Wednesday, May 26, 2010

For the greater good of Cochin


M.C. Josephine, the chairperson of the Greater Cochin Development Authority, is happy with the work that she has done so far

By Shevlin Sebastian

“Repairing the Kaloor-Kadavantha road has been my biggest achievement,” says M.C. Josephine, the chairperson the Greater Cochin Development Authority. “It is now one of the finest roads in Kochi.”

Indeed, the 3.2 km long road is smooth and sweet and a pleasure to drive on. But for several years it was a nightmare, with potholes and stones strewn all over, making it unusable. In fact, a man died when he fell into a huge hole near Kathrikadavu bridge.

“Not many people know the history behind this mess,” says Josephine. It all began when the Kerala Water Authority (KWA) wanted to lay down pipes under the road, as part of a HUDCO project to supply drinking water to West Kochi in 2006.

The then Collector Mohammed Hanish, who was a member of the GCDA board, as well as the then chairman, T.K. Jose, agreed.

“But there was one mistake they made,” says Josephine. “They did not sign an agreement with the KWA asking them to restore the road to the original form before the digging began.”

When Josephine took over in April, 2007, the media had raised a hue and cry over the sorry state of the road. The High Court intervened. Local people and political parties staged protests. A man who lived on the road began using a horse to express his frustration.

When Josephine called the MD of KWA, T.P. Mohanlal, asking him to repair the road, he gave some complicated explanations about why the water authority could not foot the bill.

Eventually, the Local Administration Minister Pallolli Muhammad Kutty called a meeting, where Josephine, Mohanlal, the Fisheries Minister S. Sarma and several local MLAs were present.

It was decided that the cost of repairing the section of the road torn up for the laying of pipes would be split equally between KWA and GCDA. This worked out to be Rs 38 lakh each. “Thereafter, the GCDA spent Rs 2.5 crore to resurface the road,” says Josephine. The road became functional about a year ago.

The Jawaharlal Nehru international stadium at Kaloor will also become functioning soon. The GCDA is completing the roofing of the stadium.

“It is a Rs 10 lakh project,” she says. Now the turf is being re-laid, and 21,000 new seats have been put in. The stadium will receive a fresh coat of paint.

Josephine also discovered that numerous tenants of the GCDA were not paying rents on time. “Sometimes, the arrears went up to one year,” she says. Incidentally, the GCDA owns 19 shopping complexes in the city.

“I was disappointed by the tenants’ attitude,” says Josephine. “Because we are a government organisation, they feel they can get away without paying.”

So she put the squeeze on them. “We called the errant tenants to the office and asked them to pay up,” says Josephine. “When they did not, we issued eviction notices.”

Her clenched fist worked. The GCDA collected Rs 1.5 crore in arrears. “And people have begun paying the rent regularly,” she says.

She also moved decisively, when in the nearly five-acre land at Manapattiparambu Road, in the heart of the city, owned by the GCDA, there were a lot of homeless people who had set up makeshift tents and seemed intent on staying there permanently.

But Josephine ensured that a wall was put up all around the property, the people were evicted, and the GCDA is once again in control.

“A part of the area will be used for a multi-level car parking lot,” says Josephine. “In the rest of the plot, buildings will be made and rented out.”

The GCDA sometimes gives land away also. “For setting up the Vytilla Mobility Hub, 18 acres have been given to the state government,” says Josephine. Another 13 acres has been allotted for the Vytilla bus terminal. Five acres have been given to the Cochin Corporation at Mundamvelli, so that they can set up a sewage treatment plant.

Josephine is busy, but being the chairperson is not her only job. She is a die-hard Communist and works hard for the party.

On a recent Saturday, she inaugurated a strike of the KWA. Then she went to Panangad, 20 kms from Kochi , to attend an annual function of a Kundumbashree unit. Then Josephine was off to Kanjirapally to attend a family meet of party members.

So, on most days, Josephine arrives at the GCDA office in the afternoon. The staff has the same laid-back attitude. At 10.15 a.m., a few staffers trickle in, with an unhurried look on their faces. “But we have nearly finished all of our pending projects,” asserts Josephine.

The long-suffering public might not entirely agree with her.

(The New Indian Express, Kochi)

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