Conveyor Belt Tragedy rekindles CBI’s date with Chennai Port
Port Wings News Network:
While the Chennai Port is preparing a roadmap for reviving the handling of coal in the next few months after the Supreme Court gave a direction, the recent accident, where a dilapidated structure – a conveyor belt system to move coal from vessels to dumping yard, has opened the old debate among the port employees.
For many employees in the Chennai Port, though it was a non-fatal accident, the dilapidated conveyor belt system is seen as a standing testimony of how the corruption systematically moved the coal handling away from the port.
CBI & COAL CONVEYOR BELT:
After convinced with a tip-off from a port employee about a possible corruption in its procurement, Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) filed a case (RC0322011A0018)against the then Chairman of the Chennai Port Trust and other few officials involved in the decision making for causing wrongful loss to the Port Trust in the matter of procurement of coal conveyor system.
Ever since the case has been registered, the coal conveyor belt system, installed at an estimated cost of Rs 43 crores, literally became a cynosure among the port employees.
While the CBI made it as one of the physical evidences, and since the Madras High Court also banned handling of coal in the port in 2011, the whole conveyor belt system remained cut off from the day-to-day activities and the employees linked with the coal handling division also never enters the area.
The CBI’s Continuing TRAIL:
After registering the case, the CBI had initiated an investigation into the alleged embezzlement of funds by top port officials during installation of a conveyor belt system for transporting coal at a cost of Rs 43 crore.
According to an ex-employee of the port, the CBI probe began after a complaint alleged that the private player given contract for installation had put up only 250 metres of belt against the mandated length of 275 metres.
“The installation of the conveyor belt system and its commissioning in November 2009 has remained a mystery as the Port Trust management, which used to invite media for all its functions, did not invite anyone then and just sent a picture of the inauguration by the then Chairman of the Port Trust Capt Subhash Kumar in the presence of then Chief Mechanical Engineer K P Ramanathan. While the first installment of payment (25 %) to the contractor was released as per the agreement clause, the second installment was made in full secrecy,” said the employee seeking anonymity.
Speaking to Port Wings, another employee linked to an influential trade union in Chennai Port, said, “Contrary to a clause on payments in the contract, Mr Ramanathan, during former Chairman K Suresh’s tenure had sent a note to the port’s Finance Department to release 50 per cent of the remaining amount in the interest of the project.”
“Though the contract clearly defined that the second installment had to be paid only after the full installation and commissioning of the belt, then CME, flouting all rules, sent the note asking to release the sum even though the facility was not fully installed,” he added.
Though the department turned down his plea at the first instance, the payment was indeed released within a day after intervention of top officials of the Port Trust. However, the CBI enquiry on the conveyor belt met a dead-end after the Government of India declined permission to the agency to prosecute the then Chairman of the Port Trust, who is now holding a senior administrative post in the state of Madhya Pradesh.