Near solution to space institute land allocation dispute in Kerala

Staff Reporter

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: A near solution appears to have emerged for the vexed dispute between the Kerala government and the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) over allocation of land to the proposed Indian Institute for Space Science and Technology (IIST).

As per the compromise formula, the government will allocate 20 acres at the Ponmudi hilltop to the ISRO for setting up telescope and other related facilities of the IIST. Another 70 acres will be allocated later near the ISRO’s Liquid Propulsion Systems Centre (LPSC) at Valiyamala in the district.

The formula was worked out after protracted parleys between the top officials of the State government and the ISRO in the presence of T.K.A. Nair, Principal Secretary of the Prime Minister, here on Monday.

Chief Minister V.S. Achuthanandan, Revenue Minister K.P. Rajendran, Forest Minister Benoy Viswom, Law Minister M. Vijayakumar and Chief Secretary P.J. Thomas represented the government at the discussions. Director of the Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre (VSSC) Radhakrishnan represented the ISRO in the talks held at Cliff House, official residence of the Chief Minister. The Chief Minister announced the contents of the compromise formula during a brief impromptu press meet after the discussions, in the presence of the three Ministers. Mr. Nair and ISRO officials had left Cliff House before the press meet.

Replying to questions, the Chief Minister said the land would be given “as and when required”. Asked whether the ISRO agreed to the new proposal, the Chief Minister quipped: “Had they not agreed, how will I tell you these details?” He, however, declined to entertain further questions on the formula.

According to official sources, it will have to be ascertained whether 70 acres of government land is available at Valiyamala in the vicinity of the LPSC for offering it to the ISRO. Also, it is not clear whether any legal entanglement will crop up if private land is to be acquired. It also remains unsettled who will foot the bill if private land is to be acquired for the project.

Anyway, the compromise formula ironed out at the initiative of the Prime Minister’s Principal Secretary has given at least a temporary respite to the controversies over the land allocation to the proposed institute.

The controversies began with the ISRO trying to purchase Merchiston Estate at Ponmudi, as it was found out to be an ecologically fragile land. Later, the government proposed to give another100 acres near Kambimoodu in the Ponmudi area itself. The offer was turned down by the ISRO saying its terrain was unsuitable for setting up the institute, and that the land had the attributes of a forest.

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