Oppn parties in Rajya Sabha oppose bill to develop major ports

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New Delhi, Feb 10 (PTI) Various opposition parties, including the Congress, TMC, SP, RJD, DMK, CPI(M) and CPI, raised objections in the Rajya Sabha on Wednesday to a bill for developing the major ports of the country and alleged that it is aimed at privatising the ports and diluting the powers of the states on land use.

However, the BJD, JD(U), YSRCP supported the Major Port Authorities Bill, 2020, saying it is a welcome move to expand the port development infrastructure.

Participating in the debate, Shaktisinh Gohil (Congress) alleged that the loopholes in the draft copy of the bill were deliberately kept in order to help the 'backdoor entry of the friends' into the sector.

Gohil's party colleague and former shipping minister G K Vasan said in the world of cut-throat market competition, fixing tariff by the port authority should not be at the cost of the ports' revenue.

TMC's Sukhendu Sekhar Ray said there is nothing in the bill as it follows the Singapore model of corporatisation.

He said according to the bill, a state government will have no authority in either the sale of land or change of land use, even though the land belongs to the state, adding that the land should go back to the state or the profits from its sale proceeds should go to it.

P Wilson of the DMK alleged that the bill has been brought to serve the interests of private players and reduce the state governments' say in the development of ports.

On a provision in the bill that says the port's master plan will overtake the state's master plan, he said, 'the master plan has been hijacked'.

Wilson also sought that technical members be given a place in the running of ports. He alleged that the bill will lead to the mushrooming of private ports, which will come up like 'bus stands', and this will affect the flora and fauna of the area.

Banda Prakash of the TRS urged the government not to privatise ports as it is putting even the profit-making Shipping Corporation of India up 'on sale'.

'I request the government to withdraw its stand of selling the ports of the country,' he said.

Ram Gopal Yadav of the SP alleged that the government is trying to sell the country's assets and that is the intention of the bill.

He cited the example of the Varanasi airport, where an amount of Rs 800 crore was invested for its development and it is now being sold to private players. 'Please do not put the country's assets to be sold to private players for peanuts,' he said.

Elamaran Kareem of the CPI(M) alleged that the bill proposes to convert the port authority into a corporate entity and the assets of the ports will be sold off to private players.

He also alleged that national safety and security would be under threat if the proposed bill becomes an Act in its present form.

Kareem told the House that a Parliamentary Standing Committee has said ports like Cochin, Vizag, Mumbai and Goa handle defence cargo and if private players are given the authority to handle such confidential cargo, there may be 'chances of leakage of details to anti-national elements'.

Ram Chandra Prasad Singh of the JD(U) supported the bill but demanded that the states should have a representative in the port authority.

Supporting the bill, BJD's Subhash Chandra Singh called for utilisation of CSR funds for the creation of infrastructure in the ports and around and asked where these funds have gone. He cited the example of the Paradip port in this regard.

Ayodhya Rami Reddy of the YSRCP welcomed the bill, saying it will help create the infrastructure needed to expand the ports.

Manoj Jha (RJD) said, 'This government is very transparent because one would come to know about the beneficiary after just one look at a bill (proposed by it).... You brought a bill to amend the 1963 Act and forgot the word trust in it. India's colonialism began through the sea route only.' Fauzia Khan (NCP) said, 'You promised. The nation believed.... This bill may involve security risks also.... It takes generations' tireless efforts to build up assets but it takes a moment to blow it up.' Anil Desai (Shiv Sena) said it is apprehended that the autonomy given to the major ports will make those private entities and the bill has already crated discontent among the employees (of these ports).

Binoy Viswam (CPI) said, 'There are unseen hands behind this bill. There is an unseen brain behind the bill.... The minister is innocent and helpless.... All properties are given to one company that is Adani and company.... This way, our land will become Adani's land.' N D Gupta (AAP) said, 'We have been seeing that bills are being brought in the House keeping in mind somebody's interest.... The members should be given a chance to be on the board of these ports. I oppose this bill because it has been brought to give benefit to certain identified persons.' Ramji (BSP) also raised doubts on the government's intention in the bill and demanded a provision to safeguard the interests of Scheduled Cast and Scheduled Tribe workers.

M Thambidurai (AIADMK) objected to the proposed reduction in the number of members of the port authority in the bill.

He also opposed the proposed autonomy to the port authority for development independent of any local authority or the states.

Kanakamedala Ravindra Kumar (TDP) and Jugalsinh Mathurji Lokhandwala (BJP) also participated in the debate. PTI SKC KKS RC