Question marks over future of Haldia port

November 27th, 2008 - 1:44 pm ICT by IANS  

Kolkata, Nov 27 (IANS) With increased siltation choking channels and reducing its navigability, a question mark hangs over the future of Haldia Port - a major conduit for trade in the country’s east and northeast.Water transport in the port - the Haldia Dock System - is dwindling regularly, and the bigger vessels have to unload half of the commodity in neighbouring ports like Paradeep and Visakhapatnam to reduce the weight of the ships.

Thus, the companies have to shell out more to ship in raw materials via Paradeep and Visakhapatnam.

Located approximately 50 km southwest of Kolkata near the mouth of the Hooghly river, Haldia Port is one of West Bengal’s two dock systems, the other being the Kolkata Dock System.

“The draught (water depth required by vessels to move during tide) level of Haldia Port is diminishing due to siltation,” Ramakant Burman, secretary of the Haldia Dock Officers’ Forum, told IANS.

Now the depth at zero tide at Haldia Port - whose hinterland comprises West Bengal, Bihar, Jharkhand, the seven northeastern states and partially Orissa - is around four metres. The ideal depth should be 5.5 metres, Burman said.

“We had five tracks and four channels in Haldia Port. One track was dropped on Aug 15 due to siltation. Another track is almost inoperational, which is making it difficult for the big vessels to enter the port,” he said.

Denying the allegations, a Haldia Port official said: “There were 22 ships doing unloading and loading operations at the port last Friday. The average draught level was around 6.9 metres.”

Burman squarely blamed the authorities for the poor maintenance of the port that is used by petroleum, petrochemical and steel majors such as Haldia Petrochemicals, Mitsubishi Chemical Corp, Bharat Petroleum, Southasia Petrochemical, Durgapur Steel Plant and Tata Steel, among others.

The issue was addressed by West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee Wednesday at a conference organised here by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI).

“Haldia has been neglected by Kolkata Port Trust for quite some time. We have discussed this with the chairman, but nothing happened. Then I wrote to the prime minister and the Prime Minister’s Office took up the matter and dredgers were sent, which were working on the Sethusamudram project till that time,” Bhattacharjee said.

The nodal body of ship-owners and shipping agents in Kolkata and Haldia too feels dredging has been neglected.

“The problem in Haldia is that for the last one and a half years, the draught level has beeen reducing constantly in the Auckland and Jellingham channels due to siltation. The condition has deteriorated in the last six to seven months,” S.B. Mazumder, vice president of the Association of Shipping Interest in Calcutta, told IANS.

Mazumder said only three dredgers were deployed during the time, and the authorities added three more dredgers only after port users raised a hue and cry.

“But even if everything goes well, it will take at least two months to restore proper draught at the port.”

He, however, said the work was far from satisfactory.

“Now six dredgers are working at the Haldia Dock Complex. But practically speaking, the work they do is equivalent to the services that can be provided by only four dredgers,” Burman said.

“Kolkata Port Trust had promised us that 10 dredgers would be deployed by November. But so far we have received only six vessels,” Burman said.

Two dredgers are expected to come from China, while another is being repaired in Visakhapatnam.

Ironically, no amount of dredging will help Haldia Port until and unless the KoPT finds land for depositing the dredged silt, which is currently dropped five kilometres away back into the sea.

It is estimated 30 percent of this silt or alluvial soil is washed back into the channel.

“There is no yardstick to measure how much silt comes back to the channel again. It is roughly estimated at around 30 percent. The authorities should focus more on shore disposal,” Burman said.

A Kolkata Port Trust official said due to land acquisition problems in the state, it could not acquire 2,500 acres at Nandigram as planned. It has now requested the state government to acquire the land.

The Dredging Corp of India (DCI) refused to comment.

“We are in agreement with Kolkata Port Trust. We have no comments on this,” DCI deputy general manager M.S. Rao told IANS over phone from Visakhapatnam.

The Haldia Dock Complex had targeted handling 31 million tonnes of cargo till October but could handle 25 million tonnes.

Activities at the Kolkata Dock System have dwindled and it now handles small vessels, Burman said.

Kolkata Dock has a target of handling seven million tonnes till October, but handled only five million tonnes.

Kolkata Port Trust chairman Anup Chanda was unavailable for comment.

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