Visionary behind mega projects
SmartCity-Kochi, Vizhinjam International Seaport, and Kannur Airport are some of the showpiece projects initiated during Oommen Chandy's regime.
KOCHI: When Oommen Chandy was trying to bring the metro rail project to Kochi in 2011 during his second stint as chief minister, he was convinced of one thing: the project could take off only if DMRC and ‘Metro Man’ E Sreedharan were directly involved.
But, there was a big hindrance. The then Delhi CM Sheila Dixit and Union urban development minister Kamal Nath, under whom DMRC comes, were opposed to the idea. “Sheila Dixit was against DMRC going to South India. She felt DMRC should not divert its attention to other states,” recollects Sreedharan, former chief of DMRC.
The Kochi Metro was something that was close to Chandy’s heart. He first mooted the idea in 2005, when he replaced the then CM A K Antony. The project didn’t see much progress under the 2006 V S Achuthanandan-led government.
Despite opposition from Dixit and Nath, Chandy was determined. In late 2011, Delhi hosted an AICC meeting. It was a godsend for Chandy, who, along with senior Congress MPs from Kerala, viz., Vayalar Ravi, A K Antony, and Prof K V Thomas, met Dixit and Nath on the sidelines of the AICC conference. “The meeting paved the way for DMRC’s participation in the Metro project,” said Thomas.
Chandy was perhaps the most development-oriented CM that Kerala has seen after K Karunakaran (and now Pinarayi Vijayan), bringing some big infrastructure projects to Kerala. The SmartCity-Kochi (IT Park at Kakkanad), Vizhinjam International Seaport, and Kannur Airport are some of the other showpiece projects initiated during his regime.
No one was ready to invest in the Vizhinjam seaport project, said an officer who was closely involved in the initial stages of the project. During the tenders, there were no bidders.
“Then, Chandy decided to meet Gautam Adani personally and convinced him to invest in the port project. The Adani Group was reluctant to come to Kerala, fearing controversies. It was Chandy’s direct involvement that helped Kerala bring the multi-crore port project to Vizhinjam,” said the officer.
The bitter local politics meant Chandy could not bask in the glory of his achievements. A case in point was Kochi Metro Rail’s inauguration in June 2017. By then, the Oommen Chandy-led UDF regime (2011–2016) had paved the way for the LDF government. The main list of special invitees alongside Prime Minister Narendra Modi did not contain the name of Chandy, who was practically involved in every aspect, from the inking of the deal to the commencement of the work and the trial run.
But typical of his nature, Chandy did not raise a voice in protest and bore no grudge towards anyone. As he leaves the arena, the man who emerged from a small village in Puthupally to become a mass leader for more than five decades, had a development vision for the state. In controversy-loving Kerala too, things can be done, he has shown.