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Wednesday, June 27, 2001

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Tea industry opposes hike in handling charges

Our Bureau

KOLKATA, June 26

THE Tea Board, Indian Tea Association (ITA), Eastern India Shippers Association (EISA) and Williamson Magor & Co are up in arms against the shipping lines for what they call their ``unilateral decision'' to slap a 22-per cent hike in terminal handling c harges (THCs) on tea shipments through the Amingaon inland container depot (ICD) with retrospective effect from April 1, 2001.

What they resent most is that representatives of the shipping lines present at the tea meeting held at Guwahati on March 23 to finalise programmes for the current year's ICD shipments did not give the slightest indication of the hike in THCs they were pl anning to effect.

It was agreed at the Guwahati meeting that only railway freight would be increased by 4.2 per cent while all other charges would remain unchanged. Accordingly, the terminal operator at the ICD and the officials of the shipping lines present at meeting de cided against effecting any increase in their charges.

According to tea industry sources, THC on shipments through the Amingaon ICD has been hiked to Rs 14,950 from Rs 12,260 per TEU and to Rs 29,900 (Rs 24,520) per FEU.

In a letter to the Managing Director of the Container Corporation of India (Concor), the Chairman of Tea Board, Mr N.K. Das, has referred to the representations he has received from the Indian Tea Association, Eastern India Shippers Association and Willi amson Magor & Co, all upset over the unilateral decision of the shipping lines.

Recording its protest on the issue, ITA has urged both the Tea Board and Concor to use their good offices to restrain shipping lines from effecting the ad hoc increase of 22 per cent.

EISA has insisted upon detailed breakdown of the cost componets of THCs and asked Concor to verify from the shipping lines if these are justified. The ad hoc raise in THCs, EISA points out, will have a strong bearing on costs of ICD shipments, and, in al l probability, erode the competitiveness of tea exports through it. The shippers are constantly in the process of evaluating various transportation options and a highly skewed cost factor might work against the choice of ICD as a means of transportation.

Concor sources express reservations over the components of costs in THCs and emphasise that even the earlier THCs, let alone the present hike, were uncalled for. Under no circumstances, it is pointed out, THC should exceed Rs 20,000 per FEU and Rs 10,000 per TEU.

Williamson Magor, the largest exporter of tea through the Amingaon ICD, has urged both the tea board, ITA and Concor to take up the issue with the India/Pakistan/ Bangladesh/UK/Continent Conference to immediately stop the implementation of the ad hoc hik e as the shipments through the ICD are due to start in full swing soon.

The company, it is learnt, did take up the matter with the concerned shipping lines offering sailings from Haldia but with little success. The local representatives of the shipping lines pleaded helplessness saying that the decision on the hike was taken at the Conference level.

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