Kerala CM embarrasses his minister over $330-m Smartcity deadlock

Written by M Sarita Varma | Thiruvananthapuram | Updated: Jun 18 2009, 06:10am hrs
The Communist Party of India (Marxist) feud has left its footprint on Dubai Tecoms $330-million Smartcity project in Kochi, already stymied in a last bargaining tussle between the two partners Tecom and the Kerala government.

Kerala chief minister VS Achuthanandan did not hesitate to publicly snub his industry ministers interventions to ease the deadlock.

This is on the eve of the crucial CPI(M) politburo meetings to ease the tension between the state government and party chief in Kerala. The meetings in New Delhi are on June 19 and 20.

He has no role in this (Kochi Smartcity) project, Achuthanandan snapped, when asked about the progress state industry minister Elamaram Kareem had assured that all issues in the Tecom-Kerala project would be smooth within a week.

The chief minister holds the IT portfolio and the states industry minister Elamaram Kareem is attached to the faction of state secretary Pinarayi Vijayan, who is all geared up to ask for Achuthandandan's resignation from chief ministers chair.

Half a dozen ministers in the state cabinet have reportedly offered to resign, if Achuthanandan is not removed from the seat.

Pinarayi Vijayan on the other hand was charge-sheeted by the CBI as seventh accused in the SNC Lavalin corruption case. C&AG had earlier reported Rs 374-crore loss to the state in the hydro-electric modernisation deal with the Canadian company.

It is the first time that a CPI(M) politburo member is charge-sheeted in a graft case and Achuthanandan has been demanding ouster of Vijayan from his post in the party's state unit.

Meanwhile, the project is in limbo after its Dubai-based promoters Smartcity Dubai on Sunday claimed that it had withdrawn contract with the UK-based design planner Collin Buchnan. Foundation stone for Smartcity Kochi was laid on November 2007. Project area has notched a special economic zone status, but is yet to get notification on this.

Through the MoU, the partnering Kerala government had assured 12% freehold provision on the 246-acre plot.

With the insecurity that looms over the political developments in the state, Dubai promoters have demanded they should get the 12% freehold marked out before the masterplan is charted out. Putting pressure on the state, they have also said that the IT township-planners from UK have been eased off contract. Smartcity Kochi chairman S Sarma, however, maintains that this is not possible without informing the board of directors.

Achuthanandan on Wednesday said that his chief secretary Neela Gangadharan will get in touch with the Tecom to find if they were ready for a final round of discussions.

The political conundrum has made the bargaining over the terms of the IT infrastructure project too awkward for both parties. The take-off of the project, envisaged to give 90,000 direct jobs at one go, finally depends on what long-lasting solution CPI(M) politburo can offer to its Kerala issue.