ISRO land deal on ‘fragile’ ground
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Politics apart, couldn't the ISRO, a direct look out of the Prime Minister, have done better than buy land worth many crores for a premier space science institute from a private individual, only to find it is a piece of notified ecologically fragile land that supposedly belongs to the state?
That's the question kicking up a major political ruckus in the state. The Kerala High Court is looking at a couple of PILs urging to cancel the deal and on Wednesday allowed ISRO to implead itself in the issue—ISRO says it has already spent over Rs 4 crore as part of the deal.
Curiously, this was after ISRO chief G Madhavan Nair formally inaugurated the project a week ago and Chief Minister V S Achuthanandan personally invited the PM to lay its foundation stone— though state Government efforts to offer alternative land for the project hasn't got anywhere.
ISRO had bought 214 acres out of the over 700 acre Merchiston estate in Ponmudi, Thiruvananthapuram, from an influential local businessman Xavi Mano Mathew, who had earlier bought it from the Birla group in 2005. But it has since turned out that this land was officially notified as Ecologically Fragile and ordered to be placed in state Government custody and preserved in its natural state, way back in the 1990s.
The allegation now is that state Forest Minister Binoy Vishwam, of the CPI, had a role in helping the businessman palm off what is claimed to be ecologically fragile Government land to ISRO for a hefty price —the minister did sign orders allowing trees to be felled there, which itself is considered a violation, but later claimed that was a honest mistake. While the Congress-led Opposition is agitating for his scalp and a CBI probe, the Left is on counter offensive—it says the Congress-led Government then in power had lowered the stamp duty just when the Birlas were selling the land to Mathew, raising the levy immediately after and ensuring the businessman profited by many crores.
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