KOLLAM: The State government has taken serious note of the rampant misuse of the Kerala Palace and the nearby Public Works Department (PWD) guesthouse at Courtallam in Tamil Nadu’s Tirunelveli district, Public Works Minister Mons Joseph has said.
Talking to The Hindu on Monday, the Minister said he had directed Public Works Secretary Tom Jose to prepare a comprehensive report for launching a tourism-oriented revenue-earning project at the two complexes. On submission of the report, the Minister would visit the palace and the guesthouse for an on-the-spot study. The Minister said a lobby with political and business connections was behind the misuse.
The palace and guesthouse complexes consist of 56.6 acres in the heart of Courtallam town. This was the property of the Maharajas of Travancore when Shencotta and Courtallam were under their kingdom. In 1957, both the complexes were handed over to the Kerala government and the PWD was given the management. The PWD division office at Punalur is in direct charge of both.
In addition to the palace, the complex comprises a traditional quadrangle (nalukettu) bungalow, two cottages and a quarter’s line. The structures stand within a sprawling 26-acre land. The nearby guesthouse complex comprises Scorpion Hall, five cottages and the secretary’s cottage.
The official rent for the whole palace is just Rs.1,500 a day. The rent for each room of the nalukettu is Rs.150 a day. The cottages are rented out for Rs.250 each a day. In Scorpion Hall, there are 40 beds and these are rented out at a rate of Rs.10 a bed.
The same applies to the cottages in the guesthouse complex on 30 acres.
The official rent is based on rates decided in 1992.
Courtallam is a money-spinner for the private hotel industry. PWD sources say that rents working out to several times higher than the formal rates are being collected by the lobby, which is de facto in control of the complexes. Receipts are not given to guests.
For a long time the complexes had only six gardeners as staff. Later one gardener was promoted and posted as palace superintendent. Last week, another person was selected from a Public Service Commission list and posted as superintendent. Sources say the average annual rent earned from both the complexes is only Rs.1.5 lakh. But the government spends around Rs.17 lakh by way of salaries and electricity and water charges every year to maintain the complexes. This year the government made an allocation of Rs.50 lakh for maintenance also, the sources.