KERALA

TRIDA to review proposal

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM Sept. 26. After dragging its feet for over seven years, the Thiruvananthapuram Development Authority (TRIDA) has decided to review a proposal to set up an amusement park and `India Village', along the National Highway bypass at Muttathara here. The project, which was envisaged as a major tourist attraction, had been in limbo following land acquisition problems and conflicting reports about its feasibility.

A TRIDA sub-committee, which studied the project, has recommended that the land acquisition proceedings be dropped in view of the non-viability of the project. The study notes that the high land value component had made it an unviable proposal, deterring private investors. The report of the sub-committee will come up for discussion before the TRIDA general council, which is scheduled to meet on October 6.

The move to review the proposal has come in for sharp criticism from the district LDF leadership, which claims that the State Government had backtracked on land acquisition proceedings cleared by the previous LDF regime.

The initial proposal mooted in 1996 involved the construction of an amusement park and a cricket stadium on 50 acres of land. Based on the recommendation of a high-level meeting of officials, the proposal for a stadium was later abandoned and the project was revised to include a cultural complex, training centre for sportsmen, swimming pool and a multi- cuisine food court.

In April 1996, the Government issued an order granting permission for TRIDA to acquire 25 acres at Muttathara. The TRIDA chairman, P.K Venugopal, said the project could not proceed because of the lack of funds for land acquisition.

``At the prevailing land value, it would require about Rs.50 crores. Considering the fact that the allocation for TRIDA last year was only Rs.1.5 crores, the Government is not likely to provide such a massive assistance for land acquisition. Without assured commercial viability, market borrowing would be suicidal," he said.

Efforts to enlist private sector participation for the project also failed. Several private firms that participated in the Global Investor Meet were approached but they were reluctant to invest because of the high land value component. Many of them are reported to have sought subsidised or Government land.

There are allegations that the land price is being manipulated by rapacious real estate sharks who had bought up a sizeable portion of the land earmarked for the project.

Denying the charges of backtracking, Mr.Venugopal said the previous TRIDA council had failed to expedite land acquisition. He said the decision to subject the project to a review was based on the need to avoid inconvenience to a large number of families in the notified area.

``Freezing 25 acres of land for an unviable project is unjustifiable when residents are up in arms against the land acquisition for the international airport and the Canal Walk project." He said the fate of the project would be decided by the TRIDA general council in a democratic manner.

Countering Mr.Venugopal's argument, the former TRIDA chairman, Suseelan, said two separate studies conducted by the Kerala Sports Council and TRIDA had reported that the project was financially viable. He said the Sports Council had offered to provide Rs.5 crores.

``The Kerala Tourism Development Corporation was also keen on promoting the project because of its strategic location on the trunk route connecting major tourist destinations. Besides, 12 out of the 50 acres required for the project is `puramboke' land that can be acquired easily," said Mr.Suseelan.

He said the land acquisition had suffered a setback after the UDF Government came to power.

On Thursday, the City Corporation Council adopted a resolution urging TRIDA and the Government to drop the move. The resolution moved by the Development Standing Committee, chairman, B. Soman, said the move to drop land acquisition proceedings would deprive the capital city of a major tourist attraction.

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