Kolkata, Oct 31 (IANS) Port equipment operator Haldia Bulk Terminals (HBT) Wednesday quit West Bengal over "poor law and order" and "safety" concerns of its employees, prompting industry experts to raise concern over the state's growth prospects.
HBT's decision would complicate the situation at labour unrest-hit Haldia Dock Complex, which handles an average 14 million tonnes of dry bulk cargo a year, including critical raw materials for eastern region steel plants.
HBT, a joint venture of ABG Infralogistics and French Louis Dreyfus Armatuers, was operating at mechanised berths two and eight at the complex and handled five million tonnes of cargo per year.
Following the operator's move to pull out of the state, worried industry bodies feared the port would lose business as bigger cargo ships, to save cost and time, would now be heading for other nearby ports where mechanised loading and unloading was available.
HBT's decision to quit the state came a day after Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee dubbed the Haldia Dock imbroglio as "exaggerated".
"We have decided to pull out from the Haldia Dock Complex," HBT CEO Gurpreet Malhi said in a communication to the Kolkata Port Trust (KoPT) Wednesday.
"For us, safety and security of our employees is of paramount importance," Malhi said, referring to the abduction of three officers of the company by a mob Sunday.
The state government and the police have termed the abduction issue as a "cooked-up story".
Talking to reporters, Malhi said: "We cannot work in an environment where the authorities responsible for ensuring the law and order have openly abandoned their responsibility.
"And we have been writing to the Kolkata Port Trust, as they are the principal employers, but no action has been forthcoming from it and the district administration."
The deadlock at KoPT's Haldia Dock Complex over operations of HBT has been continuing since the company retrenched 275 people in September.
Following the unrest, HBT stopped operations at the second and eighth berths of the dock complex, resulting in KoPT moving the Calcutta High Court for permission to terminate its agreement with HBT.
The Congress and Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) attacked the Trinamool Congress-led government for "vitiating" the industrial environment in Bengal.
Entrepreneurs and several industry bodies observed that the development would worsen the state's industrial prospect after the Singur fiasco.
Tata Motors had pulled out its small car Nano project from the town in Hooghy district following an often violent and sustained anti-land acquisition movement, spearheaded by then opposition leader Mamata Banerjee in 2008.
Newly-inducted union Minister of State for Urban Development Deepa Dasmunshi demanded a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) probe into the Haldia stalemate.
"It is unfortunate. First the Tatas left, now HBT. If everybody leaves the state for law and order and problems like the Haldia stalemate, then that is unacceptable. This (forcing HBT to leave) has been done to serve partisan interests. A CBI probe is needed," Dasmunshi said.
CPI-M central committee member Mohammed Salim expressed "shock" over the "irresponsibility" of the state government.
"They all ganged up. What has happened in Haldia is against the interests of the state, port and particularly Haldia Dock Complex employees whose jobs are now at stake."
Reacting to the HBT's decision, Kallol Datta, president of Bengal Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said: "It is an unfortunate incident and it will surely have a negative impact on state's image."
"If ABG leaves Haldia, the port is bound to lose business, as bigger cargo ships will be heading for other nearby ports where mechanised loading-unloading is available," said Deepak Jalan, president of MCC Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
ASSOCHAM, however, said HBT's decision was hasty and it would "not have any impact on investment flow in the long run."
"But the government should also not be delaying action against those taking law and order in their hands," the chamber's secretary general D.S. Rawat said.
However, port officials said HBT, which had incurred a loss of Rs.40 crore in its two years of operation, has been demanding four million tonnes of additional cargos from port authorities.
With the authorities declining to allot additional cargo to it, HBT had lost its interest to continue operations, said officials.