The sorry state of affairs continues unabated whenever mega projects are floated in Kerala - be it a port, an airport or a Metro rail. The government spends a major portion of its time fighting the controversies that break out over these projects.
The latest controversy erupted after a senior bureaucrat's letter to the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) surfaced in the media last week questioning the role of former DMRC chief E. Sreedharan in the proposed Rs.5,180 crore Kochi Metro Rail Ltd (KMRL).
The letter from Tom Jose, who was managing director of KMRL till August, got tongues wagging that the Oommen Chandy government was trying to oust both DMRC and Sreedharan from the project so as to bring other companies from whom a handsome commission could be pocketed.
Leading from the front with this allegation was Leader of Opposition V.S. Achuthanandan, who went public by saying that if DMRC handles this project, then the people in power in the state would not get a single rupee as commission.
Chandy rubbished the allegation.
"We have written to the prime minister and Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit that we want this project to be taken up by DMRC. The preliminary infrastructure work like bridging bridges has commenced and staff has been recruited. Hence, nobody needs to be worried," said Chief Minister Oommen Chandy.
The Kochi Metro was first proposed about a decade ago. Dubai took a leaf and launched its own project which is now up and running. The work in Kerala is still at the preliminary phase.
Then, take the Vizhinjam container terminal project that has remained on the drawing boards of three successive governments. Ports Minister K. Babu Friday defended the proposed Rs.5,000 crore first phase of the project.
"This government is determined that it will not succumb to canards being spread by a section of resort owners near Kovalam (where the proposed port is to come up). We will see this dream project gets wings in a few months," said Babu.
The Rs.5,000 crore mega Kochi Smart City IT project is a classic example of how a project that should have been cleared in 2005 was delayed for close to five years when a tiff broke out between then chief minister Achuthanandan (2006-11) and the builders of the project, Dubai Smart City.
Another project that is embroiled in a controversy is the country's first private airport, the Rs.2,000 crore KGS Aranmula International Airport Ltd, to come up near the foothills of the famed Sabarimala Temple in Pathanamthitta district.
The Airports Authority of India has already given the green signal for the airport.
Locals are up in arms over land taken over for the airport.
The Achuthanandan government had initially cleared the project but has now taken up cudgels with the developers.
"At no cost will we allow developers of this airport to convert agricultural land. If that happens then we will have to get ready for a long struggle," Achuthanandan said Friday, addressing locals near the proposed airport.
Another project which is in its infancy is the high-speed rail corridor that will run across the state. It has met with stiff resistance, forcing Chandy to come out with a statement that the DMRC is just preparing a detailed project report and nothing is final yet.
"This government lacks transparency when it comes to mega projects and the people in power are interested in pocketing commissions. They want to delay projects. As a result, the project cost escalates and they get increased kickbacks," said Achuthanandan.
"When in power, the Left sits on projects and the classic example is the Kochi Metro. For a good part of their tenure (2006-11), they held on to the opinion given by the then state planning board vice chairman Prabath Patnaik that the project would not be feasible. At the fag end of their term, they woke up and started going ahead with the project," said Chandy.
(Sanu George can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)