Much-delayed work begins today; pavilion to come up first at the project site at Edachira

The proposed SmartCity Kochi project, promoted by the Dubai-based Tecom, is finally set to take shape.

The work to start on Saturday on a pavilion, a 6,000-sq.ft. marketing-cum-sales space on the project site, has not come a day too soon. For, it takes off almost four years after the foundation stone for the project was laid at Edachira, near Kakkanad, with much fanfare.

Proposed as a self-sustained township for the knowledge-based industry, SmartCity was to generate 90,000 jobs in 10 years. But valuable time has been lost and all plans remained dormant, as a war of words broke out between Tecom and the State government primarily over the promoter's right of freehold over 12 per cent of the project land.

Yousuf Ali's mediation

While the promoters claimed that the freehold right was promised in the original framework agreement, the State government accused its partner of raising an undue demand with an eye on real-estate benefits. The disagreement prevailed, consuming several meetings of the board of directors.

Finally, the State government engaged a West Asia-based businessman, M.A. Yousuf Ali, to use his good offices to mediate between the warring stakeholders. This led to the sidelining of SmartCity chief executive officer Fareed Abdulrahman, who the government perceived as being intransigent on the issue of freehold rights.

Breakthrough

Eventually, on February 2, towards the end of the tenure of the previous government, Ahmed Humaid Al Tayer, member of the Supreme Committee for Dubai World Group and Dubai Holding Group, came down to Thiruvananthapuram to meet the then Chief Minister, V.S. Achuthanandan, creating a breakthrough.

The most significant agreement reached at the meeting was to abide by the Special Economic Zone (SEZ) rules of the Union government, which clearly states that freehold land within a SEZ cannot be sold. The parties further agreed that of the 246 acres, 12 per cent (29.5 acres) will be converted from leasehold to freehold when Tecom, the promoters of the project, completes the master plan.

Fresh lease deed

Three weeks later, a fresh lease deed was signed and the land was registered in favour of SmartCity Kochi Infrastructure Private Ltd., the special purpose vehicle formed for the execution of the project. Giving a further impetus, the Board of Approval of the Union Commerce Ministry notified 131.4 acres of the project land as an SEZ.

The fast-paced progress then hit a roadblock in the form of Assembly elections. The first meeting between the newly formed United Democratic Front government and Tecom on June 23 spurred yet another controversy over a reported decision to convert the SmartCity Kochi project from an IT-specific to a multi-service SEZ.

Since then, the government had retracted from that position, stating that there was no change in the agreement reached by the previous Left Democratic Front government.

Meanwhile, the Board of Approval gave SEZ approval to the remaining 114 acres on September 19. More significantly, the Centre decided to recognise the entire 246 acres as a single SEZ, setting at rest possible complications arising out of a multiple SEZ proposal.

The pavilion is likely to be completed within 16 weeks.

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