Politics of a project
The Supreme Court last week allowed the Nandi Infrastructure Corridor Enterprise (NICE) to sell or pledge the land acquired for implementation of the Bangalore-Mysore Infrastructure Corridor (BMIC) project, subject to disposal of petitions before the court. This comes as a huge relief to the promoters who have already spent Rs 400 crore on the project and the people who have almost given up hope of better infrastructure in India's 'silicon valley'. BMIC's proposed plan is to build a six-lane, 111-km expressway between Bangalore and Mysore, 41 km of peripheral roads, 9.8 km of link roads and five townships along the highway.
New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman pitied India for not being able to move forward as fast as China and wondered if it would have been better for India not to be a democracy. Indeed, what our multiparty democracy is doing to scuttle the development process makes one nod in agreement with Friedman. H.D. Deve Gowda, who, in his stint as chief minister of Karnataka, initiated the BMIC project by signing an MoU with the visiting Governor of Massachusetts in 1996, is now doing all he can to scuttle the project. It was Public Works Minister H.D. Revannah's letter to the PWD department stating that former Prime Minister Deve Gowda suspected more land had been acquired and handed over to NICE than was required that set in motion the process of several court cases challenging the project.
Setting aside other rights and wrongs of the project, the pertinent question is: What did Deve Gowda and his party do when the BMIC project was approved by the earlier Congress government and the framework agreement was signed? If BMIC is a model infrastructure development project required for cities that boast multinational brands from Microsoft to Toyota, why did the Congress agree to make it an issue in forging a partnership with Gowda's party to form a government in Karnataka after the May 2004 elections? The same Gowda had questioned the caretaker government before elections on the validity of issuing a gazette notification on the project which involved land worth crores of rupees. It is a strange case where the members of a ruling coalition themselves are opposed to the project.
Stranger still are the events related to this case. In 2003, R.V. Deshpande, the then minister for large and medium industries, was reported to have sounded the alarm over excess land acquisition for the project. He had, in a note, stated that as per the agreement the Karnataka government was required to acquire 20,000 acres of land but ended up acquiring more than 26,000 acres. In 2004, the high court indicted the government and imposed stringent punishment on the chief secretary and the undersecretary of commerce, and ordered criminal prosecution against them for "knowingly withholding important facts and documents from the court and making false statements in the affidavits filed in this court." The court, while dismissing writ petitons filed by two JD (U) MLAs which argued that financial and procedural irregularities dogged the project and sought a CBI inquiry, also ordered them to pay Rs 50,000 in legal costs.
This seems to be Enron replaying where the project certainly has some grey areas and politicians, instead of setting things right, are using the project to settle their own scores. The contentious issue here is land acquisition and hopefully it would be cleared when the SC gives its final order.
[19 December 2005]