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MoU for Smart City inked

FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT / 10 September 2005

TRIVANDRUM (India) — The much-debated Smart City project took off the ground yesterday as Kerala government and Dubai Internet City (DIC) signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for setting up an exclusive zone for software firms in the port city of Cochin.

State Chief Secretary Palat Mohandas and Dubai Technology and Media Free Zone Director General Ahmad bin Byat signed the MoU at an impressive ceremony held amidst tight security at the picturesque Taj Malabar Hotel.

More than 200 activists belonging to pro-left organisations staged a demonstration outside the hotel, saying that the project was against the interest of the state. The police arrested and removed the protesters.

The MoU is the culmination of a long process of negotiation that began almost one-and-a-half years ago and heated debates for and against the project. Chief Minister Oommen Chandy, who was determined to implement the project, had tried to carry the opposition with him through discussions.

The business campus will serve as an international centre of excellence for the IT industry with a special focus on IT-enabled services (ITES).

Under the terms of the MoU, the Kerala government will transfer ownership of the existing Infopark project, an IT business park in Kochi, to Dubai Internet City. This will be merged into the Smart City project that will be developed adjacently. However, he could not ensure a consensus in favour of the project. While the main opposition led by the Communist Party of India (Marxist) opposed the proposal to hand over the Infopark to the DIC, the Bharatiya Janata Party termed it as an anti-national project.

Ignoring the objections, Chandy went ahead with the project saying it was a must for ensuring the speedy growth of not only IT but also the state. He was backed by the software community and educated unemployed youth.

The Group of Technopark Companies (G-TECH) at Trivandrum also extended their full support to the chief minister saying that the project would open a new chapter in the state's development front.

He said that it was the staunch public support that helped him to carry forward the project.

Chandy said that the state government will have nine per cent stake in the project and the government will have its representative on the director-board of the Smart City.

The first phase of Smart City will be developed in an area of about 350 acres in the heart of Kochi, Kerala's commercial hub. Of this, the Kerala government will provide 100 acres as lease to DIC while 250 acres will be sold at a mutually agreed cost. The first-phase of development will be completed over seven years.

Over a longer-term period, park development will extend to 1,000 acres.

"We are delighted to sign an agreement with the Kerala government to develop the Smart City project," said Ahmad bin Byat, Director-General of the Dubai technology and Media Free Zone.

"Dubai Internet City has developed considerable expertise in developing business campuses that provide infrastructure and support services for IT companies," he added.

"We are keen to combine our capabilities with local competencies to create sustainable economic and social value. This project is also part of Dubai Internet City's global expansion plans where it is seeking to evolve from a regional venture to an internationally diversified organisation. Our mission is to become the ICT business campus provider of choice across the world," he added.

Smart City is expected to be one of India's largest IT parks and have a positive impact on the local economy. The initiative has tremendous employment generation potential.

As many as 33,000 jobs are expected to be created in the first phase within 7 years and 75,000 following the development of 1,000 acres.

According to the DIC, the development of Smart City will contribute to making Kochi one of India's major IT destinations.

Smart City will create a micro-economy of its own with companies from the entire IT industry spectrum.

One of the key objectives of DIC will be to capitalise on the abundant human capital that exists in the state of Kerala.

By creating a centre for technology anchored by some of the leading global and regional names in the industry, DIC hopes to build a vibrant knowledge economy community in Smart City.

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