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HBT Announces Immediate Exit From Haldia Port

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Cargo handling company Haldia Bulk Terminals, jointly promoted by ABG group of India and French logistics company LDA, on 31 October announced its immediate exit from West Bengal's Haldia port citing unsafe work conditions.

Problems have been brewing at Haldia Dock Complex, run by Kolkata Port Trust (KoPT), after berth operator Haldia Bulk Terminals (HBT) sacked 275 employees early this month stating that they were surplus.

"With a deep sense of disappointment we have to inform you that we have been left with no option but to walk out from Haldia Dock Complex with immediate effect," HBT CEO Gurdeep Malhi said in a statement.

"The ever worsening situation at Haldia has left us feeling betrayed and we hope that the elements responsible for driving us out of Haldia are brought to justice," he said.

Operations of HBT, which handles cargo with mechanised cranes in berth No 2 and No 8 at the Haldia Dock Complex, were stopped since mid-September.

Retrenched HBT workers along with trade union workers have been agitating inside and outside the port.

HBT on other hand had alleged on Sunday (28 October) that three of its management officials and two of their family members were kidnapped by outsiders who warned them not to return to Haldia.

On 30 October, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had said that full police protection was being provided at Haldia.

KoPT a few days ago had placed an application before the Calcutta High Court for direction to HBT to resume work since an agreement for a resolution to the impasse was already signed while work was not resumed by the private cargo handler.

Earlier in the day, counsel for HBT told the Calcutta High Court vacation bench of Justice Sambuddha Chakraborty that a letter was faxed to the port authorities informing them of its decision.

When contacted, Kolkata Port Trust officials said the contents of the letter sent by HBT alleging that KoPT was not maintaining contractual obligations, was being examined.

"We are looking into the legal standing and contractual validity of the letter they have sent. It is natural that the allegations against KoPT are false and hence we will contest it in court," a KoPT official said.

Sources close to the development said HBT was looking to find an exit route since last month given that business was not growing and the extremely low rate it had quoted for the handling service.

"Their business model went wrong in cargo projections in Haldia and their two berths. The rates they quoted of around Rs 75 a tonne for their service was extremely competitive," the sources felt.

However, this was rubbished by HBT.

Reacting to cargo handler HBT's exit from Haldia port, Bengal Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI) said that the state government should focus on attracting big-ticket investments, otherwise the state will be in a problem.

"It is a stray one-off incident. Government should focus on big-ticket investment," newly appointed BCCI president Kallol Datta said in Kolkata.