WASHINGTON: The shipping ministry wants Kolkata Port Trust (KoPT), one of the country’s 12 major ports, to venture into road construction, though this won’t have any impact on the port’s maritime business or cargo handling. The ministry has asked the port to undertake repairs and maintenance of 35-km road covering six stretches since the port is owner of the land. A KoPT official said these are the busiest stretches of Kolkata and more than port-bound vehicles, passenger and private vehicles ply on these roads. While the port had suggested a cost-sharing model on the construction on maintenance of roads, the onus for repairs and maintenance is coming solely on the Kolkata Port.
KoPT deputy chairman S Balaji Arunkumar said the ministry has actually proposed to reconstruct the roads and hand them over to the state for maintenance. But the issue of maintenance is stuck in a Kolkata municipal development area tax dispute. “There has been meetings at the chief secretary level and we hope the dispute will be sorted out shortly,” Arunkumar said, adding that the port has a pending tax bill of R26 crore, of which the port has already paid R21 crore. But the KMDA authorities claim that the port’s dues amount to R800 crore which has to be settled first.
A port official who didn’t wish to be named said while the KMDA has claimed this amount, they have not raised any tax invoice. A tax invoice should be created when requesting payment from an external organisation for services provided by a department within its business centre or division. According to tax expert Ashok Ghosh, KoPT is not registered as an assessee of the KMDA. For this they have not raised any tax invoice. Properties of KoPT fall within the Customs Act and Sea Act and both the Acts are outside the purview of KMDA. However, the KoPT owns 4,000 acre land which makes it the biggest land owner among all the country’s major ports, and it earns around R45 crore per month as lease rents. “We are working out our tenancy details and trying to recover the dues from them. There are 1,200 court cases pending with the tenants and we have also given an option for out of court settlement. With the tenancy dispute settled, our revenue from land, excluding taxes, should go up by 40%,” Arunkumar said.