, tenders will be floated, calling applications from handling agents,” CPT chairman R.P.S. Kahlon said this evening.

Ripley, owned by the family of Srinjoy Bose, the Trinamul Rajya Sabha MP, is the biggest handling agent at Haldia port. Srinjoy’s father Swapan Sadhan (Tutu) Bose is a former Trinamul Rajya Sabha MP.

The revised tariff structure could attract more agents to the port, potentially increasing competition and reducing handling costs further.

“Haldia has earned a bad name for being a high-cost port. Low draught because of siltation has also made the port unattractive as big ships can’t go there. Port users will not be the only beneficiaries. The positive impact will be felt across the board,” an industry insider said.

The plan to impose the ceiling had been in the offing for some time but was fast-tracked after the Narendra Modi government came to power. Many had spoken in favour of a ceiling after mechanised cargo handler ABG left Haldia in late 2012, blaming vested interests and a section of manual handlers.

A section of CPT officials, however, said the ceiling could face legal challenges. “There is a contract between a handling agent and a company using the port. The CPT can’t dictate terms there. Its against a free market economy,” an official said.