Calcutta, July 30: The Left Front government today sent police to break a 24-hour Citu blockade that halted unloading operations from an Indonesian cargo ship which docked at Calcutta Port yesterday.
The consignee company, which has always used Haldia Port, decided on Calcutta Port this time in response to a call from Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee. But the chief minister’s efforts at reviving the ailing port nearly came to naught, courtesy Citu — the CPM’s labour wing.
Unloading of 6,718 metric tonnes of petroleum coke from the MV Yaya Suntujuh began at 7 this evening after India Carbons informed port authorities of the siege by labourers grouped under the banner of the Citu-affiliated Calcutta Port and Shore Mazdur Union.
A few hundred labourers, with support from outsiders known for links with the waterfront mafia, had stopped the early attempts to mechanically unload the cargo with a device called “grabs”. They demanded a hefty salami from the company as a price for using the equipment, which dispenses with the need for labourers as it retrieves the consignment directly from a ship’s hull and loads it into waiting lorries.
When the siege began, port officials tried to reason with the labourers, but the Citu workers were adamant. Apparently, the workers who blocked the unloading had recently joined Citu after severing links with the Calcutta Port Shramik Janata Panchayat, which is run by Noor Ahmed, a controversial waterfront figure. It is believed that the new entrants are still being “guided” by their former boss.
Till late in the evening, known waterfront criminals were seen outside Netaji Subhas dock number 14, where the unloading took place, and tried to resist the movement of the cargo-carrying lorries.
Spurred to action by top government officials, CISF jawans and port police personnel combined to disperse the Citu-flag-bearing workers who tried to jam the approach to the dock.
“I have only sketchy details with me,” said industries minister Nirupam Sen. “But I can tell you the government is committed to the revival of Calcutta Port and will not tolerate any unjustified act that runs counter to the government’s objective. I shall be able to offer a clearer picture tomorrow.”
Last week, Sen had informed the Assembly that the government would not tolerate militant trade unionism.
Calcutta Port chairman Anup Chanda, who was in Mumbai, returned after being alerted about the standoff. “This is the first time in many years that such cargo reached our port. If they (Citu) do not supplement our efforts to revive the port, no ship carrying such cargo will pay a visit in the future,” Chanda said.
B.R. Jain of India Carbons said they had decided to use the port for the first time after being assured by the authorities. “This was a bad experience for us.”