Vizhinjam Project: Are K. Babu and Oommen Chandy Responsible for State Losses?
The CAG report on Vizhinjam International Seaport Project has pointed out plenty of discrepancies in the agreement between the Kerala government and the Adani group. The report highlights that the deal doesn’t serve any purpose for Kerala and that the Adani group is the sole beneficiary.
Sixty seven per cent amounting to Rs. 5,041 crore of the Rs. 7,525 crore-worth project is being funded by the State government. However, the State is eligible to get only Rs. 13,948 crore as income from the port in the agreement period of 40 years, while it is projected that the Adani group will walk away with a major portion of Rs. 1.5 lakh crore, despite spending only Rs. 2,454 crore (33 per cent) of the total expense.
The report also states that irregularities have increased the project cost to double the expense actually required and that neither The Central Planning Commission nor the Vigilance Commission guidelines were followed.
The Vizhinjam project has been progressing for almost 25 years now and had always been in the headlines for different controversies. The multiple tender announcements, companies backing out, and finally the deal being signed by the Adani group, every detail about the project was eagerly speculated. Mainly because this project is expected to give a complete facelift to the State and the nation on a whole. The transhipment terminal, if opened in an appropriate manner, would enable around 2 lakh ships to visit the Kerala coast annually, which will enable the import/export process on a large scale and in turn will contribute immensely to Kerala’s economy. It is expected to generate many employment opportunities as well.
The deal was signed by Gautam Adani’s Adani Ports and Special Economic Zone giving emphasis to the UDF government’s Public Private Partnership (PPP) policy. However, Vizhinjam Mother-port Action Council (VMAC), under the leadership of Elias John, who is also the president of VMAC, had explained in a personal meeting with the then Chief Minister Oommen Chandy that the PPP model will not be beneficial for the interests of Kerala. VMAC had pointed out the drawbacks of the PPP model of agreement and how their recommendations were easily neglected by the government by not even arranging a second meeting, which the CM himself had promised.
Commenting on the issue, Mr. John says, “We literally stood like prowling dogs in front of the UDF government, explaining to them the flaws in the agreement and the significance of this project for our State, but the Chief Minister and the Port Minister clearly knew that even though the deal will not address the interests of the State, it will surely address their interests. The Ministers were just having a wonderful holiday at the cost of the State’s future, which they have shattered into so many pieces that it can never be assembled together. Such an internationally acclaimed project fell prey to the selfish motives of a group of people. And the irony is that these people are the ones whom we all have elected to power thinking they will take care of our needs and will work for the better future of the State and its people.”
He added that LDF government is also not going to do anything in this issue and that it is a “mutual adjustment” between both parties to safely store and overlook their secrets, which are never intended to see daylight. The UDF government during its tenure helped the Opposition by not bringing up the issues in which its Ministers were involved. Now, it’s the LDF’s turn and they will undoubtedly do this, he said.
As the meeting was never scheduled, after the deal was signed and some of the points of the deal were published, VMAC had also send a registered letter to Mr. Chandy.
The major point in the letter says, “It is learned that Govt. of Kerala will get a meagre income of Rs. 22 crore in the 15th year of operation, i.e by the year 2033, which seems to be very unfair considering the potential of our largest and rare resource. We do not know what other damaging clauses in the tender/agreement are as it is not available in the public domain. Kindly make the terms of the agreement in favour of State’s larger interest.”
Mr. John argues here in NTV that the Chief Minister’s office had also discarded the letter. He feels that Adani must continue with the work but former Minister K. Babu and Mr. Chandy must be taken to task for doing exactly the opposite of the oath they took while assuming office. These controversies and the irresponsible action of the UDF government are probably what cost them their reign and forced them to step down from the throne. Mr. Babu’s vigilance enquiry is not unknown to us.
Being a celebrated project of the UDF government, as it had deputed the Adani group to take up the remaining work, the deal was signed in the presence of the then Chief Minister and the Port Minister. Huge promises were made to the people, but now when Mr. Babu is being asked about the Vizhinjam project, he is behaving in differently.
When asked whether they had not noticed these irregularities at the time of signing the deal, the former Port Minister said, “I think it is better if you talk to the principal secretary of the project James Varghese, because I have not seen CAG report as of now and therefore I don’t have much idea about the same. He is the person who is apt to guide you on this issue.”
The future of Vizhinjam project and the speculations encircling it will never get an answer because the people who are answerable have washed their hands off it. However, the final CAG report, which is yet to come, might at least initiate legal complications for the former ministers. VMAC has also decided to file legal complaints against them.
The Kochi Post has also contacted Mr. Chandy’s office to know about the issue as the deal was signed when he was the Chief Minister of Kerala. But he was unavailable for comment at the time of this story going to press.