With a two-third deficit in its pension fund, the Kolkata Port Trust (KoPT) is being forced to dip into its operating surplus to meet its pension liabilities, constraining its investments plans. The trust requires its pension fund to have a size of Rs 4,700 crore or thereabouts to generate annual returns sufficient to pay all its 27,000 pensioners; however, what it has right now is just around Rs 1,700 crore. KoPT chairman MT Krishna Babu said the annual pension bill is around Rs 350 crore at present while what the pension corpus yields is some Rs 125 crore only. The operating income of KoPT, excluding dredging subsidy, increased to Rs 1,761 crore in FY17 compared with Rs 1,586 crore in FY16. Operating surplus increased to Rs 631 crore in FY17 against Rs 560 crore in FY16. Although operating margin increased a little over 27%, that has to be consistent over the years to make up the deficit of the pension fund.
However, things are not looking very good. With two handling arms at Kolkata and Haldia, KoPT has already lost port of loading or POL cargo owing to the Haldia-Barauni pipeline. Thermal coal cargo has also declined owing to a big drop in steam coal imports. “Now Dhamra port has come on stream with a great possibility of eating into Haldia Port’s cargo,” Krishna Babu said, adding that the Subarnarekha Port Project was posing a threat to Haldia Port.
The port is trying to strengthen the pension fund with the operating surplus. “But we need Rs 4,700 crore and we can create this fund only by transferring our operating surplus over the years,” Krishna Babu said. In FY17, the port transferred Rs 435 crore to its pension fund from the operating surplus.
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Although Krishna Babu harped on increasing operational efficiency, to whose end the port plans to award work order worth Rs 827 crore this year for enhancing infrastructure, officials say that a deep-draught port at Tajpur in East Midnapore district could be a remedy to the threat faced by the port.
While the port has already awarded Rs 276 crore worth of work orders in the current fiscal, continuing to strengthen roads and railway infrastructure, Krishna Babu agreed that Tajpur Port has to come up as part of KoPT with the Union government holding the majority stake in it.
“The plan of Sagar Port has to be scrapped because it would cost Rs 12,000 crore only to create road and rail infrastructure. Incurring that expenditure would not be viable. Union shipping minister Nitin Gadkari has already communicated the Centre’s view to West Bengal finance minister Amit Mitra and now it was for the state to take a call,” Krishna Babu said.