Indian Space Research Organization(ISRO) takes a landmark decision to set up a Space Institute to nurture the country's future space scientists. The proposed institute would be only the 3rd if its kind in the world. ISRO toyed with a few locations for the elite campus and in another landmark decision, zeroed in on Trivandrum, the very own capital of God's own country! The institute, christened IIST (Indian Institute of Space Technology), kicked off at the VSSC Campus in Thumba on September 14, 2007. Mr. Madhavan Nair, the ISRO Chairman, proudly proclaimed that a world class residential campus would be developed for the IIST on the picturesque Ponmudi hill station, outskirts of Trivandrum.
Now the drama unfolds...
Enter, the main characters.
ISRO:(to Trivandrum District Collector): Sir, we want 100 acres of land around 30-40km from Trivandrum City for our Space Institute.
Collector: Sorry, No revenue land available.
Xavy Mano Mathew:(to ISRO) I have 82 acres of land in Ponmudi, in my Merchiston Estate...Pretty, ideal and cheap! Only 3.5 crores...
ISRO: (giggles) OK! We have 275 crores allocated for this institute. Money no problem...
Xavy & ISRO shake hands
Enter Oommen Chandy, the out thrown Kerala CM.
OC: eh...The land deal between ISRO & Xavy is illegal. Xavy has encroached forest land. The Govt has shamelessly assisted this shady deal.
Malayala Manorama: Merchiston Estate Affair. Govt fails to protect environmentally fragile land.
Enter Cheif Minister Achutanandan!
Achumama: We will investigate the tycoons behind the land deal.
Forest Minister: Xavi's land is ecologically fragile. The estate will be evicted immediately
Xavy Mathew: What the heck!!? Its my own plantation! Doesn't belong to the Govt.
Forest Minister: It belongs to Forest Dept.
Revenue Minister: (simultaneously) It is Revenue land.
Achumama: (confused) All the same, it is Govt property. The previous Govt allowed your illegal encroachment.
OC: (stunned) !!!
Xavy: (stunned) ?????
ISRO: But what about us? Our Institute? We paid 3.5 crores for the land..
Achumama: My Govt will allow 200 acres of land, free of cost.
ISRO: The District Collector's letter tells that no land is available with the Govt...???
Achumama: What? Who is that DC? Dismiss him!
DC: (shaken) Sir, the Nedumangad Tahasildar informed me that.
Achumama: Suspend that Tahasildar!
ISRO: But the work on helipad has far progressed on Ponmudi land...We cant abandon the site now.
Achumama: (bewildered) Helipad? for what? Oh so you are going to make helicopters in the institute? I thought you will be making rockets...
ISRO: Sir, the helipad is for the Prime Minister's chopper to land.
Achumama: Who? The PM? But who told you he is coming? I didn't know that!
ISRO: It's your Chief Secretory who allocated 2 crores for the helipad.
Achumama: !!!...She will be dealt with severely...Doing things without telling me..
Chief Secretory resigns after hearing this.
Revenue Minister: CM, my department has identified 100 acres of revenue land for the project!
Achumama: Well done my boy! ok we will give it free of cost to ISRO.
ISRO: We need 125 acres, not 100. We also need 35 acres in the high range for our observatory.
Achumama: (after lengthy discussion) We will give 25 acres in Upper Sanatorium and 100 acres in Kambimoodu.
ISRO: Our experts have said that the Kambimoodu land is undulating and not suitable for our world class building.
Achumama: I will send another expert team to identify plain land in Kambimoodu.
Malayala Manorama: 800 acres of Govt land available in Ponmudi Estate. Govt not taking measures to provide land to ISRO.
Law Minister Vijayakumar: We will provide land from Ponmudi Estate for ISRO.
Forest Minister: But that also is forestland.. We will be in a soup if we give that.
Revenue Minister: No, it isn't forest. It belongs to my dept!
Achumama: Stop it! My team has discovered 125 acres of plain land in Kambimoodu! We have won, at last!
ISRO: But look here sir, the DFO has reported that your new site also is a notified forestland...
Achumama: (desperately) Who is that Forest Officer? He is an ally of the mafia against me. Transfer him to Kasargode..
Environmentalists: (in the background) This space institute is not a necessity. It will destroy our habitat to smithereens..
Fundamentalists: This institute is useless because only 3% of the students will be from Kerala.
Nature-lovers: It will turn Ponmudi into desert.
Animal Welfare Organizations: Ponmudi is famous for the lion-tailed monkey. This institute will destroy their habitat & they will become extinct.
ISRO: We are fed up...We will be going to Bangalore if we wont get land soon.
Achumama: Wait wait! My Revenue Minister has identified 70 acres in Valiyamala! We will hand over the land in 2 weeks...
Finance Minister:(To Achumama) Sir, from where will we get the money to buy that land? There are hundreds of families in that land.
Achumama: (wondering)But how much will it cost?
Finance Minister: about 100 crores!
Revenue Minister: We will grab unused land from LPSC in Valiyamala!
Achumama: Great idea!
ISRO: LPSC land not suitable for the institute.
Malayala Manorama: 1000 acres of land available 12 km east of Valiyamala.
Achumama: We will handover suitable land for IIST in 2 weeks..
This story is still in anti-climax. Xavi Mano Mathew has moved High Court against the Govt decision to evict his land. The plantation workers at Merchiston Estate were left without jobs. ISRO has been alleged to sabotage Govt efforts to find earth for their space institute, fingers pointed at their clear-cut affinity for the Xavy Mathew land. The Government finds itself in a self-conceived labyrinth. With each passing day the knot has become tighter, strangulating all involved.
All too familiar story for Kerala public. We have managed to lose many proposed projects to neighboring states in the past and its happening all over again! IIST could give such an impetus to the aspirations of Trivandrum to distinguish itself as India's R&D City, and losing it would be a real blow to the face.