KOCHI: Did the problems faced by soft-drink majors Coca-Cola and Pepsi in Kerala result in the US Government blocking investments by American investors to the State? Specifically, was it the reason for Oak Ridge National Laboratory under the US Department of Energy deciding to stay away from investing in Technocity in Thiruvananthapuram, after exploring such an opportunity in 2006?
We may not know the reason yet, but WikiLeaks documents accessed by ‘Express’ reveal the behind-the-scene manoeuvring by the key officials during that period. The WikiLeaks documents related to cables dated April 24, 2007, from the US Consulate in Chennai to the US Department of Energy, says: “Despite the ongoing discussions, Kerala officials are haunted by the fear that the US Government might block the investment because of the problems encountered by the other US investors, specifically Coca-Cola and Pepsi, in the State.”
In December 2006, Oak Ridge National Laboratories director Jeffrey Wadsworth signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Technopark for setting up a Technology Collaboration Council to explore possible areas of common research interest with companies based at Technopark.
The cable quotes former Kerala Information Technology Special Secretary Jyothilal (Protect) as saying that Oak Ridge was considering a much more serious commitment to Kerala by establishing a research and development facility at Technocity. In the cables, Jyothilal is further quoted as saying that Kerala was awaiting a formal request from Oak Ridge for 15 acre of land in the Technocity project.
The cables also point out that IBS Software Services founder V K Mathews had led the industry in hosting Wadsworth and the team from Oak Ridge during their December-2006 visit to Thiruvananthapuram.
Mathews says that landing Oak Ridge National Laboratories would be a huge boost to Technocity, and more importantly, for Kerala’s information technology sector as a whole. Mathews feels that as per the cables, Technocity would provide the ideal fit for Oak Ridge’s research and development and computation needs.” He further adds: “Oak Ridge is now holding internal discussions on the appropriate destination.”
In response to an email query by ‘Express’, Bill Cabage, who’s handling communications at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, said establishing a facility in Kerala was not considered. “One of the outcomes of the 2006 trip was UT-Battelle’s contribution to reconstruction of the Divine Children’s Home orphanage in Thiruvananthapuram. UT-Battelle is the managing contractor for Oak Ridge National Laboratory,” said Cabage.
Ten years after the incident, Oak Ridge Laboratories is yet to make investment in Technocity. The LDF Government led by V S Achuthanandan was ruling the State during that period.
Did the fears of Kerala officials proved to be right? Then, both Jyothilal and Mathews had expressed apprehensions that the US Government might not allow Oak Ridge to invest in Kerala.
Jyothilal said he had heard rumours that the US Government was discouraging companies from investing in Kerala in light of the troubles faced by Coca-Cola and Pepsi in the State.