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Orissa rejects CPT common port zone plan

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SAMBIT SAHA   |     |   Published 10.03.11, 12:00 AM

Calcutta, March 9: The Calcutta Port Trust (CPT) has offered to relinquish exclusive rights to its extended territory in the Bay of Bengal and turn it into a common zone that a competing port in Orissa’s Dhamra can also use for operations.

But Orissa chief secretary Bijay Patnaik has shot down the proposal, made by CPT chairperson M.L. Meena during a meeting convened by the Union shipping secretary in Delhi last Friday, ministry sources disclosed.

The Orissa government has protested strongly before the ministry, which cleared the expansion in the CPT’s maritime limit through a gazette notification, so the Calcutta port can build a giant floating storage (dock) in the extended area.

Orissa claims the plan encroaches on its maritime area and will hit seven upcoming ports, including the showpiece Dhamra project that has been built by Tata Steel and L&T.

The inter-state row has turned into a legal battle with a public interest litigation being filed in Orissa High Court on Monday against the Centre’s decision to extend the CPT’s limit.

But CPT chief Meena’s proposal that both Bengal and Orissa could use the expanded area isn’t without precedent. Many ports in Gujarat and two ports in Mumbai — JNPT and Navasheva — have common maritime zones.

All non-major ports, like Dhamra, are on Concurrent list of the Constitution, which allows states to pass executive orders like defining their territory. But such orders will be finally subservient to the central decision.

“Business can save nearly $8 million (Rs 36 crore) every year if the transloading (from the floating dock) is allowed to take place. Ships should be given a free choice where they want to go,” said a ministry official.

The CPT plans to use a vessel of 180,000-tonne capacity as the floating dock where smaller ships (Panamax variety) of 75,000 tonnes can unload their cargo. Barges (of 12,000-tonne capacity) can then ferry the cargo to final destinations like Calcutta or Haldia.

The CPT plans to pick a private operator chosen through competitive bidding to build the Rs 300-crore floating facility. It will be stationed in Sandheads, 60 miles south of Haldia for eight months a year. During monsoon, when the sea is turbulent, the floating dock will be taken to Kanika Sands, next to Dhamra port and 60 miles south of Sandheads.

But the choice of Kanika Sands has riled Orissa, which fears the floating dock will take away business from the Dhamra port that has been built at a cost of Rs 3,000 crore. The port is apparently awaiting a railway connectivity to start operations and needs clearance from Mamata Banerjee’s ministry to get going.

In the absence of a floating dock that offers transloading facilities, ships are now forced to offload cargo at Orissa’s Paradip and then come to Haldia because of the low draught — depth — in the silt-clogged channel does not allow heavy vessels. The cargo offloaded at Paradip is then carried by rail or road to their final destinations.

The CPT expects to handle 6 million tonnes of cargo a year through the floating dock and host around 80 Panamax vessels. Each ship can save up to $1 lakh (around Rs 45 lakh) per trip as it will be able to return from the floating dock three to four days earlier than it did if it had come to Haldia. The CPT has also proposed building an exclusive jetty to handle such cargo at Haldia at a cost of Rs 290 crore through public-private partnership.

CPT officials argue that the savings in transportation will help trade, which could pass on the benefits to consumers through lower prices.

The CPT has tried to come up with the floating dock plan at least five times over the past decade but has run into opposition from Orissa.

No private operators were showing interest all these years but the shipping ministry’s move to expand the CPT’s area has given them confidence of taking up the project. The CPT has found support for its plan in Delhi from Mukul Roy, the Trinamul leader who is the minister of state for shipping.


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