The Lulu group has offered to withdraw from the proposed convention and exhibition centre project at Bolgatty.

Allegations of land grab raised by the CPI(M) against the Lulu group over the construction of Lulu Mall at Edappally prompted the group chairman M.A. Yusuff Ali to back out of a totally different project at the Bolgatty island. Mr. Ali told mediapersons in Dubai that he was deeply hurt by the allegations of the CPI(M) that the group had encroached upon public land at Edappally.

The CPI(M) district secretary Dinesh Mani welcomed the move and sought the land back. The Hindu had exposed the infirmities in the Bolgatty lease deal in which the Lulu group had proposed to build service apartments worth over Rs.1,000 crore in violation of lease conditions with the Cochin Port Trust (CPT). The group had obtained 10.59 hectares, about 26 acres, of premium waterfront land on renewable lease for 30 years by paying the CPT a meagre Rs. 71 crore.

The Hindu reports on the contractual violations in the lease deed signed between the Lulu Convention and Exhibition Centre and the CPT created a public uproar in the State. Trade unions and environmentalists came out against the deal and demanded the cancellation of the lease agreement. They also demanded that the land should be restored to the CPT.

In his response to The Hindu reports, Paul Antony, the Chairman of the CPT, had said that on a “specific query from the bidder during the pre-bid meeting ‘whether residential units can be set up in part of the complex’,” the CPT had replied that the “purpose of [the] tender is not [a] residential complex.”

The CPT had only approved the proposal for constructing a hotel, three hotel villas, a convention centre, a shopping arcade, an electrical sub station, four security rooms, two sewage treatment plants and a rain water harvesting system.

The Lulu group obtained the Coastal Regulation Zone clearance from the Kerala Coastal Zone Management Authority for constructing 572 service apartments, a convention centre, a restaurant, a health club and first aid rooms.

The authority issued clearance at its 52 meeting and a clearance letter was issued to the group on January 29, 2013.

The Hindu exposed the undervaluation of the land leading to the fixing of a reduced upfront lease amount and the issue of sub-leasing of the leased property.

The Port Trust had revealed that its valuer had assessed the market value of land at Bolgatty in 2010 as Rs 2.1 crore per acre.

However, market sources indicated that the market value of reclaimed land at Bolgatty in 2010-11 was around Rs 20 crore per acre.

Describing the Port Trust’s valuation of the property for arriving at the lease value as “surprising and unbelievable,” veteran trade unionist M.M. Lawrence said the State government had got Rs. 9 lakh a cent (which gets translated to Rs 9 crore an acre) in 2004 when the land reclaimed for Goshree bridges was sold.

More In: Kochi