Sunday, September 16, 2012

’Emerging Kerala’ attracts proposals worth over Rs 26,000 cr

Kochi: The 'Emerging Kerala' global investor meet, aimed at showcasing the state as an investment hub, concluded here Friday, with the government saying that the event attracted investment proposals worth over Rs 26,000 crore from both India and abroad. Terming the event as a "huge success", Chief Minister Oommen Chandy said the proposals include setting up of an engine assembly unit by German auto maker Volkswagen that is worth about Rs 2,000 crore. The three-day event, which was boycotted by the principal Opposition party Left Democratic Front, saw participation of people from as many as 36 countries including the US, the UK, China, Japan and Canada. Addressing the valedicatory session, Chandy said 45 specific project proposals. Including BPCL's earlier proposal of Kochi Refinery expansion - for over Rs 18,000 crore - the overall investment plans would be worth more than Rs 40,000 crore. BPCL today inked a Memorandum of Understanding with the state government for providing certain tax concessions for the expansion activities. A total of 555 proposals were discussed at various Business to Business (B2B) and Business to Government (B2G) meetings at the summit. According to the Chief Minister, the 142 proposals deliberated at the B2G meetings would be taken up for further consideration immediately and a final decision would be taken "within 90 days". The government would soon be setting up an Investment Clearance Board for faster implementation of proposed projects. Other major investment proposals include Rs 570 crore pre cast concrete structure manufacturing unit and Rs 500 crore solar energy plant. Briefing reporters at the end of the summit, Chandy wondered why the Opposition boycotted the event which was aimed at boosting investments into the state. "Not even a single piece of land was sold or given on lease. Still, the Opposition boycotted 'Emerging Kerala' for the sake of boycotting...," he said. Opposition parties had alleged that the government was making a platform to give the state's natural resources to private people. The event was inaugurated by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on September 12. Over three days, more than 4,600 delegates participated. From now onwards, this summit would be organised every two years. The government plans to establish a Technology Innovation Zone in about 10 acres of land in Kochi, entailing an initial investment of Rs 100 crore. "The Zone will also house more initiatives like the start up village on Public Private Partnership (PPP) mode in other technology areas and verticals in telecom, data analytics, animation and gaming, nanotechnology and biotechnology," Chandy said. The Chief Minister said that the government would soon sent out notices to private entities, who are yet to develop projects in land allotted to them by the government. "We will give them (those who have not utilised the government land) another six months to develop their projects. If they are not doing it in the specified time, we will take back the government land," he said.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Kerala, God’s own country, up for SALE

Nizar has a solution for everything under the sun. Even for corruption, that stands in the way of a high speed bullet train or a multi-storied convention centre. Outside his cabin, a middle-aged woman waits for an appointment. She has been struggling to get an approval to start a small-scale unit in her village for the past two years. Nizar asks her to wait outside, perhaps like every other day. Poor folks live a life in waiting. Like fire-files, their hopes, flicker and fall dead. Nizar straightens his polyster Mundu neatly to the left side and chants in Malabari Malayalam: there should be a consensus amongst all parties when it comes to corruption. Just look at our neighbouring states. Both the ruling party and opposition here should emulate this formula. Divide kickbacks equally for every project approved. The ratio, he says, can be worked out: 15:10:10 for Congress, CPM and Muslim League. We would be happy even if we get 5%, you know, after all corruption should not come in the way of state’s development. Nizar works as an officer at the District Industrial Centre, Thiruvananthapuram. He offers me Sulemani chai, a symbol of love and Muslim brotherhood. He and his colleagues at the industry ministry, headed by P K Kunhalikutty, has proposed an out- of –the-box idea to remove the backwardness of the state: construct a multi-storied convention centre in the middle of the iconic Chandrashekran Nair stadium situated in the heart of the state capital. Chandrashekhar Nair stadium It is like having a world trade centre in the middle of Wankhade stadium in Mumbai or say inside Jawaharlal Nehru stadium in New Delhi.Investments, he says, will not be problem. Afterall, the project is an integral part of the urban infrastructure project, awaiting for investment in the Emerging Kerala global investor's meet to be inaugurated by prime minister Manmohan Singh in Kochi next week. This stadium land-grab is an icing on the cake, like an ultimate grotesque avatar of corruption. Out of the 200 odd proposals awaiting for investments, there are hardly a few worth mentioning, and a majority of them are land-grabs masquerading as development projects. After Times of India did a campaign against this Tugalkian project there was a hue and cry and Kerala chief minister Oommen Chandy was forced to scrap around 50 unviable proposals after an initial scrutiny. But instead of admitting that Congress was a riding a corrupt horse called Indian Union Muslim league that spares no opportunity to make an easy killing, Chandy defended that these proposals were not final and they were put forward by different companies for public review. Industry minister P K Kunhalikutty, the wily fox he is, corrected him and said that these were indeed projects put forward by the industry department. Greed, like Nizar, is a great survivor. Kerala has been caught up in this mirage of development for quite time now. Planners are clueless on how to chart a sustainable development plan without disturbing the fragile eco-balance of the state, that still has one of the best green covers in the country. The pint-sized state does not have enough barren land to start huge industrial units, so the only option is to develop its coast, like say Singapore. The state should also promote eco-tourism, like say in Venice and Switzerland, countries which have showcased its shallow network of waterways and blue mountains to weary world-travelers with great success. Kerala, infact has much more to offer. An ancient heritage older than Aryan civilization, organic eco-systems and religious beliefs close to nature; Auryvedic sciences and art forms that evolved over thousands of years. But the Nizars of the state are hell-bent on taking us on a different path. My colleague, G Rajiv, wrote a piece two weeks ago, on how bulk of the people-centric projects like education institutions and health care hospitals were proposed to come up in Malappuram, a Muslim majority district. The Times of India did not play up the story, considering the fact that we are a secular newspaper and did not want to hurt any particular community. But the fact remains that Muslims in the state, unlike in the other parts of the country, are well-off. Malappuram today brings in the maximum foreign remittance into the state. It is districts like Wayand (a tribal district), Idukki and many parts of North Malabar that needs specialty hospitals and good educational institutions. The ruling, Congress party, is forced to succumb to the bizarre demands of its ally, Muslim league, to remain in power. The main opposition party, CPM, has failed to bring up these issues, as it has lost all its credibility and principles, and has degenerated into a fascist monolith, indulging in Stalinist political murders for survival. Religion based, vote-bank politics overrides everything. Thankfully, a majority of Keralites still consider themselves Malayalees first, and then maybe think of their religious identity in their private spaces, that is if they are believers.This is no mean achievement, considering communal right wing parties are biding their time, waiting to fill the ever widening secular vacuum in the state. (Nizar is not the real name of the officer who spilled the beans of the scam. The ministry will make him a scapegoat if his identity is revealed. He is just an echo of His Masters Voice.) Artice appeared in Times of India - by Viju B

God's own country to get own airline ?

Kochi: Given the large number of Keralites who would offer it patronage, and given also the large number of them regularly fleeced by airlines, it is surprising that this idea took so long reaching fruition. The proposal for the state's own airline is now moving in the right direction, Excise Minister K. Babu said. Besides a large number of tourists who travel to Kerala, which the state's tourism department advertises as 'God's own country,' there are also a large number of people from the state working in other parts of the country and the world, especially the Middle East. Speaking to IANS, Babu, who is also director and board member of the country's first private-public funded Cochin International Airport Limited (CIAL), said a decision to conduct a feasibility study on the launch of 'Air Kerala' was taken, and it would be set up as a venture of the state government, in collaboration with CIAL. 'CIAL chief V.J. Kurian has been asked to prepare the feasibility report and the airline will be set up as a venture of the state government and CIAL, with shares from the public, especially non-resident Keralites,' Babu said. 'We decided to approach the prime minister when he is here next week to see that certain conditions are waived by the Centre, because to start international operations, the airline should have successfully operated in the domestic sector besides owning a stipulated number of aircraft,' said Babu. An airline of and for Kerala has been a pet project of Chief Minister Oommen Chandy. The matter was first raised when Chandy was chief minister between 2004-06. After he returned to office last year, serious deliberations on the start of an airline were taken up. Middle East business honcho M.A. Yusuf Ali is another person who has been floating this idea and recently quit the board of Air India on the grounds that if he continues to be on that board, there would be a conflict of interest. Speaking to IANS, State Minister for Non-Resident Keralites K.C. Joseph said that this would be one of the major projects that would be presented at the session of non-resident Keralites (NRKs) at the 'Emerging Kerala' investor meet to be held here Sep 12-14. 'We want the full support and confidence of the NRKs and besides this airline project, we are also pitching for a Middle East-Kochi shipping service basically aimed at the lower strata of those who are employed in the Middle East, who just cannot afford exorbitant air fares,' said Joseph.

Father of White Revolution Verghese Kurien dies

Verghese Kurien, father of White Revolution, passed away in Nadiad, Gujarat in the wee hours on Sunday. He was 90. Kurien, who turned 10 million farmers into a legendary cooperative, passed away due to old age, sources said. 'Kurien died a natural death due to his age,' GCMMF MD said. Kurien's body will be kept at Anand for public to pay tribute. His last rites will be held in the evening. Kurien revolutionised the milk industry when he produced milk powder from buffalo milk. The rest of the world used cow milk to make milk powder. Born in Calicut, Kerala on November 26, 1921 he graduated from Loyola college of Madras and did his BE from university of Madras. He then went to US on a government scholarship to earn his Masters of Science in Mechanical Engineering from Michigan university. After his return, he joined Kaira District Cooperative Milk Producers Union Limited in 1949 which was formed at the initiative of Sardar Vallabhabhai Patel who asked Kurien to help set up a dairy processing plant from where journey of Amul and Kurian began. The Amul pattern of co-operative became a success and it was replicated throughout Gujarat. The different dairy unions were later brought under the banner of Gujarat Co-operative Milk Marketing Federation.

Pre-paid mobile numbers to lose ISD facility soon - NRI family's to affected more

New Delhi: Telecom regulator TRAI has asked telecom companies to de-activate the international calling facility in pre-paid numbers and restore it only after a subscriber gives his explicit consent to avail this facility. "Inform all pre-paid subscribers having ISD facility, through SMS, within 10 days of the date of issue of this direction, that ISD facility of the subscribers shall be discontinued after sixty days," Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) said in a directive to telcos. "If such subscribers want to continue with ISD facility, they should give their explicit consent for availing such facility within 60 days of the receipt of the SMS," it added. TRAI has issued this directive following complaints from consumers about missed calls from international telephone numbers which are often premium numbers charging high tariff, prompting the consumers to make call to such numbers. TRAI said it has also been receiving complaints from consumers about receiving calls and SMSes from international numbers informing them about winning of prizes or lottery and prompting consumers to call a particular number to claim the prize or lottery money. "These numbers are international numbers, which are often premium numbers charging higher tariffs. By responding to such calls/SMS the consumers have to pay unintended charges," Trai said. The regulator has asked telecom operators to inform subscribers through SMS, within 10 days of the direction, that pre-paid cellular mobile telephone service consumers need not respond to all missed calls from unknown international numbers or calls about winning prizes or lottery. Trai has asked telecom service providers to send such SMS to consumers every six months and provide easy and transparent opt-in and opt-out facility to the consumers of the cellular mobile telephone service for activation or deactivation of ISD facility.