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.

© CyberMedia News
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