NEW DELHI: Labourers deployed at the government owned were living the dream life, taking home around Rs 2.5 lakh a month, and that too without doing any physical work. And then the bubble burst.

This came to light when New Mangalore Port Trust chairman M T Krishna Babu held a meeting with all after taking charge. Traders told him they were shifting to other ports in the region because of the exorbitant payment to labourers deployed with the four harbour mobile cranes (HMC). These were introduced in 2009 for faster loading and unloading of cargo ships.

Babu said 10 labourers were deployed in each shift for each crane. This is known as “notional booking”, which means booking of labour takes place even though there is no work. The official monthly salary of these labourers is around Rs 60,000-Rs 80,000, sources said As per the practice followed till last month at this southern port, stevedores employed at the dock to load and unload ships paid the labourers Rs 3 for each tonne of bulk cargo loaded or unloaded as incentive. Interestingly, while Rs 1.30 was paid through cheque, the remaining came in cash. “This was nothing but speed money. This was a bad practice which continued for long. I held a meeting with the labour union and different groups to convince them that we need to stop this practice for the betterment of the port. We gave 15 days’ time to the labourers to fall in line and from August 1, we stopped this practice,” Babu told TOI.

Sources said there were also reports of “highly paid labourers” giving informal incentives to crane operators so that they handled more cargo. More handling of cargo got these labourers more money. Officials said the practice may have continued as a “trade off” between the port trust and the labour union to allow mechanisation of the port. “There were different practices at different ports, but most of them have got rid of them,” an official said.

After the “speed money” practice at New Mangalore Port came to light, the shipping ministry has asked the 11 other major ports to check whether such practices were in force in their ports.

In September 2016, TOI had reported how linking of Aadhaar number to pensioners’ bank accounts had helped Kolkata Port Trust weed out about 4,000 “ghost” pensioners. The port authority had undertaken this exercise following a direction from shipping minister Nitin Gadkari.

BAD TRADE: Traders using New Mangalore Port were threatening to shift to other facilities in the region because of the exorbitant payment to labourers deployed with the four harbour mobile cranes

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