A meeting to oppose privatisation of ports and docks was organised by the Kamgar Ekta Committee (KEC) on Monday, March 1st, 2021.
The meeting was attended by leaders and activists from various major ports of India, such as Mumbai, Cochin, Chennai and Vishakhapatnam. Com Mathew, Secretary of KEC, in his opening remarks said that the series of meetings held by KEC against privatisation of banks, railways, education, petroleum, insurance, coal, against the 2021-2022 budget proposals for privatisation and in support of the farmers’ agitation, has helped to deepen the struggle against privatisation by studying each sector in depth and bringing leaders and activists from different sectors together on a common platform.
Com Mathew then introduced the speakers for the meeting, Com P.M. Mohammed Haneef, President, All India Port and Dock Workers Federation from Cochin port, Com Narendra Rao, General Secretary, Water Transport Workers Federation of India (CITU) from Chennai port, Com B. Ch. Masen, General Secretary, Port, Dock and Waterfront Workers Federation of India (AITUC) from Vishakhapatnam port and Com Sudhakar R. Apraj, General Secretary, All India Port and Dock Workers Federation (Workers) (HMS) from Mumbai port.
On behalf of KEC, Com Ashok Kumar outlined in detail the current state of the Ports and Docks in India and explained why it is anti-worker as well as anti-national. This presentation was deeply appreciated by all participants. (See – Oppose the Anti-National, Anti-Worker Privatisation of Ports! Presentation by Kamgar Ekta Committee)
Following the presentation, the meeting was addressed by Com P.M. Mohamed Haneef, President, All India Port and Dock Workers Federation and Com Narendra Rao, General Secretary, Water Transport Workers Federation of India (CITU). (Excerpts of these two speeches are in Box 1 and 2 respectively).
Comrade B. Ch. Masen, General Secretary, Port, Dock and Waterfront Workers Federation of India (AITUC) from Vishakhapatnam port, and Com Sudhakar R. Apraj, General Secretary, All India Port and Dock Workers Federation (Workers) from Mumbai Port also addressed the meeting and said that the only way forward was for all workers of all sectors to unite against the government’s policies.
This was followed by a lively interaction with the participants. Com Custodio Mendonca, leader of the Port and Dock Pensioners Association assured the Federation that the pensioners would also come out on the streets to oppose the Government’s policies. Comrade D. K. Sarma, General Secretary of All India Port and Dock Workers Federation called for building world-wide solidarity of workers against the pro-capitalist policies of the government.
The meeting ended with a resolution to continue the ongoing series being organised by Kamgar Ekta Committee to discuss privatisation of electricity distribution, BSNL, steel and other sectors.
Excerpts from the address by Com P.M. Mohammed Haneef, President, All India Port and Dock Workers Federation
The Ports and Docks is a complex industry. Today the Indian government is only administering port related activities. Every year the major ports under the control of the government are earning an average of Rs. 5,000 crore as profit. But already the entire container traffic in the country is under the control of multinationals. The government is justifying the privatisation by saying it will increase the cargo handling capacity. However we already have 1500 million tonnes annual capacity, of which only 1,200 million tonnes is currently utilized.
Earlier, government ports were handling the entire cargos. But now only 55% are handled by major (government) ports which have higher technical facilities, while 45% are handled by the minor (private) ports. Eventually the government will hand everything over to private players. The private ports are offering lower rates initially, to lure people, while the rates at major ports are fixed by the government.
Major ports have more than 2.7 lakh acres of land. Monopoly capitalists want to grab this land.
The number of workers in government ports has plummeted sharply from 1,13,000 in 1993, to 95,000 in 1997 and now stands at only 24,000. During 2001 – 2010, the customs duty collected by the Indian Government from major ports was more than Rs. 56,000 crores and from the private ports only Rs. 2,000 crores. Government ports also pay income tax. DP World a Dubai based multinational operates 5 terminals in the country. They are adjusting the profits of 4 terminals against the losses of the Chennai terminal and avoiding having to pay income tax.
There are 5 ports in the country which are handling defence cargo. Privatisation of these will affect the security of the nation.
The whole process of privatisation is being carried out in a non-transparent manner. The officials in charge of negotiating with these private players are given top jobs thereafter, in these very same multinationals! An example is G J Rao who was the deputy chairman in major ports and now is the CEO of Adani port.
In the marine sections, the vessels which have served more than 20 years are supposed to be condemned, even though they can be used for 5-10 years more if dry docking is done properly. But the government wants to bring in the private vessels instead.
The government has the responsibility of providing pension to 1,30,000 retired government port workers and 25,000 serving workers in the major ports. Privatisation is likely to affect this.
There are 1 lakh vacancies in the major ports. If they are filled then thousands of youth will get employment. But these vacancies are not being filled, as a prelude to privatisation.
Privatisation of ports will benefit only the monopolies at the expense of the Indian people.
We have to mobilise all the workers of other sectors like Railways and Transportation, to thwart the government’s plans for privatisation of ports and docks.
Excerpts from the address by Com Narendra Rao, General Secretary, Water Transport Workers Federation of India (CITU)
In 2014, when Modi became Prime Minister he was invited to FICCI. Answering a reporter, he said that PSUs in our country are born to eventually die. We can either shut them down or privatise them. This policy has been implemented since 1991 by the Congress and other governments.
An Oxfam Research paper has revealed that inequality in India has risen to levels last seen in colonial times. The additional wealth acquired by India’s 100 billionaires since March 2020 is enough to give Rs. 94,045 to each of the 138 million poorest people! An unskilled worker in India would take 3 years to earn what the country’s richest person earned in 1 second last year. This is the result of the government’s policies of privatisation.
In the budget speech Nirmala Sitharaman announced that they would privatise 7 docks to reduce the burden of cargo handling. But cargo handling is our core activity, so how can it be a burden?
The Major Ports Authority Bill was passed in the Lok Sabha during the pandemic on September 23rd, 2020 and in the Rajya Sabha on Feb 10th, 2021. Now the Major Ports Trust will be converted into the Major Ports Authority from April 1st, 2021. All the 5 federations of workers in the ports and docks have objected to some clauses in the Act. We have raised it before the Parliamentary Standing Committee (PSC), which has accepted our objections.
However, none of the recommendations of the PSC have been taken into consideration by the Government when passing the Act.
Dubai Ports World (DPW) wanted to convert their name into Hindustan Ports Private Limited (HPP). This proposal was brought to the Cochin Trust Board. At that time Shri Paul Anthony, Chairman of the Cochin Port Trust opposed it, as did our labour representatives. The DPW went to PM Modi, who in turn met the rulers of Dubai and then the cabinet took the decision. The Shipping Ministry issued a circular using which the port was directed by the Ministry to allow the change requested by DPW. So after that no board could question it because it is a policy matter. And then the name was changed to HPP. It is very clear that the intention of the Government is to privatise the ports.
Two new laws are in the pipeline. The Merchant Shipping Act 1958 has been amended to the Merchant Shipping Bill 2020. Similarly Indian Ports Act 1908 is now the Indian Ports Bill 2020.
The Merchant Shipping Act said that any Indian owner or corporate company who wanted to purchase a ship would have to register under the Indian Shipping Register. But now the Merchant Shipping Bill says that any foreign player can purchase the ship and register the ship in India and it can be operated in the Indian seas. This is very dangerous. International finance companies are hand in glove with the Indian corporates.
Indian Ports Act 1908 covers the minor ports in the 9 coastal states. In every coastal state there are minor ports and Gujarat in particular has 87 minor ports. These are under the control of the State Governments. These ports will be taken over by the Indian Government in the name of the Maritime Port Regulatory Authority. Indian Ports Bill 2020 says that all the minor ports will be taken over by the Central Government.
The only solution is to organise the workers and step up our struggle, in order to halt the privatisation drive of the government.