Sunday, June 28, 2009

The Act of Baseless Speculation

Some of you commented on the post below as to whether the ruckus raised by the media in general, and Manorama in particular, had anything to do with the withdrawal of Lanco. Here is what the company said in its press statement about its reasons to withdraw from the Rs 8000 Crore Vizhinjam Deep-water Transshipment Terminal Project.

"“Subsequently, the protracted litigations and an atmosphere vitiated by baseless speculations have altered our due diligence perspectives on the project." Link

Doesn't that sound familiar?

You Decide.....and Take Action!

Friday, June 26, 2009

Stop Press!

Sri K.N. Balagopal is the Political Secretary to the Chief Minister of Kerala. I have known him over the past eight years or so, since my days in college and he is one of the best-read, most level-headed leaders in today's administration. He is one of those politicians who reads into the details and does not get carried away by the headlines, as most of his ilk are prone to doing.

In a recent TV debate about Vizhinjam, he claimed that "Lanco had been driven away from the project." I do not disagree in the least.

For every crime, there is a How? When? Where? and Who? In this case the When and the Where are pretty obvious. How this was perpetrated was through a mixture of legal, political and media pressure. And finally, the most important question of all - Who sabotaged our Dream? The answers range from the Opposition (who have to oppose to live up to their name) to international vested interests who live in abject fear of their own port projects being relegated to the status of fishing harbours if Vizhinjam does come up. But let's not delve into shady conspiracy theories for which the proof is scant. There is one player against whom the proof is as evident as daylight, due to their own efforts. This media house publishes the self-proclaimed "most popular malayalam daily" of all times and has a TV news channel to ensure that we can't shut them out by not opening the paper. In case some of you are running to check out which paper is most popular today, let me make it clear - I am talking about the Malayala Manorama.

Let me quote just two instances of how this paper which sells more copies in Trivandrum than almost anywhere else has explicitly pursued an agenda which either sabotages or belittles the development of the city.

Last week, the Technical Evaluation Committee of the Vizhinjam bid awarded
61 marks to the Zoom consortium after re-evaluating its Technical Bid including additional documents supported by them. This fell far short of the 70 marks needed to qualify for the opening of their Financial Bid and meant that they were out of the bid for good.

However,
one week before the results came out, the Manorama carried an article whose banner headline ran "Zoom gets 79 marks" or to that effect. It claimed that the Government had no other option but to accept Zoom as the developer since they came through with flying colors. The New Indian Express then shamelessly parroted the same news on June 9th. Of course, they threw a anti-VS twist. Perhaps, a hangover from their former Kerala editor, lately one of the loudest Pinarayi-apologists and VS-inquisitors.

When these papers were proved wrong, they carried on their war against Vizhinjam without batting an eyelid. Sadly, neither did most of us. But if someone told you that your score in the last maths exam was 80 and it turned out to be 39, would you ever believe that person again? But the Manorama and Express still manage to sell their newsprint well.

Then as if needling the Vizhinjam project for the last year or so was not enough, Manorama went to war against Technocity on
June 17th. In its editorial, it claimed that the only reason that developers expressed interest in the Rs 6000 Crore project was because of the so-called "Smart City" project. This was like saying someone bought a Mercedes because of the shiny key chain. And since the demise of their pet project seems to have sunk in even on the Kerala's favorite daily, they opined that the delay in the Technocity project was because the woes of "Smart" City had scared the developers off.



Now, I have been working on the Technocity project in an official capacity since July 2007 and I can assure the editor that no developer who qualified for the project was lured because of "Smart" City. The fact of the matter is that Trivandrum accounted for 75% of Kerala's IT industry and that it is the fastest developing IT destination after the six metros and Pune. And Technocity presents an exciting opportunity for developers to set up as much as 15 million sq.ft. of technology business space. This is why some of the best people in the business including two of the world's leading developers landed up.(And I mean real international developers with portfolios of millions of sq.ft. of operational space and not two-bit players who are 1/3rd the size of Technopark.) And the reason why the project has been delayed is the reason projects everywhere have been delayed, the small matter of the global recession. (Against which "Smart" City uniquely has been completely secure) DLF for example has post-poned development of 20 million sq.ft. of office space. That has nothing to do with Manorama's pet project either.

Perhaps it is time that that 64,000 dollar question of what makes this pet so special is raised. The project that Manorama claims will make its host city "
the center of the IT universe" on many a occasion is just about the size Technopark will be in 2012 or half the size of Technocity. It is not remarkable in comparison to any of the major IT projects in India or abroad. Of course, as the idiom goes, "the rabbit that I caught had three horns"!

And then there came a shameless
volte face. The Manorama very quietly retracted its views when the Hindu Business Line published a much more realistic and optimistic article about the project the next day. Check out the sequence of events here, as put together by my friend Sajith Vijayan. The way this played out is a perfect example of "original" reporting, lol!

These are but two instances in a long running grouse that the media group seems to have with Trivandrum or rather with all things which are contrary to its own agenda. You will be able to identify at least a couple of glaring examples in each day's paper. Things are so blatant that people have started noticing it. The NGO "
Janapaksham" organised a protest against this vicious bias against Vizhinjam outside the Secretariat on June 22nd. Of course, the media gave it a miss. At least they didn't label the protestors "anti-social elements threatening press freedom!" They too must have felt a few guilt pangs. This is the notice distributed on that day. Do take a look at it.



There is little we can do against such media bias than be vigilant against it. Spread the message to everyone who cares and make it a point to send feedback to the concerned organisation when a report of this kind appears. The message conveyed to them should be clear and unequivocal -

WE ARE WATCHING YOU!


P.S. This post is about a media house and not about any city or region. So don't get the wrong ideas and waste everyone's time with us-Vs-you comments. Thanks! ;-)

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

A Black day of Broken Dreams......

A year of sustained legal paralysis by vested interests and biased media organisations finally bore fruit today by dashing the hopes of the people of Kerala.

Vizhinjam flounders once more.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Bus Rapid Transit comes to Trivandrum

The Government cleared a Rs 436 Crore Bus Rapid Transit System for Trivandrum, the first-ever mass transit system in Kerala.

Here is a quick summary:

Three Routes (in Phase I) - Ulloor-Kazhakkoottam, Ulloor-Karamana and Karamana-Balaramapuram

Total Length of Route: 28.43 Km with 16.4 Km of exclusive bus lanes.

Elevated Route: 3.3 Km between Ulloor and Kazhakkoottam

Stay tuned for more details and for this....

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

A Development Agenda

Apologies for vanishing abruptly over the past couple of weeks, but I have HP to thank for that. Yes, Hewlett Packard, whose inept service center in Cochin has ensured that I have been without a laptop for the rather vexing reason of a missing mother-board.

Having secured BVN's laptop, let me put down my thoughts from the first meeting with Dr. Shashi Tharoor. A bit late in the day I agree, but better late than....blah blah!

The intervening weeks have misted over a lot of the details, so I will restrict myself to the main points.

The meeting kicked off with introductions which turned up a glittering list of Trivandrum's prominent citizens including various CEOs, retired top civil servants, socialites, technocrats and four members of TDF, including yours truely.

The proceedings then moved on to a round of feedback from each attendee. I had expected 95% of the points to be complaints and I was not wrong by much, since the vast majority of points raised were things beyond the sphere of an MP of Trivandrum, from reducing the height of speed-breakers to a new Security Act for the North-East! One of the senior businessmen also came up with the rather novel idea that funds for developmental projects could be raised by nationalising the gold hoard of Kerala, a thought certain to send chills down the spines of Alukkas, Bhima, Josco and their ilk! Fortunately, someone finally pointed out the fact that we had all gathered there to identify the components of a development agenda for Dr. Tharoor and not to bellyache about bumpiness of roads.

The discussion then proceeded in a much more constructive manner and a list of major developmental issues was drawn up:

  1. Railway Development
  2. Vizhinjam Container Transshipment Terminal and Shipyard
  3. Expediting the upgradation of the National Highways
  4. JNNURM
  5. Development of a knowledge economy
  6. City Twinning
  7. Development of the International Airport
  8. Inland Waterway development
  9. Urban Transport
  10. High Court Bench
Dr. Tharoor was very receptive about the issues and made it clear that development was uppermost in his agenda. And he has continued to make that clear even after leaving the boundaries of his constituencies. Everyone at the meeting was pretty sure that a Ministry would coming winging its way into his lap, so the discussion then turned to how he would continue to maintain a presence in Trivandrum as well as active interaction with his constituents.

His solution was rather neat. An office manned by a professional staff would be maintained in Trivandrum while representatives (a retired Government employee or school teacher) would be engaged in each Assembly constituency in Trivandrum to whom ordinary folk could submit their requests and complaints. This would solve the difficulty usually faced by the common man in finding and getting to their elected representative. While it sounds quite akin to the Washington-style of maintaining offices staffed by interns, I believe it could actually work and is a sign that our democracy is evolving.

Dr. Tharoor had another interesting concept in mind. A vehicle to implement many of the intiatives that are needed for Trivandrum. The usual MP's team consists of a heavy compliment of partymen which puts off not just people of any other political orientation but the major section of the population which prefers to shun any open political linkage. This MP wants to create a bi-partisan agglomeration of concerned citizens to work for Trivandrum. One idea which was floated was to establish a trust which could seek donations and implement developmental initiatives. Such a neutral body could easily attract talent from all walks of life and all political affiliations.

The underlying idea is that a united movement of citizens should be created to foster development in Trivandrum. A celebrity MP and Union Minister like Dr Tharoor can facilitate this movement, he cannot be the sole driver. The reason is simple, people like you and me have the best knowledge for the job and the strongest responsibility. Dr. Tharoor can make our case in Delhi - "thump on a few desks" as he likes to put it - or to investors across the globe. If we choose to believe that our responsibility ends at the voting booth, it will be a very uphill task indeed. We have been given a superb opportunity to step up on the global stage, I am sure we will all makes sure it is not wasted.

And if one thing can be said about this MP, it is that this is not the last we are going to see of him for the next five years!