Time of reheated promises and half-baked schemes
On November 1, after Kannur was declared as zero-landless district, a journalist shot off a rather blunt question to Jairam Ramesh, the Union Minister for Rural Development, who launched the scheme. The journo wanted to know, whether the zero-landless project was conceived with the general elections in mind. The minister, known for his wit and acerbic tongue, quipped: “The Congress is no party of Sanyasins.”
The hype surrounding the branding of Kannur as a zero-landless district was laid bare when it became known that the list of beneficiaries had several ineligible people. A week before the grand proclamation, the District Collector and senior revenue officials announced at a press meet that a total of 11,118 landless families including 85 tribals had been selected for award of land under the scheme.
Two days before the proclamation, they went to the Aralam tribal resettlement to consult the people’s committee on tribal welfare to get its approval for the list of 85 ‘tribals’ selected. The tribal leaders boycotted the meeting, citing the presence of non-tribals in the list. The administration rushed back and made several corrections in the list on October 31, a few hours before the proclamation. Many rounds of ‘scrutiny’ followed. In the trimmed list, only 73 ‘tribals’ made the cut. When the title deeds were finally distributed on November 1, the total number of beneficiaries shrunk to 11,108. Tribal leaders called the declaration a sham, saying that more than 3,500 tribal applicants had been waiting for land at Aralam tribal resettlement for years.
The November 7 Cabinet decision to raise the income level for creamy layer category among the OBCs, from the existing `4.5 lakh to `6 lakh should also be seen in the wake of the upcoming Lok Sabha polls. Briefing mediapersons, Oommen Chandy said the government was following the norms fixed by the Union Government, but the timing of the decision and its electoral significance could not be discounted.
The speeding up of decision making process, when it comes to development projects was evident in the way clearance was accorded for a Railway Overbridge (ROB) at Kazhakkoottam in Thiruvananthapuram.
The construction work on the ROB, a 12-year-old dream of local residents, was inaugurated a month ago on October 9. The project is expected to be completed in 15 months. Incidentally, the Chief Minister himself had experienced the bottleneck, while on a visit to Kinfra Park in Menamkulam, where he had to attend a function. The level cross had gobbled 30 minutes of his travel time.
Thrissur is all set to witness a spree of inaugurations from next month, as the elected representatives are keen that the development works initiated by them remain hot on the voters’ mind when elections come calling. The prominent among them is the `425 crore Kole land development project, which remained a non-starter for years.
The Agriculture Department recently invited tenders for the construction of 50 infrastructure projects worth `123 crore at Kole lands in Thrissur and Malappuram. Public events in connection with the inauguration of these projects would begin soon, sources close to elected representatives said. The Department of Forest and Wildlife in October invited Expressions of Interest (EOI) for setting up of a zoological Park - Wildlife Conservation and Research Centre - at Puthur, Thrissur, in October. The project was hanging fire for the past few years.
But proposed projects like the over three-decade-old Alappuzha Bypass does not seem to have the same kind of luck. The district boasts of four union ministers - A K Antony, Vayalar Ravi, K C Venugopal and Kodikkunnil Suresh - but the project has not moved forward after 2010, when a sum of `157 crore was sanctioned by the centre. K C Venugopal, Union Minister of state for power, who called a press meet then to announce that the work on the project would start in 2011, recently reiterated the promise.
A team from the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) also reached the district to evaluate the project. Detractors allege that the exercise was organised with an eye on Parliament polls. The project is now estimated to cost `246 crore, indicating an increase of nearly `100 crore in three years.
Ernakulam has no dearth of ongoing high-profile development projects, but apart from the North ROB, currently being rebuilt as part of Kochi Metro project and set for a December opening, there are hardly any that would be ready for inauguration in the near future. Though elected representatives say they would have loved to showcase the `17.27 crore Ponnurunni ROB, which was originally scheduled to be opened in June this year and the `201 crore drinking water project, being implemented under the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM), they are unlikely to be completed.
Kochi Mayor Tony Chammany brushed aside allegations that the projects are being fast-tracked with an eye on the upcoming elections. “Some projects may be launched prior to the elections, but I think it would be a sheer coincidence. These are not weapons of political campaign, but the need of the hour,” he said.
(With inputs from bureaux in Thiruvananthapuram, Alappuzha, Kochi, Thrissur and Kannur)