The Prime Minister, at the 150th anniversary of the port, handed over a Rs 501-crore cheque to LIC chairman MR Kumar.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday renamed the Kolkata Port Trust as Syama Prasad Mookerjee Port, and helped it form its entire corpus of Rs 4,700 core to meet liabilities of its 27,000 pensioners. The Prime Minister, at the 150th anniversary of the port, handed over a Rs 501-crore cheque to LIC chairman MR Kumar.
LIC has been maintaining the pension fund on behalf of the port.
The country’s only river port with two handling arms in Kolkata and Haldia has been long struggling to meet its pension liabilities for shortage of funds. Till 2017, the port’s pension fund size was of Rs 1,700 crore, which annually fetched it Rs 125 crore, whereas the yearly pension bill was Rs 350 crore. The port for decades has been dipping into operational profits to meet its pension liabilities. This has been preventing the port from reporting any net profit.
Earlier, KoPT chairman Vinit Kumar told FE that the port would transfer Rs 500 crore from its operating surplus this fiscal and would likely report a net profit of Rs 65 crore after decades.
KoPT’s net profit was hampered primarily for two reasons. Firstly, for the Rs 400-crore dredging subsidy it gets from the Centre, which has to be offset in its annual accounts, and secondly, transferring of money to its pension fund, which ate up a huge chunk of operating surplus.
At one point of time, the Centre mulled stopping the dredging subsidy and the port came on the verge of closure for draught constraints, which prevented large and even mid-sized ships from entering the port. Ships had to do lighterage operations at sandheads, resulting in long queues and increasing their turnaround time and thereby draining out forex as demurrage. The port was turning commercially unviable for operations.
However, the problem of draught was solved to some extend after the Eden channel, a shipping lane, was opened in 2015, Mansukh Mandaviya, MoS shipping, said.
Modi said the average turnaround time in all the ports of the country has halved. “As for the Kolkata Port, we looked at its unique strategic location and the advantage it has in terms of serving a huge land locked hinterland and its connectivity to inland waterways. Haldia is now straightaway linked to Varanasi through National Waterways -1 and we envisage to operationalise a multi-modal terminal in Varanasi and a navigational lock gate in Farakka this fiscal. Large vessels will soon ply on National Waterways -1, Modi said.
The government, he said, has framed its maritime policy in line with the maritime policy of the country’s first industry minister Syama Prasad Mookerjee, wherein a port-led development was envisioned. “Our Sagarmala, coastal connectivity and coastal transport projects are together implementing 575 projects worth Rs 6 lakh crore, of which 200 are in progress and 115 completed worth Rs 3 lakh crore.
The Maritime policy also looks at boosting maritime tourism by increasing the number of cruise ships from 150 at present to 1,000. There would be more aquariums, water parks, river cruises and sea cruises across the country to enhance maritime tourism, Modi said.
Although chief minister Mamata Banerjee was supposed to be present on the occasion, she gave it a miss.
Taking a dig at Banerjee, Modi said 75 lakh people across the country has got the benefits of Ayushman Bharat and Rs 43,000 crore has been deposited in the banks to benefit 8 crore farmers under the Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sanman Nidhi. “But Mamata Banerjee has been preventing extending these schemes to Bengal. I believe such days will soon get over and one can’t deprive the people of Bengal from taking the benefits of such schemes,” Modi said.