Kerala government, opposition spar over Smart City Kochi project

March 30th, 2010 - 3:28 pm ICT by IANS  

Thiruvananthapuram, March 30 (IANS) The Kerala assembly today witnessed uproarious scenes over the proposed Rs.1,500 crore Smart City Kochi project, the work on which has been stalled amid differences between the builder and the government.
The Congress-led opposition criticised the government for its “poor” handling of the project, saying it had reached a stage which can be summed up as “operation success, but patient dead”.

It all started when Congress legislator K. Babu, who represents the area where the proposed IT park is to come up, sought leave for an adjournment motion to discuss this issue in the wake of Monday’s board of directors meeting of Smart City Kochi that failed to resolve any of the issues that have stalled building of the IT park.

Chief Minister V.S. Achuthanandan admitted that relations with the builder, Smart City Dubai, have gone from bad to worse.

“We have given them a letter saying that they have failed to deliver, despite giving us high hopes. After the foundation stone was laid two years back, nothing has moved and since then relations with them have worsened. We have told them to decide either way because we will look for alternatives if they have any issues,” Achuthanandan said.

The government has opposed the demand of Smart City Dubai for 12 percent freehold rights over the project. In 2007, the builder signed an agreement to build the project and Achuthanandan had laid the foundation stone. But since then, nothing has moved despite several rounds of talks between the two sides.

He also added that the central government should declare the 246-acre plot of land where this project is to come up as a special economic zone (SEZ).

“The Centre said that since there is a river flowing by the side of this plot, the entire area cannot be given SEZ status, but in Andhra Pradesh, the centre has overlooked issues like a river flowing. Here, also the centre is discriminating because we are a Left government. This could also be one issue why Smart City Dubai is reluctant in going ahead,” Achuthanandan claimed.

Incidentally, the project was first mooted when the current Leader of Opposition Oommen Chandy was the Chief Minister in 2005. Achuthanandan, who was then the leader of opposition, had criticised the Chandy government for handing this project to Smart City Dubai, saying the builder had no experience in IT and was instead a real-estate dealer.

“You ridiculed us and the agreement that we made and today you have fallen into the hole that you dug. This present agreement made by you has been made without the concurrence of the cabinet and since your party (Communist Party of India-Marxist) was adamant that foreign companies should not be given freehold rights, this project has fallen flat,” said Chandy.

“See, they are financially broke and that is why they are demanding 12 per cent freehold rights because they can sell that much land to anyone and use the sale proceeds to begin the construction of the project,” Achuthanandan said.

State Fisheries Minister and chairman of Smart City Kochi S. Sarma said there is no question of allowing them to sell an inch of the land and this stand is totally opposite to the agreement inked by Chandy, which allowed them to sell the freehold property.

The assembly witnessed close to an hour-long heated exchange after which Chandy led the entire opposition in walking out of the house following denial of the adjournment motion.

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