Bangalore: The Madras high court (HC) on Thursday rejected the Chennai port’s petition for a review of an order directing it to stop handling dusty cargo such as coal and iron ore from 1 October.
The Union government-controlled port will now file a special leave petition (SLP) in the Supreme Court against the order, a top official said.
Chennai Port. File photo.
A single bench of the high court said in an order on 11 May that handling of coal and iron ore should be shifted to Ennore port, 20km away, to prevent pollution in north Chennai.
Ennore port is the only port among the 13 controlled by the Union government to be set up under the Companies Act, 1956. Other ports including Chennai port operate as trusts under a law framed around four decades ago called the Major Port Trusts Act, 1963.
“I haven’t seen a copy of the order, but was told that our review petition has been rejected by the court,” said Atulya Misra, chairman of Chennai Port Trust.
The port will appeal against the rejection in the Supreme Court through an SLP, he said. “We would like to go till the last on this issue.”
Another official at Chennai port, who requested anonymity, said the port had already approached the Supreme Court with an SLP while the review petition was being heard, but was told it could be entertained only after the review petition was decided. “We will now file the SLP,” he said.
Chennai port stands to lose a lot of cargo and revenue if coal and iron ore are shifted to Ennore port.
“Chennai port will lose as much as 18 million tonnes (mt) of cargo a year, resulting in a revenue loss of about Rs 240 crore if the court order to stop handling coal and iron ore is implemented,” the second official said. Customers using Chennai port to ship coal and iron ore have agreed to join the SLP, he added.
In its review petition, Chennai port had argued that it was not possible to shift some 1,500 employees involved in handling coal and iron ore to Ennore port, as was directed by the court in the May verdict.
“Chennai port has a very large workforce,” said Suresh Amirapu, managing director of Chennai-based port consultancy firm Portman India Pvt. Ltd. “What will happen to the workers if the cargo doesn’t come... Where will Chennai port earn money to pay for these workers?”
Besides, Chennai port has set up infrastructure and berths to handle coal and iron ore. “The port will find it difficult to substitute coal and iron ore with other cargo immediately. That’s why the port is keen to hold on to these cargo,” he added.
Between April and October, cargo handled at Chennai port fell 9.58% to 33.38 mt from 36.91 mt a year earlier. The decline was led by iron ore with the port loading a paltry 51,000 tonnes of the steel-making commodity in that period, compared with 2 mt a year earlier. Iron ore shipments through Chennai port have been hit by the ban on the export of the commodity by Karnataka, India’s second biggest producer, since July 2010.