$1-bn Kerala IT project hits first roadblock


Thiruvananthapuram : Two days after the foundation stone for the Rs.40 billion ($1 billion) HDIL Cyber City project was laid at Kochi, IT advisor to Kerala Chief Minister V.S. Achuthanandan has washed his hands of it, saying the state IT department was not aware of this mega IT project.

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Speaking to IANS, Joseph Mathew, IT advisor to Achuthanandan, said the IT portfolio is handled by the Chief Minister and there has been no contact with him regarding this project.

“The state government, if it has to promote this project, can do so after discussions with the IT department. We have a committee for this and in this particular case they have not contacted the IT department,” said Mathew.

Eyebrows were raised Saturday when Achuthanandan did not turn up at the foundation stone laying ceremony and speculations were rife that he did not approve of the project because it lacked transparency in the land deal.

“I am not sure if that was the reason why he did not turn up or if there were other reasons, too. I have not met him after that,” said Mathew.

Reports indicate that the mega project promoted by Mumbai-based Housing Development and Infrastructure Ltd (HDIL) for setting up the Cyber City was allegedly illegal as the land was given free of cost to public sector Hindustan Machine Tools (HMT) by the state government and HMT could not transfer it to others.

The HDIL Cyber City is coming up on 70 acres, which the promoters purchased through a public tender from HMT in 2000.

Senior Congress legislator V.D. Satheesan told reporters at Kochi Monday that the land transaction was illegal and it happened with the knowledge of top political personalities.

“They claim to create 66,000 IT jobs and it is strange that such a project has never ever been discussed by the state IT department. We wish to find out where is the agreement between the state government and this company that these many jobs would be created,” said Satheesan.

What has raised eyebrows is that the Rs.15 billion Smart City project to be built by Dubai Internet City evolved after elaborate discussions between two governments and took two years to finalise. This Rs.40 billion project was never ever discussed even by the state IT department.

Reports indicate that a factional feud in the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) is at the root of this fiasco. State industries minister Elamaram Kareem, who was the livewire figure behind the HDIL Cyber city, has the full backing of the faction led by CPI-M state secretary Pinarayi Vijayan, who is opposed to the Achuthanandan faction.

Kareem, during the foundation stone ceremony, flayed a section of the media for reporting “uncorroborated” allegations about the land deal in the HDIL project.

With the Congress now raising this issue and with the CPI-M organisational polls reaching their final round, this issue is certain to be raked up by the Achuthanandan faction seriously to pin down the Vijayan camp, which already has cut to size the Achuthanandan faction in the pre-final rounds.