Kolkata, Haldia Docks to feel the heat as Bengal clears two new ports

      03/13/2019

Mamata Banerjee-led West Bengal government’s move last week to build two new ports in the eastern state, one on its own at Tajpur and the second through a partnership with Dubai’s D P World at Kulpi, will give exporters and importers alternate gateways to ship cargo without the problems associated with the Central government-owned Kolkata Port Trust.

The construction of Kulpi and Tajpur ports are expected to cost over Rs 6,000 crore.

The development of these two ports will “substantially hurt” Haldia Dock Complex (HDC), the cash cow of Kolkata Port Trust, which is the only port in the state, says a port industry consultant.

Haldia Dock handles around 70 per cent of the total cargo handled at Kolkata Port Trust annually and its revenue prop-up the operations of Kolkata Dock System (KDS) including meeting some of its huge pensionary liabilities.

In FY18, Kolkata Port Trust handled 57.886 million tonnes (mt) of cargo of which Haldia Dock handled 40.496 mt and Kolkata Dock 17.390 mt. The cargo included 640,183 TEUs handled at Kolkata Dock and 156,028 TEUs handled at Haldia Dock.

Between April 2018 and February 2019, the port trust handled 57.584 mt of cargo with Haldia Dock handling 40.782 mt and Kolkata Dock handling 16.802 mt. Of this, Kolkata Dock handled 596,000 TEUs while Haldia loaded 163,000 TEUs.

“This project will add critical capacity in the region which is poised for even bigger growth. It will further contribute to economic growth, stimulate trade by offering direct connectivity and help speed goods to market. Additionally, it will create various employment opportunities and contribute to the development of communities around the port,” global container port operator DP World told.

Tajpur is located on the sea in West Midnapore district around 50 kms away from Haldia Dock, while Kulpi is on the Hooghly river as Haldia but on the opposite side.

“Haldia will be badly affected when Kulpi and Tajpur starts operations. Because, the hinterland (cargo generating region) of the two new ports will be the same as that of Haldia. When both these ports come up, then Haldia will have to fight for its cargo to survive,” the consultant said.

“Kulpi and Tajpur will, in particular, wipe out the entire container volumes of KDS and HDC,” a shipping industry official said.

Woes of Kolkata Port Trust - Kolkata Port Trust is saddled with perennial draft limitations, poor infrastructure and its location in the middle of the city adds to the woes. KDS and HDC caters to markets in the seven eastern states, Eastern Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Nepal, where the volume rate of growth has been faster than the average in the rest of the country.

“With better infrastructure coming up in Tajpur and Kulpi, you can well expect diversion of containers from KDS and HDC to these two ports because eventually the untapped potential currently would be a million TEUs and that number is growing at a rapid pace since this is one of the populist parts of the nation but one of the poorest,” the shipping industry official said.

Fear in Ministry - Fears of a privately-run Tajpur port weaning away cargo from Haldia Dock had pushed the shipping ministry to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the state government to develop the new port with majority stake of 74 per cent from the Centre and West Bengal government holding the balance as junior partner.

Banerjee cited delay by the Centre in starting work on Tajpur to do a flip-flop last week and decide to build the port as a full-fledged state government project.