Sunday, April 23, 2006

What a rap!

What a rap! Now, govt must help NICE finish corridor fast
The TImes of India

The judiciary has once again rescued us from political m a n o e u v r i n g s. Giving a go-ahead to the Bangalore-Mysore Infrastructure Corridor (BMIC), saying the project, which consists of an expressway, a monorail and five townships en route, is in the larger public interest, it has rebuked the Karnataka government for filing frivolous litigation with mala fide intentions. It has asked the government to pay Rs 5 lakh as costs to the corridor builders and slapped a fine of Rs 50,000 each on three persons, including two MLAs, who filed the petition.

The message from the apex court is loud and clear. That a change of government should not lead to witchhunting or a rejection of all commitments made by the predecessor regime, merely to score political points. It serves as a strong warning to the likes of Deve Gowda, who put hurdles before development projects, just to spite political rivals. But for Gowda’s nit-picking, the corridor would have been complete by now and the travel time between the two cities and fuel costs reduced considerably.

For 20 months during the Congress-JD(S) rule, infrastructure development activity in and around Bangalore was at a standstill. Deve Gowda arm-twisted then CM Dharam Singh into putting the brakes on all the projects that were put on the fast track by the previous government headed by bete noire S M Krishna. The Bangalore International Airport work was delayed. The Metro Rail fell into a limbo. The BMIC project got enmeshed in litigation. Construction of flyovers, underpasses and skywalks stopped midway. Brand Bangalore took a severe beating. Karnataka’s image as an investor-friendly state suffered.

That Gowda keeps mum now, when his son Kumaraswamy is going ahead with all the projects that he had opposed, is a different story. Maybe his only aim then was to malign the Congress to boost the prospects of his JD(S). With the son in the gaddi, he has no issues. The Congress failed to realise this and met its waterloo. The BJP perhaps has a bitter lesson to learn from the Congress experience. Its leadership is already wary about the father and son coming together again.
Take the corridor project. Ironically, it was conceived in 1995 when Gowda was the CM, and a GO authorising acquisition of 18,313 acres for the expressway and five townships was issued. In 1996, the Nandi Infrastructure Corridor Enterprise (NICE) was entrusted with the job. In 1997, when J H Patel was the CM, the land requirement was raised to 20,193 acres. In 2002, during Krishna’s chief ministership, the project was put on the fast track, environmental clearance given and land lease agreement signed.

In 2004, when the Congress-JD(S) government took over, Gowda suddenly smelt fraud in the agreement. He accused NICE of having acquired more land than required. His target was Krishna. He forced Dharam Singh to order an inquiry. Who headed the probe panel? K C Reddy, a member of the committee which had approved the project. Incidentally, Reddy is now an advisor to Kumaraswamy.

Reddy endorsed Gowda’s apprehension by saying that 2,450 acres of land were indeed in excess. The cabinet immediately accepted the findings and asked the then chief secretary K K Misra to file an affidavit in the high court stating that the land lease agreement signed during the Krishna regime was a result of ‘fraud and misrepresentation’ and deserved to be scrapped.
But the move boomeranged. The high court took strong exception to the change in government stand and ordered criminal prosecution of the chief secretary who had “knowingly withheld facts and made false statements’’. It asked the government to expedite the project. The government preferred to move the Supreme Court.
The apex court upheld the high court order. Its observations are worth going through.

It appears that there could hardly be a dispute that the project is a mega project, which is in the larger public interest of Karnataka. Merely because there was change in government, there was no necessity for reviewing all decisions taken by the previous government, which is what appears to have happened.

The state government cannot be permitted to change its stand and to contend that the land allotted for the project was in excess of what was required. Permitting the argument on excess land to be heard again to scuttle a project of this magnitude would encourage dishonest, politically motivated litigation and permit the judicial process to be abused for political ends.

When the state’s acts of omission or commission are tainted with extreme arbitrariness and with mala fides, it is certainly subject to interference by the constitutional courts.

A stinging slap on all those who tried to scuttle the project. With Mysore growing as a second IT destination in Karnataka, an expressway for faster connectivity is an absolute necessity. With Bangalore bursting at its seams, Tier II cities like Mysore, Mangalore and Hubli must be developed. This is possible only if connectivity and infrastructure are given priority. Let not politicians with vested interest play spoilsport. Kumaraswamy must desist from moving the apex court again for a review. He should support NICE to expedite completion of the project. The state must aim at developing world-class infrastructure. It must build more expressways and road networks.


Post a Comment

<< Home