Prabir Sarkar, Secretary General, Calcutta Port and Shore Majdoor Union, in an interview with Newsclick, said that “The path that the Union government has chosen, which is to offload the strategic assets of India, like the ports, in private hands, will lead to enormous friction between workers and government in this sector as well. If the government goes ahead with its idea of a national monetization pipeline in this sector, so as happened in the steel and coal sector, here also with members of our family and the people of the neighborhood, we will mount a strong resistance so that private actors cannot come and participate at an auction of port assets in Kolkata ”
The stern warning from Sarkar, who is also the Calcutta Port Labor Administrator, comes a day after the organization held a meeting at the Calcutta Port premises against the intention to sell port berths from Calcutta to private actors for the monetization of port assets. “At first we thought that the purpose of the privatization of the port facilities in the country was to unload land at the price of diamonds in the big cities of the country where these ports are located because civilization is centered around the ports. ” The Port of Calcutta has 11,000 acres of land near the Ports of Calcutta and Haldia whose market value exceeds nearly lakhs of crores in real estate money. Nationwide, there are 69,000 acres of land near the country’s major ports, including Mumbai, Calcutta, Vizag, Ttutikorin, and Kochi.
Prior to implementing the national monetization pipeline policy, the Modi government also amended the major port laws of 1963, which were more focused on welfare. By the new law, the trust system was abolished to make way for a new authority. After 1991, when the neoliberal regime was inaugurated in the country, new recruitments were closed in ports and equipment purchases were stopped.
Now the work is outsourced to third party service providers while the rates are prepared by the port trusts. For example, according to Calcutta Port Trust, the charge for unloading a 40ft container is 2,300 rupees, service providers receive 1,800 Rs as a service charge for the same. The rate table is prepared by the Port Trusts and approved by the Tariff Authority of India.
According to the proposal, the scales will now be prepared by the service providers themselves. This will lead to unequal competition, causing large scale layoffs due to automation. Low-wage workers without social security will be employed as port workers. The agreements are such that private actors do not have to invest a dime in the development of port infrastructure, instead they will try to reduce costs by using the infrastructure prepared by the port trust. It is in this sense that BSNL has reaped its strengths in the past.
The ports of Vizag, Mumbai and Kolkata are bases for the maintenance of warships. Giving land to individuals will mean a firm compromise with defense interests. Previously, excess land in the port trust area was discharged to the coal, steel and oil PSUs at an appropriate rate and greater leverage was given to the PSUs that used the port services.
As of 2014, the Port and Shore Majdoor Union, led by the Indian Water Transport Federation (WTWFI), is engaged in the fight against it. Sarkar stressed that even the report of the standing parliamentary committee was rejected by the government in its desire to privatize. The port of Calcutta, which saw nearly 53,000 workers after independence, is now home to 4000 permanent workers and 3000 casual workers.
Debanjan Chakraborty, district secretary of CITU Kolkata, told Newsclick “The entire country’s port system is a cheap stevedoring location for port services for transporting liquid petroleum to freight traffic in the country. ..even foreign ships unload their cargo throughout the port network at extremely low costs and if these continue there will be a fire raging on regular food items as the freight cost will triple under the hands of individuals. “
“Inflation will grow at a rapid rate. Many shipments which are now made through the government-owned docks system and Calcutta Port Trust and are of a strategic nature, will face a huge problem. The CITU has decided to drop these proposals at all costs, ”Chakraborty added. He reiterated that once materialized, this would pave the way for huge entrenchments.