Kerala: French MNC officials return as Left unions stage protest

The project involves overseeing the water supply network and replacement of pipes in Thiruvananthapuram and Kochi.
Image used for representation
Image used for representation

KOCHI: At a time when the Pinarayi government is wooing big investments into the state, the officials of a French multinational company (MNC) which won the bid for a mega drinking water supply project in Kochi had to face the wrath of the Left trade unions. The company representatives, who arrived for discussions with Kerala Water Authority (KWA) in Kochi on Monday, were forced them to return without holding talks following protests.

Representatives of Suez India, the Indian arm of Suez Group that won the Rs 2,511-crore project jointly implemented by the Asian Development Bank, Union government and KWA, faced protests from CITU and AITUC members, who alleged that the private firm’s business model would make drinking water unaffordable for common man.

The project involves overseeing the water supply network and replacement of pipes in Thiruvananthapuram and Kochi. The trade union workers raised slogans and staged a blockade at the superintendent engineer’s cabin when three representatives from Suez India arrived at the office of the Ernakulam Water Authority executive engineer for discussions.

‘Meeting aimed to negotiate rates’

“We protested and blocked the management’s attempt to hold talks with the company representatives keeping the corporation and public representatives in the dark,” said M M George, CITU workers’ coordination council general secretary.

“The protest ended after the superintendent engineer promised that consultations would be held with the trade union workers,” said George. “Through the project, the company aims to make the drinking water supply a business. This will put the common man in trouble as drinking water will become a costly affair in future,” he said.

Meanwhile, a KWA official said the government has not approved the rates the company has quoted. “Therefore, as per the state-level empowered committee’s direction, an initial negotiation meeting was supposed to be held with the representatives of Suez India. The meeting aimed to negotiate with the company and reduce the rates. However, the meeting couldn’t be conducted after the trade union workers protested and the Suez representatives left the premises,” he said.

In November 2023, ADB approved a $170 million (Rs 1,416 crore) loan to support the modernisation of water supply services in Kochi. While the ADB loan will constitute 70% of the total amount, the remaining 30% will be borne by the state government.

The project, titled Kerala Urban Water Supply Improvement Project, will be initially implemented in Kochi and will be later extended to Thiruvananthapuram. By entrusting it with a private company for 10 years, the project aims to modernise the water supply network and ensure uninterrupted drinking water, with a promised reduction of the water authority’s losses by 20 %.

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The New Indian Express