By Sanchita Gupta:
Kandla port, amongst the most important ports on our western coast, was built to compensate the loss of Karachi to Pakistan. Out of 2,44,000 acres of land, owned by Kandla Port Trust, 16,000 acres was leased out to salt manufacturers for a meager price of Rs144 per acre against the norm of 6% of market value which amount to crores of rupees. KPT Chief Vigilance Officer Manoranjan Kumar decided to bring light to this scam in his report submitted to the Shipping Ministry, detailing how it was leased to a few parties without auction at a nominal rate back in 60s and 70s for 30 years, even though it was causing a lot of loss to the exchequer and benefiting only a few parties.
The leases were renewed in 1996 and 2000 for four years and in 2004 when 37 out of 40 leases expired, they were renewed at Rs 149 per acre by KPT officials and senior officials of Shipping Ministry. “As far as the land policy is concerned, it provides renewal of leases. It has prescribed the norm for renewal and accordingly Kandla Port has acted,” is what M.A. Bhaskarachar, Dy Chairman, Kandla Port Trust, had to say on this scandal.
The land is under five to six big salt manufacturers, including Friends Salt Works, the Doongharshee Salt Works. In spite of all this, these companies feel they are not wrong as they have all the official documents required and feel that the leases were renewed keeping in mind the norms and policies.
A senior IAS officer, Rakesh Shrivastava, Joint Secretary (Ports) in the Ministry of Shipping, is also suspected to be involved in all this. CBI, in its letter dated 24th of January to Cabinet Secretary of GOI, has asked for shift or transfer of Shrivastava to some other post/department not linked to KPT as his presence could hinder the on-going investigation.
To this the Shipping Minister, G.K Vasan, said that he was not aware of any letter been sent and the removal of the officer would be decided by Cabinet Secretary. He also said that government would open new lease rental and eviction proceedings have begun. On this whole matter he said that it happened before he had taken over. CBI has also registered a case against a former chairman, A Janardan Rao (MD, Indian Port Association), and three serving officials of Kandla Port Trust (KPT), namely, KC Vyas, DM Makwana and SC Venkatesh, for granting lease without valuation and auction.
The whole situation became a scandal because when the matter involves private parties, a public auction has to be conducted which was not the case here. The arbitrary leasing of land lacked transparency in its conduction and lead to charges of corruption. The leases which were to expire in 30 years were renewed without any competitive bidding.