THE HIGH­WAYS BECKON

A new in­sti­tu­tion gets in­fra projects rolling in the state

India Today - - STATES - By Jeemon Ja­cob

When the Pi­narayi Vi­jayan gov­ern­ment first es­tab­lished the Ker­ala In­fra­struc­ture In­vest­ment Fund Board (KIIFB), an au­ton­o­mous body, in June 2016, a num­ber of pub­lic fi­nance ex­perts pre­dicted it would be “yet another mis­ad­ven­ture” con­sid­er­ing Ker­ala’s econ­omy was in the dol­drums. But thumb­ing its nose at the doom­say­ers, KIIFB has made re­mark­able progress.

Fi­nance min­is­ter Thomas Isaac says, “KIIFB is no won­der cure for our many ills. We in­tro­duced it as an ex­per­i­ment to tackle our var­i­ous de­vel­op­ment hand­i­caps... and the re­sults have been en­cour­ag­ing.” Isaac says tra­di­tional means to source funds would have needed another 20 years to fill the gaps, hence “the spe­cial [pur­pose] ve­hi­cle (SPV) to raise funds and to se­cure fu­ture rev­enues” .

De­spite meet­ing global stan­dards in sev­eral so­cial in­dices, what Ker­ala lacks is in­fra­struc­ture. A traf­fic sur­vey in 2016 re­vealed that the 550 km from Thiruvananthapuram to Kasar­god took 17 hours to cover. This was be­cause new road con­struc­tion had been at a vir­tual stand­still due to land ac­qui­si­tion is­sues. Suc­ces­sive gov­ern­ments had baulked at an­tag­o­nis­ing landown­ers and re­li­gious groups who held large hold­ings. Re­sult: bot­tle­necks be­came the ‘norm’.

When he took charge in May 2016, CM Vi­jayan had de­clared that all na­tional high­ways would be widened to 45 me­tres, and that he would yield to no pres­sure. A first step to this—amend­ing the Ker­ala In­fra­struc­ture In­vest­ment Act 1999 and cre­ate the KIIFB. The gov­ern­ment trans­ferred 50 per cent of road tax col­lec­tions and the fuel cess to it. Be­sides the Rs 4,270 crore ac­crued from ve­hi­cle tax and fuel cess, the state is also plan­ning pub­lic ‘bonds’ to bring in money.

But there are hin­drances. The land ac­qui­si­tion protests in Keezhat­tur and Malap­pu­ram have the sup­port of op­po­si­tion par­ties, and in some ar­eas, the rul­ing CPI(M) too. But work goes on. KIIFB CEO K.M. Abra­ham (an ex­chief sec­re­tary), says he is fo­cused on “im­ple­ment­ing projects with trans­parency and in a time-bound man­ner”. An in­de­pen­dent in­spec­tion author­ity has been set up to en­sure qual­ity. A boost for the KIIFB—two key projects, the Rs 86.3 crore Vytilla fly­over in Kochi and a Rs 105.4 crore ex­pan­sion of Tech­noc­ity in Thiruvananthapuram— are on sched­ule.

MANU R MAVELIL

ON THE ROAD CM Pi­narayi Vi­jayan at Tech­noc­ity, Thiruvananthapuram

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