Port union brace-up for litigation against privatisation of JNPT-run container terminal

Port workers union at Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust (JNPT) will go to court to overturn what it says is an “illegal, arbitrary and undemocratic” approval of the board of trustees to privatise the container terminal self-operated by the state-owned port authority.

Stating that approval was “not acceptable” to it, the Water Transport Workers’ Federation of India and its affiliated union at JNPT, the Nhava Sheva Bandar Kamgar Sanghatna, said it will challenge the board resolution passed on 24 December in the court of law as it violated Section 16(3) of the Major Port Trusts Act, 1963.

“All questions at a meeting of the Board shall be decided by a majority of the votes of the Trustees present and voting and, in the case of an equality of votes, the person presiding shall have a second or casting votes”, according to Section 16 (3) of the MPT Act.

The two trustees representing labour opposed the plan to privatise the J N Port Container Terminal (JNPCT), during the board of trustees meeting on December 24 when the agenda was taken for discussion. The six trustees, including the Chairman and Deputy Chairman of JNPT representing the government, supported the proposal.

“The two labour trustees asked for the resolution be put to vote Under Section 16 (3) of the MPT Act. But, the JNPT Chairman assumed that the support of the six trustees was enough to clear the proposal and walked out of the Board room and unilaterally declared later that the agenda on privatising the JNPT-run terminal was approved,” Bhushan Patil, one of the labour trustees, who attended the meeting, said.

“The correct procedure laid down by the MPT Act was not followed in this case,” Patil said adding that the approval was “illegal, arbitrary and undemocratic”, though the resolution would have won if it was put to vote.

JNPT could not be reached immediately for comment.

The Board considered two models suggested by a consultant to develop the terminal – one through PPP and the other by the JNPT using its reserves. The board decided to opt for the PPP route to upgrade the terminal costing over 800 crore.

The worker’s unions said that the “unilateral announcement” went against the government policies on ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ initiative and ‘Make in India’, said T Narendra Rao, General Secretary, Water Transport Workers’ Federation of India.

JNPCT, the only such facility operated by a government-owned port authority across any of the 12 state-owned major ports in India, will be sold to a multinational company under the PPP mode, Rao said.

JNPT management’s contention that the business of JNPCT was shifting to other private container terminals at JNPT because of its “stand-alone” status is unacceptable, says Rao.

“It’s a lame excuse by JNPT,” Rao said adding that “JNPT is lacking an aggressive marketing strategy to attract more containers to JNPCT compared to other private terminals”.

Rao said the labour trustees had suggested alternate proposals to continue running the terminal profitably, but the port management rejected this.

The Water Transport Workers Federation will hold a week-long campaign in the first week of January at all the major port trusts to oppose the privatisation of JNPCT, Rao added.