Finding the UPA-led Central government unresponsive to its protests, the state government on Thursday moved the Supreme Court, challenging the decision of expansion of the maritime zone of Kolkata Port Trust (KoPT) into Orissa territory.
The suit contended the Central government did not listen to the state government's concerns and issued such a notification on October 22, 2010 "unilaterally". It described the Centre's action as "arbitrary and non-application of mind", saying the move will seriously affect the state's interests, including loss of huge revenue expected from a number of minor ports proposed along the coast. State standing counsel Suresh Chandra Tripathy said the suit seeks permanent stay on the implementation of the October notification.
The notification increased KoPT's operational limits to 28,646 kms in the Bay of Bengal, including over 200 kms south of Haldia that extends up to Bhadrak district. The state government has allowed construction of as many as seven minor ports - Dhamra, Chudamani, Chandipur, Inchudi, Subarnarekha mouth, Bichitrapur and Bahabalpur -- along the coast from West Bengal border to Bhadrak district.
The Indian Ports Act entrusts development of major ports on the Central government and minor ports on the states. The KoPT being a major port, the notification entitles it to get all financial and other benefits to be received from the minor ports proposed by the state government and block its access to the area. "If that happens, Orissa will be virtually left with no maritime area. The impact will be severe as the minor ports will come under the KoPT," Tripathy said.
Chief minister Naveen Patnaik had earlier met the Union shipping minister and conveyed the state's anguish on the issue. He had also requested the Centre to withdraw the notification forthwith. Chief secretary B K Patnaik had also sent three letters to the shipping secretary, elaborating Orissa's cause for protests. There were also two rounds of talks held, with Union shipping secretary, state chief secretary and chairman of KoPT participating. None of the efforts, however, bore any results, forcing the state government to move the apex court under Article 131 of the Constitution to resolve the dispute between the Centre and the state.
The suit was filed a day ahead of the scheduled hearing at the Supreme Court of a transfer petition filed by the KoPT. The KoPT had reportedly submitted the transfer petition in the backdrop of two cases on the controversial port issue, now under scrutiny at the Orissa and Calcutta high courts respectively. The apex court under Article 139 (A) of the constitution has the power to order transfer of the cases for hearing from the high court. The case in the Orissa High Court is a PIL, which was filed by a social organization, Keonjhar Nava Nirman Parishad, challenging the notification. The HC has since ordered no precipitate action till the disposal of the case. A similar petition has also been filed in the Calcutta High Court.