Ctg Water Transport Cell continues operation despite HC ban
The HC on 10 March 2022 ban on all activities of the WTC
The Water Transport Cell (WTC) has continued to regulate lighter vessels at the Chattogram port despite the High Court banned their all activities, according to vessel owners and stakeholders.
The WTC operates lighter vessels through a token serial system for carrying goods from the Chattogram Port's outer anchorage to various inland ports.
But many vessel owners alleged that they face harassment when they try to unload goods without the WTC token serial.
They also complained that the WTC has been fixing fares arbitrarily without consultation with stakeholders, which has increased the cost of doing business.
"Multiple petitions have been filed with the High Court by traders against the WTC's activities. Holding hearings on a petition, the High Court on 10 March 2022 made rule absolute and declared that WTC does not have any legal sanction to control or monitor waterways of Bangladesh" said a petitioner's lawyer Barrister Mohammad Samiul Huq.
But when asked, Nurul Haque, the convenor of the WTC and general secretary of the Bangladesh Cargo Vessel Owners' Association, told The Business Standard (TBS), "The court did not impose a ban on WTC's operations. Rather, it declared the 2013 Goods Transport Policy and a circular issued by the Department of Shipping illegal."
In 2013, the Department of Shipping formulated a policy on transporting goods by registered lighter vessels. The policy states that no lighter vessel, without the serial of WTC, shall carry goods on the inland routes.
On 23 August 2021, the Department of Shipping, in light of the said 2013 policy, issued a circular requiring all lighter vessel owners to operate as per the WTC serial, warning of legal action for noncompliance.
The circular triggered outrage among various industrial groups and lighter ship owners and they filed multiple writ petitions with the High Court, challenging the legality of the aforementioned policy and circular.
Hearing one of such petitions, on 10 March 2022, the High Court bench of Justice JBM Hassan and Justice Fatema Najib declared the said 2013 policy and circular invalid and issued a ban on all activities of the WTC.
According to the HC verdict, the 2013 policy in question has not been framed by any delegated legislature or in accordance with articles 65 or 55(4) of the Constitution and as such it does not have any enforceable legal authority in the eye of law.
Since the said policy does not have any force of law, the impugned circular dated 23 August 2021 also has no basis, the court said.
The WTC does not have any legal sanction to control and monitor the waterways of Bangladesh including Chattogram Port Area on the plea of maintaining discipline.
No vessel owners are under obligation to follow any instruction of any private organisation i.e. WTC or its serial number for loading-unloading goods from mother vessels awaiting outer anchorage unless they are members of the said organisation, the High Court said in its judgement.
Director General of the Department of Shipping Commodore Md Nizamul Haque told TBS, "Since there is a High Court judgement, we have asked the WTC authorities to adhere to it. We agree with the court's judgment. For bringing discipline, the owners of lighter ships can form an association."
Amirul Haque, managing director of Premier Cement Mills, told TBS, "The WTO wants to regulate the business of transporting goods on sea routes. They wanted to control the movement of lighter ships owned by various industrial groups."
"It has to be ensured that the goods transport sector is not held hostage by a few traders," he added.
Ataul Kabir, joint secretary (Operation) at the WTC, said, "About 2,000 lighter ships owned by individuals are moving according to serials of the WTC. However, the lighter ships owned by large industrial groups are not serialised by us. They operate under their own management."
According to Chattogram Port data, around 70% of the imported goods are unloaded at the outer anchorage and the remaining 30% are redeemed at the port jetty.
Products unloaded at outer anchorages are transported by lighter vessels to 34 shipping routes and industries in the country, and most of these vessels are controlled by the WTC.
After suffering a shortage of lighter ships in 2013, many industrial groups started transporting goods on their own ships. Currently, 400 lighter ships owned by large industrial groups are involved in transporting goods from the port.