Some of the Central government-owned major port trusts are weighing plans to introduce austerity measures targeting employees to tide over the revenue loss arising from the implementation of a Shipping Ministry directive to waive/defer a slew of charges levied on port users and cargo terminals in the wake of the pandemic.
Each of the ten state-owned ports where the Ministry directive is being enforced, would lose as much as ₹40 crore in revenue from such waiver and deferment of charges, according to an official with one of the major port trusts.
One of the financially struggling port trusts operating along the country’s western coast is seeking to cut back on the encashment of employees’ earned leave, leave travel concession (LTC) facility and even deferment of staff retirement benefits such as gratuity and pension commutation for three months.
The move has come under flak from the workers’ unions who said that the government should reimburse the revenue foregone by the major ports on account of implementing the Ministry directive, instead of burdening the employees to compensate for the loss.
The government should “reimburse the financial loss incurred by the major ports due to implementation of the Ministry’s directive on concessions offered to port users, public-private partnership (PPP) terminal operators and thereby create a conducive atmosphere to all employees and pensioners to enjoy the fruits of their relentless service”, T Narendra Rao, general secretary, Water Transport Workers Federation of India, wrote in a letter to the Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Shipping Minister Mansukh Mandaviya.
The workers’ unions fear that the concessions being offered would adversely affect the financial health of all major ports given their financial liability towards payment of wages/salaries to 30,000 officers and employees and some 1,25,000 pensioners.
The implementation of concessions to port users would dilute their revenue stream on the pretext of Covid-19 pandemic, and further endanger the financial health of major ports and affect their exchequer.
The effect of Covid-19 pandemic, according to Rao, is a worldwide phenomenon and its impact has to be shared by all the stakeholders.
Besides, major port trusts such as Kolkata and Cochin are spending huge funds annually from their own resources for dredging to maintain adequate depth in the channel.
“The post-pandemic situation would entail serious repercussions on the financial viability and sustainability of major ports,” Rao said while urging the government to compensate the major ports for the revenue loss arising from the waiver of charges.
Some of the major port trusts were not keen on granting the waiver on charges given their financial constraints but was overruled by the Ministry while issuing an order on April 21.