Thursday, November 1, 2012

Haldia Dock Complex (HDC) Crisis – Triangle love story of Haldia Bulk Terminals pvt Ltd (HBT), Workers and Kolkata Port Trust (KoPT)

Haldia Dock Complex Office
Kolkata Port, especially its Haldia Dock Complex (hereafter referred as HDC or simply Haldia), is continually grabbing headlines due to recent difficulties faced by ABG Haldia Bulk Terminals (hereafter referred as HBT) - a joint venture between ABG infralogistics and French firm ‘Louis Dreyfus Armateurs’ - LDA. After the recent development - kidnapping of three company officials, wife of an official and their one year old daughter by around 50 unidentified persons - HBT decided to pull out from dock operations.

In this situation, it will be quite meaningful to go through what happened at HDC.

Kolkata is blessed with its geographical position; it became a natural gateway for eastern India and Himalayan countries (Nepal and Bhutan). However, simply having geographical advantage will not produce any results, unless backed by firm and decisive actions on ground. Unfortunately, recent developments in Haldia Dock are not sending any encouraging signal for industries interested in West Bengal.

Dredging and silting

According to a TOI report, HDC’s problems started when administration “... stopped bothering about dredged silt being dumped back in the water.” This got worse in 2008, when draught level fell in to an all time low. Construction of a pipeline from Paradip to Haldia by Indian Oil Corporation, cutting Haldia port in between also slashed a part of its traffic.

HBT obtains the contract

At this point, Kolkata port trust (KoPT) decided to go for mechanised handling of cargo(at berth 2 & 8)  and awarded a 10 year contract to ABG Infralogistics in 2009. “Accepting the terms, HBT invested around 150 crores on acquisition of modern handling equipment, such as six mobile harbour cranes, 50 dumpers, 26 payloaders and other equipment, and creating certain facilities before starting operation in September 2010”.

However, it was not a smooth sail for the company. Rates posted by company were low; on top of that, amount of cargo coming to HDC itself showed a declining trend. In addition to that, “for nearly six months the handling equipment(s) for the berths were not allowed to enter the dock by a section of workers. Only a court order directing administration to provide police escort saved the situation” – This may be a trailer for what was in store.


According to Statesman, “The crisis at Haldia port erupted about a month ago (in September) when HBT threatened to suspend operations at berths 2 and 8 because they were losing money.”
Kolkata Port Trust
Kolkata High Court Judgement on September 12

KoPT took the issue to Kolkata High Court; on September 12 both parties reached an agreement.
Two important points in agreement were,

"1) Dry Bulk vessels calling in at Haldia Dock Complex (HDC, KoPT) for cargo handling operations will be allocated to berth 2 or 8. However, if both... 2 & 8 are engaged in ship-shore operations... next arriving vessel may be allocated to berths other than 2 or 8 of HDC.

This will be implemented without affecting; a. the existing Minimum Guaranteed Tonnage (MGT) offered by BOT berth operators at HDC's Berth nos.4A & 12... b. the existing marketing agreement entered into between the BOT operator for berth no.4A.

2) KoPT will maximize the utilization of HBT's equipment by relocating them from Berth No.2 & 8 for working at other berths when Berths No.2 & 8 are vacant..."

However, this doesn’t go down well with workers in HDC’s non-mechanised berths. They objected and tried to block this arrangement. Hindustan Times reports that, “Trinamool backed workers of private handling agencies obstructed the HBT operations from September 15”

Sacking 275 workers

Problems got worse when, HBT sacked 275 employees on September 24 (in some reports date is 25). Company also terminated a sub-contractor, under whom 450 others were working. According to Hindu Businessline,

“In a statement, Gurpreet Malhi, chief executive officer of HBT, said: “In view of the continuing losses and unrest created by certain factions which is affecting operations, HBT had decided to right-size its workforce with the retrenchment of 275 personnel from September 24.” The company said the unions forced regular employment of 650, when requirement for the operation was 350 workers. The company also employs 350 contractual workers. The port authorities, however, said they were not intimated about the decision.”

Suspension of work at HBT controlled berths

Citing law and order problems, company suspended work on berths 2 and 8 from September 25 onwards.

Ultimatum from Kolkata Port Trust (KoPT)

The KoPT board of trustees met on October 11, and issued an order asking HBT to restart the operation within a week. Apart from this KoPT also issued a tender (MTO/G/HBT/1/2012) for the evacuation of stored cargo at the HBT- operated berths.

HBT going to court

HBT again approached Calcutta High Court saying that, “275 workers the company sacked and some manual labourers were not allowing work at the two mechanised berths (2 and 8) it operates at the Haldia port. The petition said the police had failed to provide HBT employees adequate security”.

Surprisingly, in reply state government pleader told that “Everything is peaceful there (Haldia port). HBT and the port authorities are trying to malign the government," – Telegraph.

Telegraph report further states that “During a visit to Haldia earlier this month, Mamata Banerjee had said the situation at the port was under control”

Later, “Haldia Bulk Terminal deposited Rs 17.5 lakh to East Midnapore district administration for ensuring security for their cargo operations at the port as directed by the Calcutta High Court”

It looks like this measure didn’t bring any real improvement in the ground. “... although they had provided the money to ensure security, not a single senior police officer visited the dock complex, despite repeated complaints of disruption in operations.” – Indian Express, Oct 27.


On October 28, company told that, “... its three management officials and two of their family members were kidnapped early morning and later released, adding that there has been a complete law and order breakdown at Haldia dock complex.”

Following this incident ABG-LDA decided to pull out from west Bengal, alleging a complete breakdown of law and order in Haldia port.


According to the latest developments, KoPT stated that, HBT won’t be allowed to withdraw its equipments (currently worth around 140 crores); in case of termination of contract KoPT will also try to claim financial damages for rest of contract years. It is yet to see how far KoPT will succeed in this, if Calcutta High Court allows HBT to terminate its operations because of law and order situations.

Government’s reply

Most of the time state government was in a mode of denial. West Bengal CM said, “It is the false propaganda of the CPI (M), Congress and media because they are jealous of the industrialisation in Bengal...”. “ We have given full police protection. The CPI (M) is running a misleading campaign along with one or two media houses for their self interest”.” "Nothing has happened in Haldia. Everything is peaceful there. The administration and police are doing their work. A section of the media with vested interest is exaggerating things and trying to malign the government,"

According to NYDaily news, “East Midnapore Superintendent of Police... rubbished the allegations, saying "investigations have proved nothing to suggest abduction".

My remarks

Notwithstanding all media reports, allegations and counter allegations, it is difficult to understand what actually went wrong in Haldia. Whether it’s the business model adopted by HBT as accused by workers and KoPT or union problem and law and order issue as accused by HBT?

Statement of East Midnapore Superintendent of Police, “investigations have proved nothing to suggest abduction” is more confusing and making the matter complicated.

However there are certain things I like to point out,

1. Standoff at HBT operated terminals was not started today or yesterday. It commenced when people hindered the passage of HBT equipments to HDC two years back. Government had adequate time to prepare and find a solution.

2. Excessive union involvement needs to be checked. If we can believe company version and various reports, then why HBT was forced to accept more workers than it required?

3. Isn’t it the profession of companies to attract more business, in this case traffic, rather can asking administration to give them more cargo because they have more processing capacity?

4. Reduction of traffic at Haldia was a sign of a much bigger issue, which needs a through follow up. Look at Singapore, it’s a small country - Haldia planning area (761.26 sq. km) itself is slightly larger than entire Singapore (710 with very less hinterland to serve. Still they developed the land to such an extent that, Port of Singapore is the second biggest port in the world. In this case KoPT, West Bengal Government and other concerned parties needs to sit together and find solution. Instead of redirecting cargo from one berth to another.

5. What Police was doing, when it become clear that situation can attain much bigger proportions? According to reports company even deposited 17.5 lakh for deployment.

6. HBT is not the only private operator in Haldia. Tata Martrade International  Logistic Ltd (TMILL) operates berth 12. Berth 4A coming under 'International Sea Ports India Pvt' on BOT basis. In both cases, contracts are for 30 years and allotment was done on 2002. I am very much eager to know, what is happening in these berths? 

7. ABG is not a new comer in the league. They are already operating in many other Indian ports. It will be better for the company to sit back and check what went wrong in Haldia? Whether it’s only a law and order problem or their business projections also went wrong?

8. Why government is in perpetual denial mode? If administration is not at all accepting the existence of a problem, then how we are going to find a solution for that? If you close your ears, then you may not hear the voice, but it doesn’t mean that there is no voice outside.


One of the major problems here is dwindling traffic at Haldia. This issue has direction connections with consumer/ industrial output generated by West Bengal. If WB is not able to (or atleast trying to) generate more demand and transform themselves as an industrial hub, then they have to live with dwindling traffic.

As, many more ports started operating on eastern shores of India, Kolkata no longer remain as east India’s single gateway.

Rightly or wrongly, West Bengal is getting branded as grave yard of business. Government has to walk the extra mile to remove that tag, Instead of closing the eyes and saying that nothing happened.



1. Kolkata Port Trust
2. Haldia Dock Complex
3. Ministry of Shipping, GOI
4. Ministry of Finance, GOI
5. Wikipedia
6. The Hindu Businessline
7. Times of India
8. Hindustan Times
9. The Statesman
10. Kolkata High Court
11. MSN
12. IBN Live
13. Indian Express
14. Telegraph
15. Kolkata Port and its Docks (Kolkata and Haldia) - Astitva - Search for an Identity
16. Protests on, HBT pays Rs 17.5 lakh to administration for security - Indian Express
17. Haldia Bulk Terminal moves court against KoPT - Hindu Businesline
18 CM accuses media of fabricating Haldia row - Asian Age
19. Officials, kin ‘abducted’ at Haldia dock - Indian Express
20. Mamata blames CPI-M, media for Haldia deadlock - Business Standard
21. Mamata says Haldia row 'exaggerated', opposition slams her - NYDaily News

Photo Courtesy: Haldia Dock Complex, Kolkata Port trust, Wikipedia


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  2. Even as the Haldia Bulk Terminals Pvt Ltd, (HBT) a cargo handling company that has decided to pull out from the Haldia Dock Complex (HDC) announced on Saturday the retrenchment of 348 of its employees, the Kolkata Port Trust (KoPT) authorities alleged that the company was trying to “run away” because of a drop in the volume of cargo handling...

    Referring to the statement of the officials of the company that they are happy with their operations at the Kolkata Port (another port under KoPT), Mr. Jain said the company cannot have two policies for the same organisation

    Ruse by cargo handling firm to escape penalty, says port - Business Standard -

  3. The pullout of Haldia Bulk Terminals (HBT)... from Haldia port, has left a political slugfest in its wake. HBT pulled out its operations alleging security concerns of its employees. The Left parties in Bengal are now training their guns on the ruling Trinamool Congress government... The CPI(M) is accusing the state government of becoming party to inter corporate disputes, playing favourites and precipitating the end of economic activity in the state. The Left has also openly accused the TMC Lok Sabha MP Subhendu Adhikary of siding up with Ripley group, the other cargo handler at the port.

    Haldia Terminal pullout: Left accuses TMC of playing politics - Business Standard -