The Kumaraswamy government in Karnataka has fired another salvo in the legal battle being fought in the Supreme Court over the Bangalore-Mysore Infrastructure Corridor (BMIC) project. The government has decided to call for global tenders, even as a contempt petition filed against it by the implementing agency, the Nandi Infrastructure Corridor Enterprise (Nice) is pending in the apex court. The prestigious Rs.2,250 crore-project envisages development of five townships, besides the expressway between the two cities. Although the framework agreement was signed a full 10 years ago, it got stuck even in the first phase and the work has virtually ground to a halt, thanks to the cropping up of contentious issues and the legal tussle that ensued. At the heart of the BMIC-related controversy, as in the case of several others that have erupted in the State, is the allotment of land. The Janata Dal (S), now heading the government, has maintained that the extent of land made available to Nice has been a lot more than the requirement and that the excess should be returned to the farmers from whom it has been acquired. The Kumaraswamy regime has made it clear that it would abide by the court orders pegging the total land allotment to Nice at 20,193 acres. This means, the land abutting 10 major intersections on the proposed tolled expressway will not be handed over to the implementing agency.
The government has now come up with its proposal for calling global tenders to get the project completed soon. In taking this initiative, the government has gone back to the 1997 framework agreement, annulling the 2002 tripartite agreement its predecessor entered into with the promoter and the special purpose vehicle. However, it has been indicated that Nice will be given an opportunity to match the lowest bid. More importantly, the Swiss model the government proposes to adopt provides that the successful bidder shall pay the existing agency the money it had already spent on the project. But the point is that nothing substantive can happen until the Supreme Court pronounces its verdict on the petitions before it. It is unfortunate that critical infrastructure projects across the country tend to get mired in controversies — mostly over land acquisition — and legal battles, which more often than not follow change of governments. And this inevitably puts off prospective investors from participating in such ventures. A significant part of the remedy lies in ensuring complete transparency in agreements between governments and the contracting parties and fairness in the compensation package, especially where land acquisition is involved.