CPI(M) split over mall, Bolgatty project
With Chief Minister Oommen Chandy and Leader of Opposition V.S. Achuthananthan supporting M.A. Yusuff Ali of the LuLu group to the hilt, the CPI(M) infighting seems to have come to the fore over two distinct projects: the mall at Edapally and the Bolgatty land deal.
CPI (M) district secretary Dinesh Mani had earlier made allegations of land grabbing at Edappally against the LuLu group and had also raised issues of undervaluation of land at the Bolgatty island by the Cochin Port Trust (CPT).
The Hindu had in a series of articles brought out issues of undervaluation of land by the CPT and possible breach of contract by the LuLu group. Political parties, trade unions and environmentalists came out against the deal following the expose. Now Mr. Achuthananthan and Mr. Chandy are defending the project against all these groups.
The CPT had leased out 26 acres of land to Mr. Ali in a 30-year renewable lease for an upfront payment of Rs 71 crore because the CPT had valued the land at Bolgatty island at just Rs 2.1 crore an acre (or Rs two lakh a cent). Though the Cochin Port Trust had clearly denied permission to the bidder to build residential units in a pre-bid meeting, the LuLu group seemed to have planned to set aside a large portion of the leased land to build 572 apartments. It sought environment clearance to build 572 “service’’ apartments.
The lease deed also had provisions for Mr. Ali to sub-lease the buildings, including the proposed apartments constructed by the group, to third parties. Renewable sub-lease over several terms of 30 years each can lead to sub-lease holders keeping the property for a lifetime and more. Also, leasehold is routinely converted into freehold in many cases elsewhere in the country.
Though the mall issue is totally unrelated, Mr. Achuthanandan seemed to have defended Mr. Ali over both the projects. He told reporters in Thiruvananthapuram that LuLu mall had not encroached upon public land at Edappally. “The previous LDF government gave permission to the mall after observing all laws. The Bolgatty project will give employment opportunities to over 4,000 persons,’’ he said. However, Mr. Mani said the party district committee was firm on its stand that the Bolgatty lease deed should be cancelled. “The party has not gone back on its stand. In the case of LuLu Mall, the district committee was of the view that public land was encroached upon,” he said.
Veteran trade union leader M.M. Lawrence said Mr. Achuthanandan might not be familiar with port-related rules and hence made the statement. “The port trust can use the land only for port-related activities,” he pointed out.
Mr. Mani and P. Rajeev, MP, had earlier alleged that the mall was constructed in violation of the building rules. The party district secretary had also demanded that the lease deed between the LuLu group and the Cochin Port Trust should be cancelled as it caused huge revenue loss to the government.
However, CPI(M) State committee member and trade union leader K. Chandran Pillai termed the decision of the industrialist as unfortunate. He also told TV channels that the industrialist did not violate the law. “It was unfortunate that Mr. Ali was withdrawing from the project. The party was of the view that more investors should come to the State,” he said.
Chief Minister Oommen Chandy said the government would not allow Mr. Ali to give up the project. Mr. Chandy, who said that he had sought a report on the issue from the CPT chairman, said the Centre had approved the project after completing all procedures. The government would not waste time and delay the project, he said.
K.P.A. Majeed, the State general secretary of the Indian Union Muslim League, cautioned that the State would lose around 4,000 job opportunities from the project following the CPI(M) stand on the Bolgatty project.
Mr. Majeed felt it would be unfortunate to lose the job opportunities due to the internal squabbles and factionalism in the CPI(M). The League leader was of the view that it would be unfair to publically humiliate Mr. Ali who had made substantial contributions to the State’s development.