The privatization of the Dhubri Ship Port, administered by the Union Minister of Shipping, Water Resources, and Ports, Sarbananda Sonowal, has sparked a contentious debate and allegations of impropriety in Dhubri, Assam.
A Mumbai-based logistics and warehousing company, A to Z Exim, secured a five-year lease for the Dhubri River Port, which falls under the jurisdiction of the Inland Waterways Authority of India (IWAI). However, this move has triggered rumors of a growing syndicate circle in the region, leading to significant concerns among stakeholders.
One of the contentious issues revolves around the alleged price hike imposed by A to Z Exim's agents for unloading and loading procedures of stone and coal-laden vessels. Reportedly, the cost has surged from Rs 150 to over Rs 400 per metric tonne since the privatization.
On August 25, A to Z Exim and IWAI signed a contract entrusting the former with the operation of the port for the next five years. Disturbingly, allegations have surfaced that A to Z Exim established a syndicate by subcontracting the port to a local company, BS Group, raising questions about transparency and fairness in the process.
Rajiv Mukherjee, a representative of M/s Poly Acharjee, one of India's leading exporters, expressed concerns over the lack of involvement of Customs officials, the district magistrate, or any other stakeholders during the handover process of such a crucial decision for Dhubri Ship Port. This has raised suspicions of a conspiracy behind the apparent negligence or intentional oversight.
Adding to the controversy, a stone-laden vessel, along with its four staff members, and two empty vessels, have reportedly been detained by A to Z Exim's alleged agents (referred to as "goons") within the Dhubri IWAI Ship Port for over five days. This detention contravenes government regulations, which stipulate that loaded vessels should not remain in the port premises for more than 12 hours after completing Customs and immigration formalities.
Shohel Rana, a trader from Bangladesh, expressed concerns about the delay and the responsibility for clearing the BSF checkpoint in Zero Point, Dhubri, Assam, as well as the mounting daily expenses incurred during the vessel's detention.
The situation has provoked a strong response from importers and exporters in Bangladesh, Bhutan, and India. If the alleged misconduct continues at the Dhubri IWAI Port, it could jeopardize the export of stone and coal to Bangladesh.
The privatization of significant central government agencies like IWAI has raised questions about the growing influence of syndicates in the Dhubri Ship Port. Observers are keen to see what role Union Minister Sarbananda Sonowal will play in addressing these concerns and ensuring transparency in the port's operations.
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