Haldia, Sept. 27: Haldia port users today asked the Calcutta Port Trust (CPT) to ensure that the mechanised berths are made functional again as unloading at the manual ones was more costly and time-consuming.
Representatives of 50 companies, including the Steel Authority of India (SAIL), Electrosteel Castings Ltd and National Thermal Power Corporation, attended the meeting called by CPT chairman Manish Jain at the guesthouse of the Haldia dock complex. CPT controls the Haldia port.
Private port operator Haldia Bulk Terminals Ltd (HBT), which operates the two mechanised berths (8 and 2) at the port, has stopped work since Monday night after the retrenchment of 275 workers sparked labour unrest.
No HBT representative was present at today's meeting. Trinamul Congress MP and president of the INTTUC-affiliated dock union, Subhendu Adhikari, also stayed away.
One of the two ships stuck at a mechanised berth, Nanos, has been shifted to a manual one. The other, Athina Carros, which got held up for two days because a crane got stuck in it and could not be removed because of the unrest, left today. Some HBT employees helped remove the crane. The ship had finished unloading by the time the trouble erupted.
Together, the two ships were carrying around 48,000 tonnes of coking coal for SAIL and Electrosteel Castings Ltd.
Another ship that wanted to unload at a mechanised berth was yesterday diverted to the non-mechanised 4B berth for unloading.
An Electrosteel official said: "Our coking coal is unloaded at the mechanised berth. We told the CPT authorities that we cannot do without the mechanised berths. We bring in huge quantities of coking coal from Australia through the Haldia port. If unloading is done in manually, it will take time and our production will be hampered."
"We also told the port authorities that it is okay if some time is required to solve the impasse but we must unload our coking coal at the mechanised berths," he added.
A SAIL official said the company was "in trouble" because of the suspension of work at the mechanised berths. "Mobile harbour cranes are used to load our coking coal on to wagons from ships. We are in trouble as mechanised cargo handling has been suspended. We have demanded that the mechanised system be made functional again."
Representatives of some of the other companies echoed the two officials. "Unloading cargo at non-mechanised berths is costlier and time-consuming. We are concerned about the impasse," an official who refused to name the company he represented said.
CPT chairman Jain said the problem at the Haldia port was "temporary". "We had called the port users, cargo handlers and the local MP (Adhikari) to find a solution to the problem. Neither HBT nor the MP attended the meeting. The MP sent us a message saying he wanted a solution to the problem. All those who were present want a solution to the problem. So do we. Tomorrow, we will hold a meeting with the board of trustees to discuss the problem."
The laid-off workers have been demonstrating outside and inside the dock complex demanding that they be taken back. Today, the workers demonstrated silently waving plates and bowls.
One of the retrenched workers, Uttam Majhi, said: "We have appealed to the CPT authorities for help. We request CPT to hold discussion with HBT so that we get our jobs back."