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Bleak Future Of Industry In Bengal

Updated: December 1, 2012 12:01 pm

After a drama for more than two months, finally Haldia Bulk Terminals (HBT), the ABGLDA joint venture operator has announced that it is quitting West Bengal, as the law and order situation is not conducive to normal business in the state. HBT is the company which has earned the highest revenue for Bengal’s struggling port, Haldia dock complex. The company which finally conveyed its decision to Kolkata Port Trust and Calcutta High Court of leaving also brought numerous questions about the future of industry in West Bengal.

The decision of leaving came after three officials of ABG were forced out of Haldia at gun point in spite of repeated calls for help to the local police station. But the response was not satisfactory. After the incident, the officials were very much frightened over the law and order situation in Bengal.

“With a deep sense of disappointment we have to inform you that we have been with no option but to walk out of Haldia Dock Complex with immediate effect”, Gurpreet Malhi CEO of HBT said in a media statement. He also said: “We cannot work in an environment where the authorities responsible for ensuring the law and order and success of the project have openly renounced their responsibility.” He stressed that the safety and security of their employees was above their business interest.

The Mumbai-based HBT has closed its operations at both its terminal 2 and 8 in the Haldia Dock system since the fourth week of September. Trinamool-backed workers of private-handling agencies obstructed the HBT operations from September 15, alleging that Kolkata Port Trust’s priority to HBT will harm the business interest of its private employers. HBT suspended operations on September 22 blaming law and order situation. Next day it sacked 275 employees blaming heavy losses.

HBT’s decision to pull out of Bengal comes four years after the dream project of Tata Motors “Nano” car had left Singur blaming the Trinamool Congress, then the leading opposition, for creating law and order problems at the factory site in Singur, which is about 30 kms from Kolkata city. Now it is the same party which is in power, under whose tenure the company is compelled to shut down its operation in Bengal.

While the Congress, CPI(M) and BJP have condemned the attitude of the state government and administration in action leading to the exit of the operator, what is worse is that Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee accused the Opposition CPI(M) and a section of media of running a misleading campaign on Haldia dock. She said in Writers Building: “We have given full police protection. The CPI(M) is running a misleading campaign along with one or two media houses to malign my government.”

The HBT which started operation in 2010 at berths 2 and 8 of Haldia Dock System played a key role in pulling out Haldia Dock from a deep financial crisis in which the Kolkata Port Trust had recorded a loss of revenue of Rs 316 crore between 2007 and 2010. HBT had helped increase the productivity by more than three fold and the revenue by more than seven times than that in a non-mechanised berth.

After the September shutdown the company went to Calcutta High Court, which on October 19 asked the district administration of East Midnapur district to ensure law and order. But in spite of the order, the situation only became worse. It reached its worst on the night of October 27 when all three of HBT’s managerial staff at Haldia were abducted and sent to Kolkata, with the threat of facing dire consequences should they try to return to Haldia.

After the Nano factory pullout from Singur by Tata Motors and Jindal steel standoff in Salboni, leaving of HBT from Haldia is seen as the greatest setback to the industrial policy of the present government in Bengal. The government’s promise to provide a favourable industrial environment in the state seems empty.

Now the existing industries and business houses are in an utter confusion since there is a tremendous increase in trade unionism in corporate and industrial sector which is prevalent from the Left rule. The Leftist are always held responsible for trade unionism but now it is seen that it has increased two fold and the recent Haldia incident is a fresh proof to this. Protesting the leaving of HBT, leader of the Opposition Surya Kanta Mishra said: “If such things continue, no industry will stay in Bengal. Haldia Port was developed brick by brick during the Left Front’s rule. But now the trade unionism by Trinamool leaders is impacting its operation and the state’s economy as well.”

The two pullouts, both linked to Trinamool Congress, will hurt West Bengal in days to come. Although Singur agitation had earned Banerjee many a friend, the party’s alleged strong-arm tactics at Haldia saw the CM standing alone, largely due to the perception that she was protecting a party leader’s interests.

Talking to Uday India, Bengal Chamber of Commerce and Industries President, Kallol Dutta said: “It was an industrial dispute among CPT, KoPT and ABG. It can be solved rather in a very friendly manner but it didn’t happen the way it was expected to.” When asked about the future of industry in Bengal in such environment, he said: “Industries come only after seeing an opportunity, as there are lots of scope, say in terms of East and Northeast but the opportunity needs to be cultivated.”

State Congress chief Pradip Bhattacharya said that the Haldia episode was far worse than Singur. “Trinamool has spoiled the future of the port in the interest of its party. The state government should rise above party politics and look after Haldia port’s interests.”

Since the late 1970s onwards, West Bengal has made impressive gains in agriculture, in part because of its land reform initiative, but this is no substitute to modern industry. The sad truth is that the state’s industrial output has lagged behind the national growth average, in the absence of fresh investment and a proper work culture. If the trend continues there will be a new dark cloud over West Bengal’s industrial future, which would eat into the prospects of a younger generation, looking for work in the state.

 By Joydeep Dasgupta from Kolkata

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