Kerala govt offers free land to ISRO institute

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Kochi, Dec 27: A 70-acre of free land has been offered by the Kerala Government to the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) to set up its Indian Institute of Space Science and Technology (IISST) in Thiruvananthapuram. The state government"s move comes a week after ISRO rejected its offer of a site at Ponmudi hills in Thiruvananthapuram, saying the plot was unsuitable.

Unable to get land for the project, which will offer under-graduate, post-graduate and doctoral programmes, Isro had set a 31 December deadline and threatened to withdraw the project from Kerala if the state government did not offer suitable land. This forced the state government to come up with an alternative site.

After discussions between chief minister V.S. Achuthanandan, forest minister Benoy Viswam and K. Radhakrishnan, director of ISRO"s main centre for rocket and launch vehicle projects at the Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre, Achuthanandan announced the offer late Monday. People familiar with the matter in the state government said T.K.A. Nair, principal secretary to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, also played a role in the decision.

The government"s latest offer is for land close to Isro"s Liquid Propulsion Systems Centre, which is engaged in the development of liquid and cryogenic propulsion stages for launch vehicles. A year ago, ISRO had advertised for land it wanted to buy for the proposed institute after its request to the government for land was turned down.

The organization bought 81.5 acres of a tea estate at Ponmudi in April from businessman and film producer Xavi Mano Mathew for Rs3.26 crore. Earlier this year, it had decided to buy 219 acres of land from Mathew"s 707 acre Merchiston Estate for Rs8 crore. However, it could not go ahead with the project as the forest department issued a notice in September, threatening to cancel the deal as the estate was part of ecologically fragile land (EFL) that needed to be conserved.

The department said that according to a January 2001 ordinance, the forest area in Ponmudi, including the estate, had been declared as EFL that was to be protected by the government.  In 2003, a Congress-led government modified the ordinance to include tea, pepper, cashew and coconut in the list of commodities that needed to be kept out of the EFL status. The forest minister had earlier said ISRO"s decision to buy ecologically fragile land was “most unfortunate", while the opposition parties, led by the Congress, had said the government could not afford to lose a prestigious institute.

There were also differences within the ruling Left Democratic Front over the forest department issuing notice to cancel the Isro deal with the estate owner.

 

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