The Jawahralal Nehru Port Trust at Uran in Maharashtra’s Raigad district is India's largest and only government-owned port terminal. Its premises house more than eight thousand acres of land and thousands of workers are dependent on it. Being India’s busiest port, it is also profitable. It is therefore surprising that the Modi government is looking to privatise it in the name of raising money.
The move has triggered the discontent among workers as well as villagers in the area, who are mobilising in order to oppose it.
There are 17 big ports in India. Out of those, 16 are in private hands. JNPT, which is closer to Mumbai, is the only port left with the government. With the proposed privatisation of this port, there is fear of a monopoly of private players in a sensitive sector for the country. As a result, the move to privatise JNPT raises several questions.
“We will not allow the Modi sarkar to sell the port to private companies. What is the need to do it? This move will be against the interests of the labourers and villagers from the 18 villages who gave their land for the development of the country between 35 to 40 years ago,” said Bhushan Patil, JNPT trustee.
Eight thousand acres of land had been acquired for the project, in Uran tehsil of Raigad district. The rate of acquisition was too low in the period, almost forty years ago. Back then, the village folk had given up land in the interest of development. However, their issues are still unresolved.
“The government had then promised a job to one family member from every affected person's house, and 12.5% of their land in another area. There are still more than two thousand cases in which this settlement has not been done. Privatisation will further complicate their situation,” said Dinesh Patil, the leader of the villagers.
There are 1,430 workers who are employed by JNPT. With privatisation, it is feared that all of them will lose their jobs. There are also more than four thousand people directly dependent on JNPT for their businesses, who live in the periphery. The current set up is protecting their interests. With privatisation, these small players could be wiped out. It is why the move to privatise is being opposed.
There are close to 80,000 port workers across India. The are part of five different unions, all of whom have supported the JNPT workers’ struggle against privatisation. Patil, also the leader of the Centre for Indian Trade Unions (CITU) in the area, said that support from all trade unions is encouraging for the workers who will fight it out.
“We are meeting political leaders from across the spectrum, especially from Maharashtra. JNPT is the pride of Maharashtra and allowing for it to go into the hands of private players will certainly not accepted by the people of the state. We will plan a mass agitation against this move, if necessary,” he said.
In recently concluded monsoon session of Parliament, Shiv Sena's Sanjay Raut raised the issue. “Handing over eight thousand acres of land and a profitable port to private players certainly can't be good policy. The issue is also sensitive due to matters of national security, since ports are very important for the country. People are against the privatisation and the Modi sarkar should rethink its policy,” Raut said in his speech in the Rajya Sabha.
Workers unions as well as representatives of the project-affected people are contemplating visiting Delhi and meeting political leaders from all political parties. They are planning to bring the issue to the notice of people from the capital.
Meanwhile, Chief Manager of JNPT, Jaywant Dhawale, clarified that his office has not received any such GR for privatisation. “There is absolutely no notice, GR or order regarding the privatisation of JNPT as of now,” he said.