Now a massive port scam in the offing

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Haldia port
New Delhi, June 26: Unearthing of the multi-crore scam at West Bengal's Haldia Port, which allegedly involves illegal shore-handling of cargo, is pointing towards a scam of a magnitude the country has ever come across. The gravity of this scandal could be understood with the fact that its figures could easily surpass much talked about CWG, 2G, coalgate scams. The scam is reportedly spread across country's all 12 major ports and has been going on unchecked for the past 40 years.

As per a report published in the Pioneer, the total financial losses suffered by the Government over the past 40 years on account of the alleged illegal shore-handling of cargo could be more than Rs 8 lakh crores.

If one goes by complaints lodged from various sections and reports submitted by standing committees of Parliament, the respective Governments were aware of the state of things.

It goes this way:

The port authorities undertake the responsibility of loading and unloading of cargo to and from the ships and charge the exporters and importers rates approved by the Tariff Authority for Major Ports (TAMP). But, private operators, known as ‘handling agents', manually handle the cargo. These handling agents make crores of rupees as profit by paying mere Rs 5,400 for annual license and thus deprive the port authority of financial profits.

BJP Member of Parliament from Gujarat Mansukhbhai Vasava in a letter addressing the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh alleged that these agents handle around 200 million tons of cargo, charging the exporters and importers on an average Rs 300 per metric ton and sharing in turn not a single farthing with the Government. The revenue thus being lost by the Government per year for the past 40 years is about Rs 6,000 crore the letter says. Thus the total calculated loss suffered by the Government exchequer on this count for the past 40 years entails Rs 240,000 crore, the letter says.

A previous report published by Pioneer had put Trinamool Congress MP in dock in the multi-core Haldia Port scam.

According to reports, Ripley & Company and its sister concerns owned by Trinamool Rajya Sabha member Srinjoy Bose and his father Swapan Sadhan (Tutu) Bose, a former MP, have duped the Government of an estimated Rs 24,500 crore over the past 35 years, through Haldia Port scam. Sources said these companies have been realising an estimated Rs500-Rs700 crore per year from the exporters and importers without paying a single farthing to the Kolkata Port Trust, the parent body of the Haldia Dock Complex.

This hints that several other big shots might be possibly involved in the multi-crore scam.

Surprisingly, the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) was also forwarded a copy of the letter, exposing the multi-crore scam came more than seven months after Department-related Parliamentary Standing Committee on Transport, Tourism and Culture submitted a report on May 3, 2013 stating how Haldia Port was losing crores, year after year just because of some vested interests. But UPA didn't pay heed over that, as it had been doing in several other scams.

Even Thiru GK Vasan, Union Minister of Shipping, in reply to a question in Rajya Sabha on August 8, 2013, during the Monsoon Session of Parliament, had accepted the existence of unauthorised private cargo handling agents and thus the port scam at 12 major ports of India.

Also, the CAG in its audit report for the financial year 2011-12 has already endorsed the port scam for Haldia Port headed by Manish Jain, IAS of West Bengal cadre, and deputy chairman, Haldia Dock Complex.

Whole issue raises the pertinent question why Manmohan Singh and even erstwhile Governments had been maintaining stoic silence on the issue over the years.

UPA faced the consequences for showing slackness on this front and now onus is on new dispensation to investigate the matter and book the perpetrators.

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