Kerala Opposition Party launches campaign for SmartCity Kochi

The Congress Party that leads Kerala’s opposition United Democratic Front (UDF) has launched a campaign for an ambitious IT project, put on hold due to differences between the state government and its Dubai-based promoters.

Ramesh Chennithala, president of the Kerala unit of the party, kicked off the campaign by placing a wreath on the foundation stone of the $350mn SmartCity Kochi project that Chief Minister V S Achuthanandan laid two years back.

SmartCity, which seeks to promote a global network of self-sustained townships for knowledge-based industries, put the project on hold after a dispute over land.

The lease agreement signed on May 13, 2007 lapsed last year and a fresh agreement is yet to be signed. The last round of bilateral talks was held in September and it ended without setting the date for the next round.

The issue has become a subject of heated debate in the state that has one of the highest unemployment rates in India. The UDF highlighted this during its campaign for an assembly by-election held here early this month which its candidate won.

“The plight of such big projects with huge employment potential would be one of the issues that we are going to raise (in the coming elections),” said Chennithala. “It’s a shame that the government has played spoilsport to the biggest foreign investment to the state. They should explain what’s holding them back.”

The SmartCity authorities had earlier sought an assurance from the government on the land by December to save the project but no positive signals came from the state so far. It has since closed down its office here too.

The Kochi project, which is expected to create 90,000 jobs, failed to take off even six years after negotiations began — first due to political opposition and now lack of proactive policies.

The IT industry expects a quantum jump in its software exports with the establishment of similar projects. While Karnataka’s exports touched Rs749.29bn in 2008-09 and Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu exported software worth more than Rs300bn each, Kerala accounted for a poor Rs18.53bn, employing less than 30,000 IT professionals.

Four other mega IT infrastructure projects with a total employment potential of more than 200,000 also hit roadblocks after acquiring land as the government failed to accord the necessary clearances.

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