Staff Reporter

Chief Secretary, company to hold talks

SmartCity chief executive to lead team

Freehold land is the key issue to be resolved

KOCHI: Even as a high level team led by SmartCity chief executive officer Fareed Abdulrahman is set to hold a meeting with Chief Secretary Neela Gangadharan over ways to remove the impediments in the progress of the project in Kochi, uncertainty prevails regarding the possible outcome of the meeting.

While Fisheries Minister S. Sarma, who is also the chairman of SmartCity Kochi, has said that the next meeting of the board of directors would be held this month itself, he admits that any further talks will depend on the outcome of the Chief Secretary level talks scheduled for Wednesday. SmartCity had also made this clear.

What dampens the expectations from the proposed meeting is that none of the issues to be discussed are new but those that came up as long back as the third meeting of the board of directors held in March 2008. Two more board meetings were held thereafter. SmartCity had said that it would discuss only what it regards as pending issues at Wednesday’s meeting. This included registration of the fresh lease and incorporating in it various provisions of the Framework Agreement signed between SmartCity and the State government, and acquisition of 19 cents located at the centre of a land measuring 114 acres.

The most important issue, however, is regarding inclusion of a clause pertaining to 12 per cent freehold land in the fresh lease. The State government, however, is of the opinion that the issue can wait till the master plan for the project is ready. The sixth meeting of the board of directors scheduled for March this year had to be called off after SmartCity withdrew from it. Notwithstanding the illness of one of its officials cited as the reason by SmartCity, it was known that the decision was born out of its reluctance to engage in what it perceived as “unending discussions” on the same issues.

Following the cancellation of the board meeting, SmartCity shut down its office in Kochi and redeployed its staff here. The following month, it also suspended the service of the agency drafted in to draw up the master plan. In July, Mr. Abdulrahman addressed a press meet in Kochi during which he set December this year as the deadline for resolving outstanding issues, failing which, he said, SmartCity would have to do a rethink on the project. He didn’t meet any government officials during that visit.

Later, the Cabinet asked the Chief Secretary to look into the hurdles hampering the progress of the project and report on it. It was following this development that SmartCity officials had agreed to come down and clarify their points with the Chief Secretary.