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Antony drifts into river ‘selloff’ froth

Kochi, Dec. 29: Kerala’s cash-strapped government has been courting controversy in its effort to attract investment to the state. The latest has literally landed the state in troubled waters.

The state’s Congress government has been accused of trying to sell two of its important rivers — Periyar and Malampuzha — to private entrepreneurs, including multinational corporations.

Not just the CPM-led Opposition, even cultural personalities, environmentalists and social activists have levelled this accusation against the government.

Writer M.T. Vasudevan Nair is at the forefront of the non-political protesters.

“In its mad rush to somehow improve the state’s financial situation, the government appears to be getting ready to sell everything, including geographical and cultural heritage,” he said in a recent statement.

On Saturday, some cultural leaders, environmentalists and social workers launched a two-day sit-in on the banks of the Periyar at Aluva, near Kochi. The site is Aluva Manalpuram, that is home to a renowned Shiva temple of south India.

Critic and writer M.K. Sanu kicked off the sit-in. Among other writers present were Sara Joseph and Vysakhan.

The protest campaign may have finally consolidated into a sit-in, but the controversial projects are still mired in confusion.

The state, speaking in several voices, has not helped clear things up.

Chief minister A.K. Antony said on Friday that he was unaware of any proposal to sell rivers to MNCs.

Kerala industries minister P.K. Kunhalikutty, however, said the government did have plans to sell water from the rivers to private firms to produce sufficient drinking water.

He said the Periyar and the Malampuzha projects would be discussed at the Global Investors’ Meet that the state has scheduled for January 18 and 19.

The Periyar project, called the Kochi Industrial Water Supply Scheme, is estimated to earn the government Rs 330 crore in investment. “The finalisation of the projects would follow discussions at GIM,” Kunhalikutty said.

The Kochi project, the industries minister said, would be crucial to the region’s overall industrial development.

According to the project report, potable quality water would be supplied to hospitals, hotels, restaurants, educational institutions, seafood industry, industrial parks and other commercial establishments in and around Kochi.

Kunhalikutty referred to the controversy when he said the project would be implemented in a tie-up with MNCs. They will not take away the country’s water resources, he emphasised.

The Opposition and the non-political protesters, however, are unwilling to accept Kunhalikutty’s contention.

They said private firms would not invest without getting control over the water resources.

For the cultural leaders, any transfer to private firms of the rights to water resources means “divestment” of cultural identity, not just economic.

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