AI cam: Kerala government owes Rs 24 crore, struggling to survive, says Keltron

Revelation comes behind state govt’s disclosure that it collected Rs 365cr in fines for violations
Image used for representational purposes only
Image used for representational purposes only

KOCHI: The state Public Sector Undertaking (PSU) Keltron is finding it difficult to survive amid the default on payments for installing and operating artificial intelligence (AI) cameras on roads at a time when the government claims that it has collected Rs 365 crore from the AI camera project in the first year. The project proposal stated that the capital project expenses and operations project expenses come to the tune of Rs 235 crore and payment in twenty equal quarterly payments of Rs 11,79,11,440 with GST at the rate of 18% and cess at the rate of 1% should be made. Keltron has no control over the collected fine amount except for the supply of the required assistance at the control rooms. Around Rs 24 crore is due to Keltron from the state government.

While the state paid the first instalment of around Rs 11.8 crore following a directive from the Kerala High Court, the second instalment of Rs 11.8 crore is pending despite a court order issued on January 15.

Adding to the crisis, the third instalment is due on February 29 and the fourth will be due on May 31. The High Court had granted permission to release the funds stating: “As the cameras have already been installed by the authorities which are working and challans have been issued, we permit the state authorities to release the second instalment to the tune of Rs 11,79,11,440 in favour Keltron.” The order came on a plea filed by Opposition Leader V D Satheesan and Ramesh Chennithala, MLA, seeking an inquiry into the allegation of corruption in the project to set up cameras under the Safe Kerala initiative. The petitioners did not object to implementing the ‘Safe Kerala Project’ but alleged lack of transparency in the decision-making process for availing of technology-enabled services on traffic issues. Earlier on September 18, 2023, the court had allowed the state government to release the first tranche of payment due to Keltron.

When the case came up for hearing, Zohra M , standing counsel for Keltron,submitted that instalments were not paid to it by the government. “We are finding it very difficult to continue the project. Though we are a government-owned company, we sustain on our own funds,” submitted the counsel.

The counsel pointed out that 726 different types of automatic day and night Traffic Enforcement Systems and around 146 technical personnel are exclusively working as part of the project. The counsel added that if the instalment is defaulted, Keltron will face a severe financial burden as it has to pay huge interest against the loan amount.

Keltron also requested that there should be a direction to pay the third instalment.

In reply to Keltron’s version, Advocate General K Gopalakrishna Kurup submitted “We are told that orders have been issued to release the fund. The formalities are over.”

The Division Bench comprising Chief Justice A J Desai and Justice V G Arun on Wednesday directed the state government to pay the second instalment on or before June 11.

Interim orders of the High Court in AI camera project

  • June 20, 2023: The court directed the state government not to make any payment under annuity until further orders from the court or under intimation to the court

  • September 18, 2023: The bench permitted the state authorities to release the first instalment to the tune of Rs 11,79,11,440 in favour of KELTRON. The release should be subject to the outcome of further orders to be passed in the present writ petition

  • January 15, 2024: The state authorities allowed to release second instalment to the tune of Rs 11,79,11,440

  • May 22, 2024: Post the case on June 11, HC asked the state authorities to pay the 2nd instalment as per the order dated January 15, 2024

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