Financial Daily from THE HINDU group of publications
Tuesday, Jun 25, 2002
JNPT workers' unions threaten strike Oppose role for pvt sector in terminal conversion
NEW DELHI, June 24
THE workers' unions and the Government are headed for a clash over the proposal to convert one of the unutilised bulk terminal at the Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust (JNPT) into a container terminal with the involvement of private sector using the build, operate and transfer (BOT) format.
"ll the three workers' unions at JNPT have decided to go on a strike if the board of trustees cleared a resolution at its next board meeting slated for June 28 to convert the bulk terminal into a privately-operated container terminal'', Mr Bhushan Patil, a labour trustee on the board of JNPT and a union leader belonging to Nhava Sheva Bandargah Sangathan, told Business Line.
At a secret ballot held last week, 88 per cent of the workers belonging to Nhava Sheva Bandargah Sangathan, Nhava Sheva Port and General Workers' Union and Transport & Dock Workers' Union favoured a strike if the privatisation proposal was cleared by the board, Mr Patil said.
Incidentally, the strike threat by the unions came at a time when a four-member core committee set up by a sub-committee of the board of trustees met in Mumbai on Monday to go into the details of the privatisation proposal mooted by the JNPT management and the counter proposals submitted by the workers' unions for converting the bulk terminal into a container terminal.
The four-member core-committee comprises Mr A.L. Bongirwar, JNPT Chairman, Mr Bhushan Patil, Nhava Sheva Bandargah Sangathan, Mr K.P. Desai, a trustee representing the Stevedores Association, and Ms Kavitha Khanna, advocate and wife of cine-star Vinod Khanna.
While the JNPT management has recommended privatisation through the BOT format for converting the bulk terminal into a container terminal, the workers' unions have suggested three alternatives for developing the project. These include utilising the internal resources of JNPT to fund the conversion work or forming a joint venture with the neighbouring Mumbai Port Trust to leverage its cash surplus of over Rs 3,000 crore to finance the project.
If these two suggestions were not acceptable to the Government, JNPT could raise funds from the domestic market for developing the container terminal, which is estimated to cost around Rs 800 crore.
These proposals came up for consideration at the board of trustees meeting held on June 7, wherein it was decided to set up a nine-member sub-committee, which would go into the cost-benefit analysis of all the proposals and suggest the best possible option for developing the container terminal project.
The board sub-committee held a meeting on June 19 and decided to form a four-member core-committee to go into the details of all the proposals.
The workers' unions are now demanding that all the four proposals should be referred to arbitrators who are mutually acceptable to the Government and the labour.
"The decision of the arbitrators should be binding on both the parties'', Mr Patil suggested.
He had earlier told Business Line that the unions would accept the privatisation plan if a cost-benefit analysis of all the four proposals established that the BOT format was more profitable to JNPT than the counter proposals submitted by them.
The unions have roped in Mr Praduymna Kaul, who was at the forefront of an anti-Enron campaign, to argue their case. Mr Patil emphasised that the workers were not opposed to the conversion of the bulk terminal into a container terminal since this would provide employment to about 400 workers who have been rendered idle after the bulk terminal became redundant in the face of dwindling foodgrains and fertiliser traffic at the port.
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