Pinarayi’s double speak on Adani is aimed at Modi

Pinarayi’s double speak on Adani is aimed at Modi

The Kerala CM wrote to the PM Modi on February 28, 2019 registering his objections to the handing over of the Thiruvananthapuram airport – and four other international airports – to the Adani group for a period of 50 years.

For years, Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has tried to project himself as industry-friendly. Putting an end to a long convention in the state, the government he heads has not stalled any developmental project begun by the previous Congress-led government. Instead, it has intensified such projects despite people's opposition to them.

This new approach was seen as working in its favour. Investments from various parts of India and abroad began trickling in. For example, the Japanese-car maker, Nissan, announced the setting up of a digital innovation hub in Thiruvananthapuram in 2018 – the first of its kind in India.

READ: Left cashing in on airport privatisation

Therefore, the latest stand by the Communist Party of India (Marxist) CPM-led government against Adani Enterprises Ltd. taking over the operation and management of the Thiruvananthapuram International Airport is worth examining more closely. It gives rise to the suspicion that the move is aimed at fuelling anti-Modi sentiments in the state given that the Lok Sabha polls are just round the corner. There is a general impression that the Adani Group chairman, Gautam Adani's, close association with Prime Minister Narendra Modi has made the industrialist unpopular. Has this convinced the CPM to fire at the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Modi by targeting Adani?

Kerala’s objections

The Kerala CM wrote to the PM Modi on February 28, 2019 registering his objections to the handing over of the Thiruvananthapuram airport – and four other international airports – to the Adani group for a period of 50 years. He alleged that Adani Enterprises was given the tender flouting the bid of the Kerala State Industrial Development Corporation (KSIDC). The KSIDC bid was for Rs 135 per passenger fee (PPF), whereas Adani's was for Rs 168. He also said there is opposition from the people to the handing over of the airport's functioning to a private entity which has no prior experience in the matter.

Another contention is that the state government has allotted a chunk of land to the development of the airport. If Adani takes over the airport, the land and the revenue will go into the hands of a private company for 50 years.

The state government has also moved the High Court against the decision characterising the tender process as “arbitrary, illegal, and unconstitutional and vitiated by patent malafides and favouritism towards Adani Enterprises.”

For the first time, the Centre has allowed new players to come into airport operations ending the duopoly of GMR and GVK, which are managing previously privatised airports. In the latest development, the new entrant, Adani Enterprises, has been given the tender to operate five airports across India. Kerala contents that the Centre did away with an existing clause requiring previous experience on part of the selected party. This it feels has gone against the interests of the state.

A different tune

However, while all this might be true, the Kerala government seems to be adopting a different attitude towards the same industrial group when it comes to another major infrastructure development project in the state -- the Vizhinjam seaport project. That project was also given to the Adani group, although the Left Democratic Front (LDF) government inherited the project from the previous Oommen Chandy-led government. The Congress alliance government signed the agreement with Adani Ports in 2015.

As per the MoU signed by the state government and Adani Vizhinjam Port Pvt Ltd (AVPPL), the latter had to complete the first phase of the Rs 7,525-crore project in 1000 days. But the deadline was extended to October 2020 due to various reasons such as the devastation caused by cyclone Okhi in 2017. According to the agreement, the state government will receive a share of the port's revenue after 15 years of operation, while the Adani group can run the port for 40 years, extendable by another 20 years.

Both United Democratic Front (UDF) and LDF governments have liberalised several policies in order to build the seaport in the Thiruvananthapuram district as a means to erase the state's anti-industry image. One of the first decisions of the state cabinet convened after the recent Kerala floods in August 2018 was to give the Adani group permission to directly extract granite from quarries in Thiruvananthapuram, Kollam and Pathanamthitta districts for constructing the breakwater at the port. The AVPPL is awaiting environmental clearance for starting its operation in 21 granite quarries.

As per the project report, the port needs 70 lakh tonnes of granite for the construction of a 3.1 km breakwater and other work. The detailed project report did not give details about where the company is planning to extract the rock. Green activists protested against this decision claiming it flouts environmental regulations.

Meanwhile, AVPPL has sourced 30,000 tonnes of granite from Mundra port in Gujarat and 6,000 tonnes from Thoothukudi in Tamil Nadu recently to resume the construction of the breakwater. The state is also pushing for the construction of a rail line to the port. Konkan Railways has submitted a detail project report to build a 10.9-kilometre-long train track including a 9-km long tunnel.

Given these avenues of CPM-Adani partnership, the Pinarayi Vijayan government’s stand against the industrial group in the case of the Thiruvananthapuram Airport alone appears like a case of double speak. Whether it manages to convince voters of its position in this matter remains to be seen, but what is evident at the moment is the CPM’s attempt to take people’s attention off topics such as Sabarimala and flood rehabilitation that have brought the state government much criticism.

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