Thursday, October 19, 2006

Kerala govt sacks Infopark chief

By sacking a former key Kerala negotiator with Dubai Technology and Free Zone Authority (TECOM), the Left government has reiterated its preference for a new business model for the Rs2.4bn Smart City.

Additional Secretary K Suresh Kumar in the Chief Minister’s Office confirmed that the government had issued orders ending the contract of K G Girish Babu, CEO of the State-owned Infopark at Kochi.“It’s been a personal decision of Chief Minister V S Achuthanandan, who holds charge of IT and there’s no chance for reconsidering the decision,” said Suresh Kumar.

The Chief Minister’s office has given additional charge of Infopark to V J Jayakumar, the GM (technical) at the government-owned Technopark in Thiruvananthapuram. Babu, who had conceived and set up Infopark, said he had been tipped off about it nearly a week ago. “I’m packing up and handing over charge. I’ve several options but I wouldn’t comment further”, he said.

Babu had started his career with the Kerala State Industrial Development Corporation and moved to Kerala Hi-Tech Industries, Kerala IT Mission and finally Infopark. TECOM authorities were nonplussed by the sudden removal of the Infopark mentor, who instrumental in TECOM’s evincing interest in an IT free-trade corridor in Kochi.

While it would be early to say whether the Babu factor will have a bearing on the fate of the Smart City proposal, the decision has come at a crucial stage when negotiations between the government and TECOM have slowed down over terms of Kerala participation, if at all, in the project.

Three crucial factors are weighing down on the proposal — government reluctance to hand over Infopark to TECOM, exorbitant land price and the government’s non-committal stand on the level of its equity participation. An IT source said the chances of the Smart City proposal materialising have whittled down to 30 per cent on account of this. TECOM has of late started looking at other destinations in south India other than Bangalore, which is overcrowded. It has a major project on the anvil in Andhra Pradesh and it’s seriously weighing the option of Tamil Nadu.

Upcountry, it’s still keeping its fingers crossed on a proposal in Calcutta. Both Achuthanandan and Law Minister M Vijayakumar had asserted publicly that Smart City would soon be a reality. Achuthanandan had announced the creation of an additional 200,000 IT jobs in the state in the next five years, possibly factoring in jobs to be generated at Smart City.

“I’m 120 per cent sure the proposal will materialize. TECOM likes to have a state guarantee for the project for which we’ve sought a reciprocal arrangement. We’re even ready for a joint venture. Our final terms would be sent to them in a week”, said Kumar.


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