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Wednesday, January 10, 2001

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Hooghly dredging cost refund delay irks CPT

Our Bureau

KOLKATA, Jan. 9

DESPITE the Union Cabinet's decision on full reimbursement of the dredging cost in the river Hooghly by the Centre, the Calcutta Port Trust has not been paid the amount in full for the past few years owing to what they call ``under provisioning by the Go vernment''. As a result, CPT is yet to receive about Rs 578 crore till March 2000.

What has been particularly upsetting for the port authorities is that even the stipulated 90 per cent on account advance which, also as per the Cabinet decision, is supposed to be paid to the port at the beginning of every financial year on the basis of audit certification of the actual expenditure in the previous year, is not being paid.

A section in the port wonders how a decision taken at by the Union Cabinet can be flouted by the Government. They also see in it an attempt to push through the corporatisation issue (i.e., corporatising Haldia dock after having it delinked from Calcutta Port Trust).

If the Union Government really decides to stop reimbursing the dredging cost for the Hooghly altogether as part of its plan to corporatise Haldia dock, then neither Haldia dock after corporatisation nor the Kulpi port, proposed to be developed also on th e Hooghly river by the West Bengal Government in partnership with a private firm, will survive even for a week, say port sources. Kulpi port, they add, might not even see the light of the day in the absence of reimbursement of the dredging cost in the Ho oghly.

Since the public sector Dredging Corporation of India undertakes almost the entire dredging in the Hooghly, the dredging subsidy goes to pay for the work done by DCI. In other words, the dredging subsidy is actually used to subsidise DCI.

The recent wage revision of the port and dock workers and officers has dealt yet another blow to CPT's already critical financial position. The port has a total workforce of about 16,000 _ 11,000 in the Calcutta Dock System and 5,000 at Haldia _ and 26,0 00 pensioners. The arrears payment to pensioners alone will cost more than Rs 200 crore. The wage revision has put an additional burden of Rs 45 crore annually.

The revision of the scale of rates, as proposed by CPT, suggests 11 per cent increase on cargo head and 29 per cent on the marine side. The proposal has been placed before the Tariff Authority for Major Ports which will take into account the views of the cross-section of users.

Financially, CPT is in a jam. The revised estimates for the current financial year, now being finalised, it is apprehended in port circles, will show a huge deficit.

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