There is a sense of renewed optimism among the thousands of employees of Chennai Port, as the Shipping Secretary P K Sinha made his maiden visit to the South India’s oldest port on May 4 to see its condition, especially its dwindling revenue sources.
The port’s steady revenue source due to handling of coal and iron ore has nosedived during the past seven months after the Madras High Court banned it, citing pollution problems.
In the backdrop, Sinha’s visit to the port gains more significance, as he is one of the members of the Empowered Committee of Secretaries constituted by the Supreme Court to look into the issue of handling dusty cargo by Chennai Port.
Speaking to reporters after a day-long visit to Chennai Port including its two privatized container terminals, Sinha said, “We have been given time till July 15 to submit our findings to the Supreme Court on handling coal and iron ore at Chennai Port/Ennore Port.”
This is our first meeting and we will have series of meetings over the next few weeks, which includes with general public also, Sinha told reporters.
Just not sticking to his official assignment of visiting the port as SC-appointed committee, Sinha made his intentions clear by visiting all important places inside the port, its two container terminals and port’s healthcare facilities for its employees.
Going a step ahead, the Shipping Secretary also extensively inspected the iron ore terminal and the coal stackyard inside the port premises and enquired about the pollution control measures followed by the port management.
After the spot visits, Sinha held an extensive discussion with the leaders of the seven recognized trade unions in the port. Speaking to Sagar Sandesh, R Santhanam, general secretary of the Port and Dock Labour Union, an affiliate of Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS), said, “The Shipping Secretary gave a patient hearing to our representations and asked the port trust chairman to consider the requests of a few unions for better working atmosphere.”
“Though the official visited Chennai as part of the Supreme Court-appointed committee, his long-day visit coupled with meetings with union leaders and other stake holders has clearly proved that he is a good administrator,” Santhanam added.
Besides these meetings, Sinha also visited the port gates, the main route for thousands of heavy vehicles to drop and pick-up cargo from port, to assess the movement of vehicles and availability of infrastructure for cargo evacuation.
Understanding the bottlenecks for container-laden trailers’ movement during his brief visit at the Zero Gate, the Shipping Secretary directed the Chennai Port authority to follow up the executing agencies and facilitate them for completion of the road connectivity projects within the stipulated timeframe.
Later, the Secretary reviewed the performance and developmental works at Chennai Port and Ennore Port in a joint meeting with the chairmen and senior officers of both ports. Making his observation clear for the sustained growth of the ports, Sinha called for mechanisation of the berths to improve efficiency and provide better service to the exim trade at competitive rates.
He also reviewed the performance of the Port Trust-run hospital and directed those in charge to improve the quality of service by partnering with reputed private medical institutions.
According to Mr Sinha, Empowered Committee of Secretaries constituted by the Supreme Court to look into the issue of handling dusty cargo by Chennai Port came with a clear mandate.
The Supreme Court, after hearing a special leave petition (SLP) filed by Chennai Port and its users on the Madras High Court order on dusty cargo, had in April constituted a committee comprising Secretary (Shipping), Secretary MoE&F, Chief Secretary, Government of Tamil Nadu; Principal Secretary, DoE&F, Government of Tamil Nadu and nominees of Central Pollution Control Board, Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board, NEERI and IIT Madras.
Their mandate was to assess the impact/extent of pollution due to handling of dusty coal and iron ore at Chennai Port, suggest measures to be adopted at the Port to control the pollution caused by the dusty cargo in question with reference to the techno-economic viability and assess the standard of facilities available at Ennore Port to handle dusty cargo.
The Committee held its first meeting on May 4 at the Tamil Nadu Secretariat. Apart from Sinha, who is heading the panel, the meeting was attended by Union Forest and Environment Secretary T. Chatterjee, Chief Secretary Debendranath Sarangi, representatives of the Central Pollution Control Board, the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board, the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) and IIT-Madras.