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January 2019
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Columns
Gifting public property
 
(K. Gopalakrishnan, Aug 14, 2017, DG): Kerala may or may not be God’s own country. But it is unique. Here we find jet red communists , saffron Parivar and white khadi clad Congress socialists, species threatened with extinction, with lezzes faire instincts.

Naturally in such a State none can complain if the respect towards private property is higher than that of public property. Nor can any one object to if leaders give better attention to private property.

Given the ground realities one need not be surprised when a priceless heritage of Kerala, Halcyon Palace, in Kovalam was given to a private hotelier, very little protests were heard in a state where every leader is looking for some protests, some demonstrations, some satyagraha or some controversy , main rewarding occupation, except from leaders like V.S. Achuthanandan, V.M. Sudheeran, Ramesh Chennithala, etc.

Even a known dissenter like Kanam Rajendran of CPI chose to be silent, perhaps defying his own instincts. Even the media, a section of which used to object loud and clear to this transfer of heritage as betrayal of the people in the past, this time looked the other way.

The ITDC who originally built a star hotel in Kovalam did not have proper documentation on the ownership of the land according to Arun Shourie, Minister of disinvestments, in the Vajpayee government. Two IAS officers and a tourism minister of UDF government tried for the gift of the Palace and its compound unsuccessfully but even then no proper documentation was there. There is no cabinet decision on the subject.

But a dominant section of both the LDF and UDF wanted to gift for reasons known to them. Had they done so earlier the man, a Gulf businessman, who bought the hotel from the ITDC, would not have sold the hotel. Leela Group, who bought it from the Gulf businessman, would have also not parted with the property, perhaps.

The issue went to court and in spite of a strong case Kerala government lost the case. The best course would have been to go to Supreme Court in appeal. Once the case of Kerala government case is successful there could even have been a proper sale on commercial rates or the state could have preserved the heritage building.

Why did LDF government take such a decision while former chief minister, V.S. Achuthanandan consistently opposed the move and had led the agitation against its hand over to a private business group years ago. No clear explanation has come so far. Some point out that children of senior LDF leaders are employed by the hotel group in senior positions.

Can such a reason influence a government decision? One is not sure. But UDF too it is clear would have only taken such a decision. The opposition by V.M. Sudheeran and Chennithala was limited to a statement. More of an on record act. VS too is not saying anything these days. A great heritage building of the state being gifted is now almost a reality if it is not objected to politically and effectively.

But this is nothing surprising. Maithran Kayal was almost handed over by the previous government and it is to the credit of present Agriculture Minister that the decision is reversed and agricultural operations have begun there.

There are many in UDF and LDF who would like to see that it is disposed of to some big group even now. Why so? Well the answer is known to the Kerala public. But the public can precious little when the two powerful political groups think almost identically and uphold lessez faire policies.

Thousnds of acres of forest land were given to British Companies, then known as Sterling companies, by the rulers of the area during British times to develop coffee, tea and cardamom estates. They were all for a fixed time period. Most of the Sterling companies sold these properties to Indian companies. In number of cases the periods of contract have expired. The Government should have taken possession of these estates.

Though in some cases the government has moved legally in many cases the approach is lackadaisical. What sort of under hand deals have the politicians in mind is not clear. But the two political groups, who rule the state taking turns, seems to have an understanding in the decision making on this matter.

There is fear that the interests of the state is ignored by the dominant sections of the two political groups whose lessez faire instincts are intense. These dominant sections can easily dismiss the objections of V.S. Achuthanandan and V.M. Sudheeran.

The minimum requirement is that the Ecologically Fragile Land (EFL) should be returned to the forest department and made part of forests, as the forest land in the state have depleted to dangerous levels. Secondly if the estates are to be sold it should be given to the highest bidder and not distributed for considerations other than a fair sale.


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