Kerala plans to develop IT parks in all districts

The state government has worked out a plan to develop IT parks in all districts in the state as part of its efforts to enhance its presence in the Information Technology sector. A state-sponsored company called Kerala State Information Technology Infrastructure Ltd had been formed for this and consultants Pricewaterhouse Cooper entrusted to work out the project details.

The proposed IT parks would be in addition to the existing Technopark in the state capital, Infopark in Kochi and the joint venture Smart city coming up in Kochi.Some districts like Alappuzha, Palakkad, Kannur, Kasargod and Kozhikode had already submitted site proposals which were being examined by the government.

The IT department had drawn up a set of norms for the sites for the IT parks which included proximity to rail, road and air connectivity, basic needs like uninterrupted power and water supply and housing facilities. One park required at least 50 acres of land.

Dh1.8bn Sky City plan in Kochi by UAE

UAE officials are working with the Government of the Indian state of Kerala to develop a Dh1.8 billion Sky City project at the coastal city of Kochi. The proposal involves building an eight kilometre-long elevated highway above an existing 4.2km bridge that carries traffic over water.

The new road would be lined on both sides with 20,000 square metres of residential and commercial space.

Kochi is a booming commercial city in the southwest of the state flanked by the Arabian Sea on one side and hills on the other.

Sky City has been proposed as a solution to the city’s growing traffic congestion problems, which would not put pressure on the limited land resources in the area.

Three-storey apartments, shopping centres, leisure facilities and other amenities such as pedestrian paths and car parks would be built on the highway platform. There could also be helipads and marine transport.

“The UAE Government is currently studying the Sky City project in Kochi,” said Ashok Lal G, general manager of projects at the Kerala State Industrial Development Corporation.

“The project involves the construction of a bridge up to eight kilometers long over an existing bridge and will use the space above it to build shopping complexes, offices and residential buildings.

“There is an acute shortage of land in Kochi to develop new roads and people are reluctant to give up their land for road development.

“Last December, a UAE delegation led by Younis Al Khoori, secretary of the UAE Ministry of Finance and Industry, and other senior government officials visited Kerala to boost UAE investment.

During their visit it was announced a new investment company, a joint venture involving the governments of the seven emirates, would invest in Kerala projects.”

The UAE has experience of reclaiming space for construction through projects, such as Dubai’s Palms and the World and Abu Dhabi’s Breakwater and Al Raha Beach development.

“We are trying to use Dubai’s expertise in growth and infrastructure development. Part of Dubai is reclaimed from the sea and we are confident Dubai companies will be actively involved in the development of the 20m to 30m high bridge above the existing Maradu-Thevara bridge and the development of residential and commercial buildings.”

The official said the Kerala chief minister’s office had approved the Sky City proposal.

Once the feasibility study is completed a memorandum of understanding would be signed by the two governments setting out details of the project’s structure and financing.

“The Government of Kerala will have to grant rights to build over the existing bridge and the Coastal Zone Authority will have to approve the project.”

The proposed development would have supermarkets, community halls, entertainment centres, restaurants, hotels, garment and jewellery shops, car showrooms, offices and business centres.

The plan also involves provisions for amusement centres, healthcare facilities, water sports, an oceanarium and a theme park.

The state government is working with Tecom to develop Kochi SmartCity, an information technology infrastructure project.


Kerala: Inflow of foreign tourists increases by 19.43 per cent

The inflow of foreign tourists to Kerala increased by 19.43 per cent in 2007 compared to the previous year, making tourism one of the fastest growing sectors in the State, according to Kerala Governor R.L. Bhatia.

In his address to the State legislature on Wednesday, he said that 4,43,594 foreign tourists visited the State in 2007. Tourism generated a revenue of Rs.9,126 crore for the State in 2006.

He said the Tourism Department would shortly come out with a ‘White Paper on Responsible Tourism’ to guide the government’s future policy initiatives in the sector. The government proposed to develop adventure tourism as a special attraction in the State. A hospitality management institute would be set up in Kozhikode and a ‘Board of Tourism Studies’ would be created shortly to improve the academic content of tourism and hospitality studies.

Smart City project

The Smart City project, formally launched in November last year, was expected to generate employment for 90,000 people in the IT sector. The government proposed to develop other IT cities/knowledge cities also in other parts of the State in view of the State’s emerging status as an IT investment destination, Mr. Bhatia said.

In the industries sector, the government’s approach was to convert the public sector units into profitable ones, rather than close down the loss-making ones. The State public sector Transformers and Electricals Kerala Limited had entered into a contract with the National Thermal Power Corporation for a joint venture. BrahMos Aerospace, a company under the Defence Ministry, had taken over the State public sector Kerala High-Tec Industries Limited. Indian Railways would similarly start a bogie manufacturing unit at Steel Industries Limited Kerala at Cherthala, he said.

Titanium sponge

The Governor said that discussions were in progress for a collaborative venture with a Russian firm for setting up a facility for the manufacture of around 10,000 tonnes of titanium sponge annually.


Turning hate into love, the ‘smart’ way

Smart City. The very name of the project used to irk the LDF combine as a whole.

The aversion V S Achuthanandan, the then Opposition leader, had towards the massive infrastructure development project for information technology was well known to everybody.

Even the former IT secretary dared not include the Smart City project in his maiden presentation of the IT roadmap before the Chief Minister V S Achuthanandan.

However, months later, when the criticism against the lackadaisical approach of the government towards the Smart City proposal went up, the LDF government woke from its slumber and asked the officials to talk with the investors.

The state government officials held talks with the representatives of the Dubai Internet City, the promoters of the Smart City project.

Still, V S Achuthanandan claimed he did not change in his belief that the promoters of the mammoth project proposed in Kochi are best known for real-estate business.

They don’t have any impressive expertise in running IT businesses.

However, the LDF government was committed to bring development to the State and would attract investors who are willing to go by the strict norms set by the government, they said.

By the time, several other claims of the LDF, when they were in the opposition, against the investors disappeared and the same promoters were showcased as the direct envoys from the Dubai Government.

After several rounds of negotiations between the government representatives and the Dubai-based firm, most of the contentious issues were buried alive.

In a bid to win an old political bet, Chief Minister V S Achuthanandan and his technology attendants spend more time and energy in proving the UDF agreement wrong before the public, than making any substantial changes that might have made the project agreement more beneficial to the State.

The 99-year lease and full rights over the Infopark stood tall among the other victories the LDF government won for Kerala.

But little was said about the last minute changes in the final agreement .

As per the latest agreement, the TECOM shall make only “best efforts to make 90,000 job opportunities”.

Let’s pray for all success to the TECOM initiative, though the company is yet to come out with a masterplan for the Rs 1500 crore project.


Chequered dreams of God's own country Kerala

Kerala’s belated attempts to prominently position itself in the global IT map have been generously sprinkled with troubles and hiccups.

Controversies and scams have become staple diet of the state. And it makes no surprise to see new contracts and controversies and shady deals come together in the same package.

The ambitious Smart City project, inked recently by the state government with the Dubai Internet City (DIC), too had its share of controversies.

The project has a chequered history of more than three years. When the previous Oommen Chandy-led UDF government originally envisaged the project, there were allegations that the main aim of the deal was to help real estate mafia.

There was strong opposition by the then Left-led opposition against the agreement, which envisaged selling 236 acres of land for a mere Rs 26 crores and to give DIC full ownership over the land.

It was also agreed to transfer the 62-acres of government-owned Infopark in Kochi to the DIC. The agreement didn’t allow any more IT ventures sponsored by the state government in Kochi, where the Smart City project was to come up.

All these were staunchly opposed by the then opposition leader V S Achuthanandan, who now as the chief minister clinched the deal last year, making the DIC agree to 246 acres of land at a cost of Rs.1.06 billion (Rs.106 crores) on lease for 99 years.

Then came the Merchinston scandal, involving the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), which bought 81.50 acres of land in Thiruvananthapuram for an ambitious Indian Institute of Space Technology (IIST). It raged into a major controversy after the state government issued a notice to ISRO for “unauthorized purchase of ecologically fragile land”. The controversy is still raging on.

And the latest land scam, involving the state’s IT dreams is a proposed cyber city at Kalamassery in Ernakulam district.

Mumbai-based real estate company Housing Development Infrastructure Ltd (HDIL) purchased 70 acres of land from public sector Hindustan Machines Tools (HMT) at Kalamassery for building a Rs 4000-crore cyber city on a price much below the market rate.

Controversy arose after none other than the chief minister kept away from the foundation stone laying ceremony of the cyber city on January 19 after media reported anomalies on allocation of land to HDIL.

When asked, Achuthanandan went on record saying that neither he nor the state IT department had any idea of the project. Incidentally, the chief minister holds the IT portfolio.

The issue has put the state industries minister Elamaram Karim and revenue minister K P Rajendran in the dock, as they were the ones who gave the nod when revenue officials raised objections to the land deal.

Karim, who earlier maintained that the government had held discussions with the unions and management and that the deal was ‘impeccable’ in its entirety, had to backtrack it later, expressing readiness for a ‘review’ of the land transaction process.

He said that if the HDIL had been favored in any way that will be revoked. This is following the intervention of the Kerala High Court, which admitted a public interest litigation seeking CBI probe into the deal.

Those opposing the deal say that it was to favor the HDIL, as the realtor was allowed to do something other than ‘industrial’ and that it had no history of building IT parks anywhere in the country.

That there was something fishy about the whole affair can be gauged from the allegation that the ad for the sale of the 70 acres of land was given to two national English dailies having scant circulation in Kerala.

The ad was not given in any local dailies. It is argued that HMT had no authority to sell the land, as it was part of 878 acres of land allotted to the public sector unit free of cost for starting industrial ventures. The issue, as it stands now, is being examined by a committee of secretaries headed by the chief secretary.

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