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Workers step up demands ahead of structural reform of major ports

Port workers’ unions are stepping up their demands as the Shipping Ministry looks set to take up a Bill in the upcoming winter session of Parliament on converting the 11 major ports that are currently run as ‘trusts’ into ‘authorities’. The conversion move is seen as the biggest structural reform in the ports sector in more than five decades.

Port and dock workers affiliated to the Water Transport Workers Federation of India are observing a ‘demands week’ from October 20. The workers held a ‘protest day’ on Thursday at all the major port trusts urging the government to accept the recommendations of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on the Major Port Authorities (MPA) Bill before putting it to vote.

“There are some clauses (in the Bill) which give the impression that the proposed Bill provides the Government more teeth to allow private players in the port sector which may, in future take full control over the port activities,” the standing committee wrote in its July 18 report.

“The committee recommends that the Shipping Ministry should remove the fears of the stakeholders on the issue of privatisation of ports and ensure that the administrative, managerial and financial control of the port will remain with the port managements”.

“The board of a major port authority shall be bound by the directions on questions of policy as the Central government may give in writing from time to time. The board shall be given an opportunity to express its views before any direction is given by the Central Government, but the decision of the Central Government on whether a question is one of policy or not shall be final and binding on the Board,” according to clause 50 of the Bill.

Workers’ worry
“After the Port Trust Board is converted into Port Authority with Director Board of the Authorities as envisaged in the new Act, the power of the Central Government to issue directions to the Directors of the Board may finally lead to converting the Port Authorities into companies through an executive order of the Central Government,” says T Narendra Rao, general secretary, Water Transport Workers’ Federation of India.

“The Committee is also agreeable to the apprehension of the employee unions that retaining Section 111 of the MPT Act in the new Bill may be intentional to use it at the appropriate time by the Government and may endanger the very interest of the Major Ports, particularly when the ongoing policy of privatisation is aggressively pursued by the Central Government. The power given to Central Government under Clause 50 to issue directions to the Directors of the Board may lead to converting the Port Authorities into companies through an executive order of the Central Government. The Committee recommends that the Government should not misuse the provision given under this clause for any such activities as pointed out by the stakeholders,” the standing committee wrote.

“There is no such provision in the MPA Bill which provides for corporatisation or privatisation of major ports. The object of the MPA Bill is to modernise the institutional structure of major ports by bringing in autonomy, professionalism and strengthen decision-making. Accordingly, the issue of control of Major Ports by MNCs does not arise. It is however to be noted that 100 per cent FDI is already permitted in the port sector under the automatic route to develop individual berths in any of the ports,” a Ministry spokesman said.

The Ministry is examining the recommendations of the standing committee.

“We are aiming to pass the Bill in the upcoming Winter Session of Parliament. We will try, but we don’t know. The examination of the recommendations will take some more time because there are several processes involved,” the Ministry spokesman added.
Source: The Hindu BusinessLine

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