By: Indronil Roychowdhury
The Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) has asked the shipping ministry and the Kolkata Port Trust (KoPT) to furnish details of how unauthorised agents are carrying out operations leading to loss of revenue for the government.
The queries follow the reported decision by the Special Investigating Team (sit) on black money having referred the alleged irregularities for a CBI inquiry. The allegations are that KoPT has allowed a group of companies to operate all facilities at the berths without calling for tenders because of these companies’ political clout.
The 11 queries sent by the PMO include details of stevedores operating in the port with their date of appointment and duration of appointment. The contents of the same has been reviewed by The Indian Express. It has also asked for details of those licences and has asked the two government agencies to reply that if those licenses had expired then how the companies were still continuing to operate in the port.
Among other things, the PMO has also sought information if fees were charged from the stevedores from the beginning and whether they were increased from time to time and by what amount. It has also sought information about the rates charged by the stevedores from exporters and importers and whether those too were approved by the board of trustees of the Port Trust.
In a separate note (available with The Indian Express) the PMO has also sought details about Haldia Dock Complex, the number of berths under its operation and the number of advisory committees in the port.
The shipping ministry has advised KoPT to provide an urgent reply on the issues. The questions from Narendra Modi’s office follows adverse reports by the CAG and a Parliamentary standing committee. Every port is supposed to engage handling contractors under Section 42 of the Major Port Trust Act of 1963.
The contractor has to share revenue with the port as per Section 48 of the same Act as per norms laid down by the Tariff Authority for Major Ports (TAMP) but the contractors at KoPT had fixed charges for themselves.
The Indian Express had first reported on the port’s irregularities on the basis of the Rajya Sabha secretariat memorandum, CAG and parliamentary panel reports.
The CBI has already started inquiring as to how one single company — Ripley & Co — could carry out cargo handling operations in ten out of the 14 berths of the port without sharing any revenue with the KoPT.
Ripley is run by Trinamool Congress leader Swapan Sadhan Bose and his son Srinjoy Bose, a Rajya Sabha MP. The company controls all the 10 berths of the Haldia port. The company’s licence, according to a Calcutta High Court order, has no legitimacy. But the port authorities have allowed Ripley to do onshore operations which makes 75 per cent of the port’s total operation.
But in a reply on the issue, Shoumik Bose, CEO of Ripley & Co, said: “We are not the only handling contractors doing onshore operations without being appointed by the ports via the tender route. There are (other) companies which carry out operations across all the major ports of the country without being appointed by the ports via the tender route.”