Kolkata: The West Bengal government’s inability to acquire land in Nandigram is slowing dredging at the Haldia Dock Complex—India’s third largest port—which is struggling to maintain its draught at 7.1-7.4m.

The Kolkata Port Trust, which runs the ports at Haldia and Kolkata, had requested the West Bengal government to acquire 2,500 acres in Nandigram where it could dump the so-called dredge spoils, or silt dredged out of the riverbed. But the state government turned down its request, fearing resistance from locals.

In deep trouble: Labourers at the Haldia port in West Bengal. India Today Image

The state government’s refusal to acquire land in Nandigram has forced the Haldia Dock authorities to dump the dredge spoils at the mouth of the river, 45km away. But the dredged silt flows back with the tide, and the dredgers have to carry the silt to the estuary to dump it.

“The problem is 10-20% (of the dredge spoils) flows back, whereas with shore dumping, the success is 100%," explains Rajeev Dube, deputy chairman of Haldia Dock Complex.

Average draught at Haldia has been falling at an alarming pace, even with seven dredgers at work.

“We are happy that we have been able to maintain draught at last year’s level, but that’s because of the seven dredgers. We have written to the (Union shipping) ministry asking for more dredgers," added Dube.

The Haldia Port’s average draught used to be 8.5m, which was to be raised by 1m, but because of silting, it has gone down to 7.1-7.4m, depending on the tide.

West Bengal’s commerce and industries secretary Sabyasachi Sen said trying to acquire land in Nandigram was too risky, and that the trust should try on its own to build consensus and buy land directly from farmers.

But Dube said the Haldia Dock authorities were looking for land elsewhere. “We’ll have to live with these realities," he added.

It is almost impossible for the Kolkata Port Trust to acquire land on its own, according to its chairman Anup Kumar Chanda. “Land holdings are small…we don’t have the machinery to handle land acquisition on our own."

Cargo traffic at the port in 2007-08 at 43.5 million tonnes was marginally higher than the previous year, but in the current year, there may not be any growth at all, according to Dube.