CITU leader M.M. Lawrence has demanded a comprehensive inquiry into the leasing out of 10 hectare land of the Cochin Port Trust (CPT) at Mulavukad to a private entrepreneur.

At a press conference here on Thursday, Mr. Lawrence, who is also the president of the Cochin Port Labour Union (CITU), demanded that the “illegal” lease agreement signed between the trust and the private firm be scrapped as the Port Trust overstepped its mandate in leasing out the property.

The Port Trust had leased out the land to the entrepreneur for Rs. 71 crore for a period of 30 years, which was extendable.

The trade union leader termed the Port Trust’s valuation of the property for arriving at the lease value as “surprising and unbelievable.”

The State government had got Rs. 9 lakh a cent in 2004 when the land reclaimed for Goshree bridges were sold. However, the Port Trust assessed the value of the leased land, which is just 500 metres away from the Goshree land, at Rs. 2.10 lakh a cent six years after the sale of the Goshree land. When land was acquired for Kochi Metro Rail project in the city, the land owners were paid a compensation of Rs. 51 lakh a cent. The Port Trust authorities deliberately ignored the fact that a waterfront property would have more commercial value, he said.

Mr. Lawrence said the CPT went beyond its mandate and leased out the land to a business group and permitted the company to reap huge profits. Going by The Major Port Trusts Act 1963, the CPT has only limited rights over the land in its custody. The mandate of the agency was to facilitate the export and import activities through the port, he said.

The chairman’s response to the news item published by The Hindu exposed the chinks in the arguments of the trust. The land of the Port Trust is a public property and the Port Trust is just the custodian of the property. The agency can only be allowed to use the land only for port related activities, he said. However, the firm which had won the bid for lease, had proposed to construct hotel and convention centre, he said.

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Mr. Lawrence said the union would hold discussions with other trade unions in the Cochin Port Trust for launching a joint agitation against the “illegal deal.” Public resistance should be developed against the deal and the real intention of the Port Trust behind leasing out the property should be probed thoroughly in a transparent manner, he said.

To a question on why the political parties, including the CPI (M) and trade unions which had been campaigning for the protection of public land, were keeping quite on the issue, Mr. Lawrence said they might not have properly understood the issue.

K.V.A. Iyer, vice-president of the union, too attended the press conference.

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