Port authorities said import-export businessmen and C and F agents owe them Tk2.84 crore based on the new rates
Operations at the Banglabandha land port in Panchagarh have been halted due to an internal conflict between port staff and authorities, suspending Bangladesh’s trade with India, Nepal, and Bhutan.
A disagreement between import/exporters, C and F agents, loading-unloading labourers, and ATI Limited – a company recently given the lease on labour handling at the port – over the rates for loading and unloading labourers has had trade halted for the last eight days. As a result, hundreds of trucks are stuck on both sides of the port, and the government is losing millions in taxes.
Around 300-350 trucks full of goods crosses the port every day, with taxes accounting for about Tk50 lakh for the government on a daily basis.
Although Panchagarh’s deputy commissioner called an urgent meeting between the representatives of each body involved in the conflict, no agreement could be reached as representatives for businessmen and Clearing and Forwarding (C and F) agents did not show up. As a result, the trade suspension continues to cause both suffering for those directly involved, and considerable economic loss for the government.
Labourers and businessmen blame the authorities
According to labourers and C and F agents, under the new labour handling agreement instated by ATI Limited and port authorities, the organization has been receiving a large portion of the money they are charging the businessmen. Moreover, despite charging the full amount for loading and unloading, ATI are only unloading goods, but not loading them.
When labourers went to ATI to discuss the new rates and collect the money they considered their dues on August 6, an agreement could not be reached, and the situation turned into a scuffle. Later, labourers vandalized the offices of ATI and the port authorities.
Such incidents of violence and vandalism between the two groups have created an environment of unrest in the area, culminating in the closure of the port.
Labour leaders at the port said the rates they were accustomed to were reduced suddenly through a new agreement that was proposed by ATI Limited. As they are simple people with subpar educational qualifications, they agreed to it only to realize they had been swindled when the money finally came in.
Izahar, a labourer at the port, said: “Port authorities file cases against us if we ask for the money we are owed or speak up against the injustice.”
C and F agent and importer KhandakarArif Hossain Lipton said: “Port authorities say we owe them around Tk2.84 crore, and that they will not let us unload the trucks that are already inside the port premises until we pay.”
According to C and F agents Saidur Rahman and Nasimul Hasan, businessmen wish to conduct their operations while abiding by all rules and regulations. However, ATI are making massive profits by keeping a large portion of the fees they are charging, but pretending that their profit margin is minimal. If they think about the labourers and pay them fairly, the port will be operational again.
The other side of the argument
On the other hand, ATI limited and the port authorities are blaming labourers and C and F agents for the issues,
ATI Limited partner representative Mehedi Hasan Khan Babla said: “We are working according to the labour handling agreement. The businessmen are wrong – we are not making anywhere near as much profit as they are accusing us of. If they adhere to the rules and pay accordingly, there should not be a problem.”
Port authorities said import-export businessmen and C and F agents owe them Tk2.84 crore based on the new rates – which includes government taxes, but whenever the money is demanded, businessmen and labours create unrest in the port area. Moreover, they are refusing to pay for the unloading of the trucks currently present at the port, saying will pay only after the service is complete.
Asked to comment on the situation, Panchagarh Deputy Commissioner Md Zahirul Islam told the Dhaka Tribune: “A probe body has been formed to investigate the vandalism of the port authority offices. It is unfortunate that all representatives did not show up at the mediation meeting we organized. We hope to have one again, this time with everyone present.”