ITC GROUNDED BEFORE TAKE OFF?
GOI Seeks Refund As JK Fails To Start Work
Srinagar, Nov 5: In a major embarrassment for the Jammu and Kashmir government, a central Ministry has threatened refund or diversion of the money it had released for construction of the much-hyped International Trade Centre (ITC) at Pampore on the outskirts of Srinagar, following the state government’s failure to start construction on the mega-project, which could have given a fillip to the trade and tourism sectors.
Highly placed sources disclosed to Greater Kashmir that the Ministry of Commerce, Government of India, has been repeatedly asking the state to return the initial financial assistance of Rs 5 crores that it had released for the ITC or divert it to some other project. The money, they said, has not been utilized since 2007 when the then Union Minister for Commerce, Jairam Ramesh and Chief Minister, Ghulam Nabi Azad laid the ‘Foundation Stone’ of the ITC—a ‘dream project’ of both Azad and Ramesh.
“The state government hasn’t made any progress after its foundation stone was laid in September 2007,” the sources said. “With the result the GOI has been constrained to seek refund from SIDCO, which is the nodal agency for release of the money. It is an embarrassment for the state government which hasn’t been able to start the ITC construction despite the availability of funds.”
The idea to have an ITC in Kashmir dates back to 2005 when, after a proper survey, the then government identified around 378 kanals of land at Pampore for the purpose. The land, which belonged to the Ply Board Factory of the JK Industries, was allotted for the ITC construction in the same year vide a cabinet decision. “The Union Ministry of Commerce agreed to fund the project, originally restricting to Rs 15 crores,” the sources said.
Following this, the India Trade Promotion Organization (ITPO) prepared the Detailed Project report and gave a presentation to the then Chief Minister, Ghulam Nabi Azad, in 2007. “The total project cost was around Rs 58 crores, minus some proposed state-funded mini projects, which could have taken the cost to over Rs 100 crores. The Ministry agreed to fund the project up to a revised cost of Rs 30 crores and released an initial grant of Rs 5 crores to state under the ASIDE scheme,” the sources said, adding the state Planning Department agreed to contribute the remaining Rs 28 crores for the project. This led to laying of the foundation stone by Jairam and Azad.
The Assistance to States for Infrastructure Development and Exports (ASIDE) scheme is aimed at providing funds to State Governments/Union Territories for export promotion. It encourages the State Governments/Union Territories to promote exports by creating appropriate export infrastructure and by providing facilitation for export promotion.
Such was the enthusiasm that Ramesh, understood to be responsible for piloting the project and its prompt approvals, got the allocations enhanced. But an official apathy of sorts followed.
Sources said so far the state government hasn’t identified even the construction agency for the ITC, though after inordinate delay, it incorporated the requisite “Special Purpose Vehicles.”
It took the state two years to understand what the SPV means. “SPV has been incorporated under section 25 of the Companies Act. It simply means that the company will not pay profits to the shareholders. If Rs 30 crores is given by the central government and Rs 28 crores by the state, Profit will not go to shareholders but will take care of the developmental works,” the sources said.
For this a board needed to be constituted and got approved at different levels.
“The ITC could have been one of the greatest attractions in Kashmir,” said an official, well-versed with the project. “It was supposed to be completed in 2010 itself. The basic idea was conceived it 2005 keeping in view the high temperatures outside Kashmir which makes it impossible to hold international exhibitions there. So it was thought appropriate to have the ITC in Kashmir so that we can hold auto expos and other exhibitions in the Valley in summers. But because of the half-hearted efforts of the state government and inaction on part of the bureaucracy, the Ministry has been forced to seek refund or diversion of the initial grant which has been left unutilized.”
The proposed ITC included a Mini Pragati Maidan on the pattern of New Delhi with an attached Five-Star Hotel at the later stage. “Its location was proper in the sense that it had direct road connectivity with the Srinagar International Airport via Nowgam-Bye-pass and was also located on Srinagar-Jammu highway,” he said. “Had the project taken off, it could have undoubtedly given a huge fillip to the trade and tourism sectors in the state.”
Sources said in a recent meeting outside Kashmir, the secretary Commerce in the GOI took a serious exception to the JK’s failure to utilize the money.
“Everything with regard to its construction is ready. All plans and drawings have been approved. But the state hasn’t identified the construction agency for the purpose and it took them years to incorporate the SPV,” they said. “It should be a matter of grave concern for the state government, which acted callously in this regard. And then there is a politics factor into it. The state doesn’t want to give the credit of ITC construction to Azad or Jairam, who have laid its foundation stone.”
With the land for ITC unutilized, many agencies have already started eyeing this prime land, albeit in a proper manner. Several recent reports suggested that paramilitary CRPF has already approached the state’s Industries Department for allotment of the land for establishing a transit camp there.
The former Chief Minister, Ghulam Nabi Azad told Greater Kashmir that the project should have come up in time. “We had conceived the project and wanted to fund it in whatever the way we could. The idea was to hold the Trade Fairs in Srinagar throughout the year since we are unable to do that in Delhi during summers given the high temperatures. So the idea was to help Kashmir grow economically,” he said. “I wish the project had come up in time. It would certainly help the artisans and those associated with the tourism sector. And above all, it could have given fillip to the economy of the state.”
He said he would take up the matter with the Union Commerce Minister and ask him not to press for the return of money. “I will also talk to the state government and request it to turn the project into reality so that it benefits the state in a big way,” he said.
A SIDCO official said the Ministry of Commerce has given them two options with regard to the money that has been released for the project. “First, it has asked us to urge the state government to use the money as soon as possible. And second, if it fails to do so, shift the money to some other project,” the official, wishing anonymity, said.
Sources said in the meetings wherein the Commerce Ministry reviews the progress of the projects under schemes like ASIDE, Jammu and Kashmir had to cut a sorry figure. “The Ministry officials took a strong exception to the non-utilization of the money for ITC. They sought refund or diversion of the money in case the state doesn’t utilize it on the project. Such projects always happen to be time-bound. In case you don’t utilize the money in time, they are bound to seek its refund or shifting,” the official said.
‘WE ARE AT IT’
The Director, Handicrafts Department, Meraj-ud-Din Kenu failed to answer why it took the Department three years to form the SPV and get it registered. “We are at it. The ITC construction is a big project. It calls for incorporation of SPV which takes time. We are at its final stage. Once the SPV is registered, we will start work on the project,” he said.
Lastupdate on : Fri, 5 Nov 2010 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Fri, 5 Nov 2010 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Sat, 6 Nov 2010 00:00:00 IST
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