Row in Kakinada port over bar channel fee

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Kakinada, Mar 19 (UNI) Another row has rocked the anchorage port, with the Port authorities levying Bar channel fee on steel barge owners, who are resisting it being charged with retrospective effect from 1994, the year of introduction of steel barges replacing the old wooden cargo boats.

The port authorities wanted the barge owners to pay the bar channel fee at the rate of Rs one per metric tonne of cargo handled, while they insisted that it should be made a flat rate of Rs 10,000 to each barge per annum, irrespective of the tonnage they handled, that too only from this year.

The barge owners were opposing the recovery of fee arrears with effect from 1994, contending that wooden boats were aged and had smaller capacity of less than 100 MTs each, against the 350 to 500 MT each of the present steel barges.

''The stance of port authorities lacks rationale. The wooden boats have vanished and many of the owners are either dead or have quit the field. The 90 steel barges that came in their place are presently managed by their families. In these circumstances how to recover the arrears? The port authorities should have taken all the barge owners into confidence before deciding on levying the new fee,'' Kakinada Steel Barge Owners Association president Bollapragada Ramamurthy said.

The association also alleged that the port authorities were levying the fee without improving the channel system or the infrastructure, including the jetties.

''The present port channel draft was getting dwindled year after year, owing to siltage and poor maintenance. The dredging of the channel became a thing of the past as the port dredger was discarded for want of repairs. There are occasions when the dumb steel barges gets stuck up en route anchorage and have to be pulled up.''Is it justified to subject us to such levy all of a sudden,'' Mr Ramamurthy asked.

Justifying his action, Port Officer Captain A Diwakar said, ''It is mandatory to pay the bar channel fee and there is no point in resisting it. If the barge owners feel that the levy is higher, they could approach the government for remedial measures.'' ''Since barge owners have approached the court. Let us wait till the court's verdict. Till then, we will not press for its payment,'' he said.

UNI XC VA ROY SP RS1020

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