CBI raids expose Haldia Port scam, TMC men in dock
Yet another multi-crore financial scandal threatens to tarnish Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress in Bengal with the names of some past and present Trinamool MPs getting embroiled in the multi-core Haldia Port scam.
According to reports, Ripley & Company and its sister concerns owned by Trinamool Rajya Sabha member Srinjoy Bose and his father Swapan Sadhan (Tutu) Bose, a former MP, have duped the Government of an estimated Rs24,500 crore over the past 35 years.
The scam pertaining to shore handling of cargo has allegedly taken place with the help of muscle men and under the nose of the top port authorities, sources said. They said these companies have been realising an estimated Rs500-Rs700 crore per year from the exporters and importers without paying a single farthing to the Kolkata Port Trust, the parent body of the Haldia Dock Complex. KoPT and Haldia Port come under the Ministry of Shipping.
“The whole game now being probed by an ACB of the CBI in Kolkata is conducted with the help of the Handling Agent Licence that the company secured from the KoPT in clear violation of Sections 42(3) or 42(3A) of the Major Port Act 1963,” said Ramakant Burman, general secretary, Haldia Dock Officer’s Forum.
Burman, who has also filed two Public Interest Litigation at the Calcutta High Court, said while Ripley & Company handles about 15 million tones of cargo per annum, its sister concerns handle about five million tonnes through barge transshipment at Diamond Harbour and Sagar ports.
While Ripley charges Rs300 per metric tonne for shore handling of cargo, its sister concerns realise Rs500 per metric tonne or barge transshipment. While the annual income of Ripley is Rs450 crore per annum, that of its sister concerns is about Rs250 crore.“A total estimated income of the company for the past 35 years is about Rs24,500 crore,” says Burman reminding that “all this is done by paying a meagre annual license fee of Rs5,400 only”.
Incidentally, a document which had come before a Parliamentary Standing Committee on Transport, Tourism and Culture of the past UPA Government also said how the company, which had been functioning since 1977, acquired Handling Agent License in 2006 in clear violation of the existing laws.
According to Section 42 of the MPT Act, the services currently rendered by the said companies are to be performed either by the Port itself or by its authorised persons described under Section 42(3) and 42(3A) of the Act. The companies owned by the Trinamool MPs are “not authorised to handle the cargo under the said sections”, said Burman.
Though the company secured a Handling Agents’ License through a Departmental Order from the KoPT only in 2006, the order itself did not stand the testimony of law, said Burman, adding: “Even if the License is held valid under S 42(3A) of the Act — which is not the case — then the rates charged by them from exporters and importers must be approved by the Tariff Authority for major Ports under section 48 of the MPT Act 1963.”
The law says even an authorized person cannot charge any sum in excess of the ceiling for shore handling of cargo.On how this huge irregularity was allowed to pass under the nose of the Trustee Board of the KoPT, sources said many of those in the Trustee Board were the “agents” of the Ripley & Company.
Curiously, an international group ABG far efficient in handling such operations was literally forced out of Haldia with the help of Trinamool muscle men even as repeated complaints lodged with the State Government fell on deaf ears, allege HDC officials.The ABG group and the French HBT group left Haldia after their officials were abducted by the goons employed by a local Trinamool MP, locals allege. “The MP is hand-in-glove with the Ripley and the State Government,” said an HDC official, adding “These groups had better technology and cost-effecient handling capacity, making the entire exercise far cheaper.”
While the other groups were charging Rs26 per metric tonne of shore handling of cargo, Ripley and Company realises Rs300, thereby duping its clients of a straight Rs274 per MT, say insiders, adding the impact of such a huge difference in cost has been falling on the cargo like the Indonesian coal, steel and other construction materials.
“Companies like CESC, Tatas are affected by this anomaly,” alleged Burman, adding “If the cargo handling cost of coal imported for power plant is reduced to the earlier levels, then naturally the power cost will come down.” He added how the common man is being affected by the “dadagiri-induced-scam aided by the ruling parties of Bengal and those who were in power in the Centre for the past so many years.”
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