20070831

KERALA MINISTER IN REAL ESTATE SOUP

Kuruvila In Trouble

K A Shaji/ Thiruvananthapuram



A real estate dealer by profession and a minister by chance, Kerala’s PWD Minister TU Kuruvila was a relatively unknown quantity in Kerala’s political scene until recently. Now this late-bloomer’s tryst with politics is about to be cut short as he stands accused of cheating in land deals and of using advance information on development projects to further his own business interests. The allegations have landed Kerala’s faction-riddled, scandal-plagued Left Democratic Front government into trouble it could have done without.

What triggered the scandal was a major real-estate deal Kuruvila made near the proposed multi-crore Smart City project undertaken by Dubai-based TECOM Company in Kochi. Having procured confidential details of the project months before the government signed the MoU with TECOM, minister Kuruvila purchased about 20 acres of land for Rs 60 crore in the project’s vicinity, which following the unveiling of the project is now valued around Rs 200 crore. Kerala’s special branch police has informed the state Home Department that the land deal involving Kuruvila in the Smart City area was a clear case of under-valuation of land prices. Kuruvila is also said to have employed a strategy of purchasing land close to major PWD projects and highways in advance, and then by blocking road access for people living behind the property, forced them to sell their plots to him at cheaper rates.

A recipient of the `Chevalier’ title from the Christian Patriarch of Antioch for safe guarding the interests of Jacobite Church in Kerala, Kuruvila’s public life is a heady mix of politics, religion, real estate, money and muscle power. According to special branch police sources, he owns a `land bank’ of more than 5,000 acres in Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. In spite of his `smart’ performance as a real estate promoter, the political fate of Kuruvila is now hanging in balance.

To add to his troubles, the coalition partners of LDF are now demanding his resignation in a case of cheating an NRI businessman by trying to sell encroached government land to construct holiday homes. KG Abraham, an NRI entrepreneur from Kuwait, never knew that the property in Rajakumari village of Munnar in Idukki district was encroached, or that its documents were fabricated by the Minister and his family by influencing local revenue officials. According to Abraham, he had no plan to invest in Munnar, but the minister, who visited Kuwait in January this year, had proposed the deal, convincing him of the immense tourism potential of Munnar.

The deal was that the Kuruvila family would sell 50 acres of land for Rs 100 million. As per the agreement, Abraham paid Rs 67.5 million but soon learnt that the land was part of the ecologically sensitive Cardamom Hill Reserve Area, where no construction is permitted as per the law. He felt cheated, but offered to settle the matter if the money was returned. But after Kuruvila’s son-in-law, son and daughters, all parties to the deal, refused to return the amount, Abraham decided to go public on the matter. He informed the Kerala Chief Minister and senior political leaders that he was cheated in the deal, with the active involvement of the Minister. According to government sources, Idukki district administration chief Raju Narayanaswamy, who was asked to probe the land transactions involving Kuruvila, has found seven violations in land records entries in connection with the deal.

The issue turned murkier when Kuruvila’s friend turned foe MLA PC George, a close confidante of Chief Minister Achuthanandan, alleged that Kuruvila had fabricated documents for the government land using fictitious names of half a dozen Tamil estate workers. After the efforts of the Revenue Department to trace the `Tamil workers’ failed, the demand for Kuruvila’s resignation has gained momentum, and there are indications that the LDF would oust the Minister by the first week of September.

But Kuruvila’s troubles won’t end with a mere resignation. His Smart City land deal has come under a vigilance inquiry, and the Vigilance Court has already ordered an enquiry into the minister’s assets. To add to his woes, yet another case has surfaced, wherein Kuruvila is said to have cheated C Mohammed of Edavannappara in Malappuram district, by grabbing 273.45 acres of land by paying only a meagre amount; an allegation to which Kuruvila is yet to respond.

Kuruvila’s party Kerala Congress (Joseph) is a rightist Christian majority outfit that found place in the Left front because of the vote bank politics pursued by a section of CPM leadership. He had assumed charge of the PWD exactly a year back, when his party boss PJ Joseph was forced to step down from the post following a controversy involving his ‘misbehaviour’ with a lady passenger in a Chennai-Kochi Kingfisher flight. “Joseph was kicked out of the ministry following his indecent behavior in flight against a lady. If that incident happened in the sky, the trouble for Kuruvila is related to land and earth. That means the Kerala Congress Joseph group leaders are not decent either in the sky or on earth,’’ says PC George, whose Kerala Congress (Secular) party is a minor ally of LDF.

The Left front government’s image has been tarnished by a string of scandals starting from that of the 'blade mafia', the 'lottery mafia' and so on, all of which were brushed aside as minor aberrations. But with the case of a minister directly engaged in dubious real estate deals, that too involving the protected land, the LDF leadership will have a lot of explaining to do in the coming days.


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