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Castle row: Minister promises action against erring officials

Special Correspondent

Additional Chief Secretary's report awaited

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Tourism Minister K.C. Venugopal on Wednesday assured the Assembly that the Government would take action against officials if it were found that they had facilitated the sale of the Halcyon Castle to the private hotel group, M Far. The Government would act in this direction once Additional Chief Secretary C. Ramachandran submitted his inquiry report on any official lapse.

Replying to the debate on the Kovalam Palace (Taking over by Resumption) Bill, seeking to replace an Ordinance taking over the controversial heritage property now in the hands of the group, Mr. Venugopal said there had indeed been some official lapses in the transaction of land from the ITDC-owned Hotel Beach Asok to the M Far group. He wanted the Opposition to appreciate the sprit behind the Ordinance and the replacement bill, which intended to recover the Government land.

He said that there was considerable ambiguity in the terms and conditions of the transfer of land to the ITDC way back in 1970.

The title deed issue mattered only when the issue of the ITDC's sale came up. He pointed out that the previous LDF Government issued the "thandaper" on May 23, 2000. Later, it was pointed out that the ITDC did not have title deeds to the contentious property, but this was overlooked and the sale effected.

Mr. Venugopal said that the Government had introduced provisions for compensation with effect from 1970, the period relating to the transfer of land from the Kerala Government to the ITDC as per the legal advice it received.

He said that the Government would not hesitate to acknowledge the private sector's contribution to the development of tourism industry, but at the same time, it would leave no stone unturned to protect its rights over the land under its ownership.

The Government had brought in the legislation to prevent the alienation of the prime heritage property in the context of the High Court's verdict striking down its executive order taking it over and its observation that nothing stopped the Government from passing legislation to that effect.

The debate gave an opportunity for MLAs to discuss threadbare the circumstances leading to the sale of the property. From the Opposition side, T. K. Devakumar led the debate, amply assisted by M. V. Jayarajan and Raju Abraham.

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