Thursday, May 29, 2008

Role of Youth in the Socio- Political Transformation of the Country...

I was recently invited to address a gathering of young people on the "Role of Youth in the Socio- Political Transformation of the country". The gathering turned out to be a flop show not because there were no attendes. The hall was house full. But the topic took the backseat and something else took center stage. I would like to leave it at that.

But i wanted to share the text of the speech i prepared and also the PPT here so that people can go through and comment..

Download the speech text from Here..

Download the PPT from Here...


Sunday, May 18, 2008

The Dark Side of SEZs – Govt and its Ugly Face !!

All of us are made believe that SEZs will usher in the next revolution in this country that will get millions out of poverty and unemployment. Lakhs of acres of farmland has already been grabbed in the name of industrialization and SEZs. Not sure how many thousands and millions they brought out of poverty, but this has exposed the ugly and the dark face of the Government. This is the new Avatar of the Government – the most ugly face of being a Land broker. I cannot fight against all that is happening, but decided to find out and probably expose this ugly face I believe is ruining the country. All this using RTI.

Dileep, a good friend of mine and myself decided to do some work on this. I filed an RTI application with the Revenue Department, Govt of Andhra Pradesh on the issue of Land allocation to Georgia Tech University on 9th April 2008. I received the information of 289 pages on 14th May 2008. I paid Rs 578/- to get this information. Information in 30 days. Surprised?? This is because I have a special relationship with the revenue department which you will come to know if you read my previous posts in this blog.

Govt allocated 250 acres of land at Mucherla in Ranga Reddy district to Georgia Tech University to setup a university and an SEZ. University and SEZ – probably for the first time in the world. By conservative estimates the scale of corruption and loss to the state exchequer is to the tune of 100-200 crore rupees. All this by just looking at the papers given to me. I asked for the following information in the RTI application,

1. Please provide me a copy of the complete file including all the file notings related to the of Land allotment to Georgia Institute of Science and Technology (Georgia Tech) for setting up an SEZ.

2. Please provide me a copy of all the communications between the revenue department, CM’s office, CCLA and any other Govt. Agencies/Organisations including APIIC involved in the allotment of land and related permissions for setting up the SEZ.

3. Provide me a copy of the MOU signed between Georgia Institute of Science and Technology (Georgia Tech) and the Govt of AP.

4. Provide me a copy of the proposal submitted to the Government of AP by Georgia Institute of Science and Technology (Georgia Tech) for setting up an SEZ.

In the guise of a University, 250 acres of land has been given to Georgia Tech at Rs 1.5 lakh an acre. The current market value of this land is about a Crore rupees per acre. So the loss to the state exchequer is more than 200 crore rupees. The drama and the turn of events that preceeded this land allotment are very interesting and I will try to present a time line view of the whole thing,

Year 2005: In a special meeting with APJ Abdul Kalam, it was decided to give a push to the setting up of foreign university campuses in the country. Georgia Tech University (GIT) expresses interest in setting up a campus in Hyderabad. Discussions with Govt of Andhra Pradesh begin.

7th April - 2007: GIT sends a draft MOU to the Govt of AP. They request 50 acres of land near Hyderabad Central University in this draft MOU. They also express their interest to setup a “not-for-profit” university.

25th May –2007: In the review meeting with the Chief Minister, it was decided to provide 20-25 acres of land near Hyderabad and 70 acres in Visakapatnam. It was also decided that the MOU signing ceremony will be held on 5th June 2007. It is very important to note that GIT never asked for land in Visakapatnam.

5th June – 2007: GIT and Govt sign an MOU which says that GIT will be provided 25 acres of land near Hyderabad and 70 acres in Visakapatnam. It was reiterated that a not for profit university will be established with the name “Georgia Tech India”.

8th June –2007: In the meeting attended by the CM and Smt Usha Rani (collector, Mahbubnagar Dist), it was decided to provide land in suvey number 292, in mamidipally in kothur mandal.

Ideally,the story should have ended here. But out governments are so very intelligent. The real drama began after this. All the while Georgia Tech maintained that it did not have enough funds to build the campus. In their own words, “We have been exploring relationships with industry and provate philanthropists in India to establish the necessary research and funding partnerships;developing a plan for the campus and the associated community;and exploring the potential for raising significant sums of money to build and endow the campus”. Govt of AP also assured GIT that it will bring in investors. The real story as it happened

21st September – 2007: Gary B Schuster from GIT writes a letter to to the CM. He says, “The Prime Minister’s office officials and the Commerce Ministry Office officials advised us to setup an SEZ and hence we need 250 acres of land as per the norms of the SEZ policy. We have also identified Mucherla village in Ranga Reddy district on srisailam highway located at about 25 km from the International Airport as suitable to our plans. Kindly keep this area for our purpose”

The land was also identified by them.

12th November – 2007: Robert K Thompson from GIT writes another letter to the CM requesting him to allot 250 acres in Mucherla IT park in Rangareddy district. He says,”This will enable GIT to establish a multi-services education, research and technology program that could be integrated with a technology park. This will be called Vigyan city.” He also attached a proposal document prepared by Ernst & Young for GIT. This proposal document is the most interesting one. It says,

“In lines with the special emphasis of the Vigyan city in developing the industry-academia linkages, it has been proposed that the city should be located in the multi-services SEZ (as suggested by Commerce Ministry/Central Government). This is primarily due to the direct and indirect tax incentives; the research wing will attract the companies. As per regulations of SEZ act, 2005 for multi-services SEZ, a minimum area of 250 acres is required”

GIT never had plans of an SEZ. It is only the advise of our officials that made them think of setting up an SEZ. And that too only because of the incentives. The proposal also says that the whole area will contain 5 star business hotels, commercial complexes. Malls, apartment complexes, research facilities etc. It also says that the potential companies in the SEZ will be IBM. Oracle, Microsoft, Dr Reddy’s , Ranbaxy etc. None of them ever expressed their interest. This was a perfect consulting assignment for EnY that could design a dream project to get the land it wanted.

23rd November – 2007: CM writes a letter to Collector, Ranga Reddy to issue orders allocating 250 acres to GIT in Mucherla IT park.

29th February – 2008: The empowered committee that decides the selling price of Government lands meets. It proposes to provide 250 acres of land to GIT at Rs 18 lakhs an acre as per prevailing market rates.

13th March – 2008: CM issues signed orders to concerned departments to provide 250 acres to GIT at Rs 1.5 lakh an acre citing the land allotment to BITS,Pilani as per GOMs 59, MA& UD dated 16-02-2006. He says, since land was given to BITS at 1.5 lakh an acre, it is proper to give land to GIT at same terms. It is very important to note that GIT never asked for concession in land rate.

CM in his own words,
“The academic campus of GIT will offer MS/PhD degrees, recognized world wide as a US Degree, will be accessible to the best and brightest of students. The results of the research will be transferable to industry through the co-located technology park, operating in the typical SEZ model, facilitating significant economic and industrial growth in the AP State.

We need such “Institutes of Excellence” in this state to produce quality manpower to sustain the rapid growth of the state economy. It positively adds value to the district of Ranga Reddy and will further make the district an attractive investment destination.

I feel it is proper to allot the land as required by GIT, on the same terns and conditions of allotment made applicable to BITS, Pilani vide GOMs 59, MA& UD dated 16-02-2006.”

17th March –2008: Council of Ministers meeting passes a resolution to allot 250 acres in Survey No 288, Mucherla Village, Kandukur Mandal in Favour of GIT.

27th March-2008: Revenue Department, Govt of AP issues G.O.Ms 553 allotting 250 acres of land to GIT in Mucherla at Rs 1.5 lakh an acre.

The final MOU given to me is very interesting. It says, “ AP Govt will provide Georgia Tech India on long term lease ADEQUATE LAND”. The figures are replaced by adequate land, all in an effort to give these 250 acres in the guise of a University.
It is also very important to note that, BITS is an educational institute and it does not have any commercial activity in the land alloted to them at Rs 1.5 lakhs an acre, where as GIT plans to setup an SEZ where there will be commercial activity of real estate, malls, hotels etc. Then why did the CM felt proper to give entire land to GIT at the same rate as BITS? Only YSR Reddy should know the answer.

The proponents of Globalization will jump on me and say, “ We need universities, and we need growth”. I am neither against growth nor against setting up of world-class universities. I only have the following questions and doubts,

1. When GIT never had plans of setting an SEZ, why did the central and state Govts push them
to setup an SEZ?
2. It is quite clear that GIT planned to setup this SEZ only on the advise of the Central govt and
also primarily because of the Tax benefits, but not for the research as it says.
3. Why did the govt give 250 acres at 1.5 lakh rupees when it is quite clear that the university
campus will not be more then 25-30 acres?
4. Why does the state Exchequer has to loose close to 200 crore rupees because of the foolish
policies of the govt?
5. Why not give those 30 acres at Rs 1.5 lakh as was done in the case of BITS and the rest at
existing market Value?
6. When GIT says it will setup a not-for-profit university, will all the companies, hotels,
commercial complexes, malls inside this SEZ be working on a not-for-profit motive?

I strongly believe that a big real estate lobby is behind all this encouraging these very GIT people to get 250 acres of prime land allocated in the guise of a University. I will bet that all these land sharks will be out with their investments in due course of time.

These are not just my questions. These are our questions. Any citizen who looks at these documents will ask the same very questions. Why grab land from poor farmers and give it to these land sharks?

200 crores. This is just the tip of the iceberg. Its time we wake up and take note. Tomorrow, it may be our land that will be grabbed. Lets fight these inhumane and corrupt policies. This entire expose using RTI !!!

Please use RTI!!!