22 March 2009

Shashi Tharoor for Parliament - Vision for the future of Thiruvananthapuram

My vision for the future of Thiruvananthapuram (By Sashi Tharoor)

In a recent interview, when asked to name my favourite place in India, I said "Thiruvananthapuram". Our state capital offers both well-laid-out city space and a coastal setting of great beauty. Beaches, palm trees, verdant green and gleaming new buildings and malls make for an extraordinary combination that is difficult for other places to match.

At the same time, one of our challenges in this first decade of the 21st century is to make Thiruvananthapuram a truly global city. There is much that we should do to gain for the city its rightful place in the national arena as one of India's vital windows to the world.

The capital of God's Own Country has some existing advantages - the timeless AnanthaPadmanabhaSwami Kshetram, the beaches, the Technopark (including its plans for further expansion), a decent airport (with a well-designed new international terminal coming up), and a first-class international film festival. But it can and should be much more than that.

A number of new plans and initiatives are required, both for the city proper and for the surrounding rural areas that are still in need of development. The Vizhinjam port project - the biggest in Kerala and one of the biggest in the country, which had been hanging fire for nearly two decades - has finally got the approval of the central government last September. A major advantage of Vizhinjam port will be that with a natural depth of 24 metres - among the deepest in the world - it would not require any dredging. Another advantage is that it lies very close to a busy international shipping route. Once complete, the port will be able to handle over four million containers annually and would create 5,000 direct and 150,000 indirect jobs. I believe it is essential for Thiruvananthapuram to support this idea.

But we must fight for the displaced people from the Vizhinjam port trust area who must not become the victims of development. I will work closely with the local population to ensure that any people who are displaced are properly rehabilitated, and that decent work is found for those whose livelihoods may be affected by the development of the port. We must do everything possible to help the displaced to find jobs in the new port. In the end, all of Thiruvananthapuram should benefit from the development of Vizhinjam. The enhanced trade through our backyard should also stimulate serious levels of related investment in Kerala. It is also essential to devise effective plans to provide relief for those newly-unemployed Malalyalis who are coming back to Kerala from the recession-hit Gulf countries. I will press the Centre to provide additional resources to help these workers. In the good times, India has benefited form their remittances; in the bad times, the country must stand by them. We must also look to seize the opportunities provided by our 21st century world. I will pursue a plan to twin Thiruvananthapuram with a world-class global city that has many things in common with ours, but has developed well beyond. "Twinning" provides a city with useful partnerships and valuable allies abroad; I have some ideas and connections in this regard which I would explore as a priority after the election. The right twin city to choose would be one with some relevant features - a coastal city and a regional capital in a developed country, but one with an international profile, relevant experience and the resources and will to help us. By joining with the right twin, Thiruvananthapuram would not only gain worldwide recognition, but increased opportunities from exchange programmes for our people, in terms of town planning, public transport, strengthening educational and cultural institutions. The additional benefits of such interaction could be everything from resources for development and increased people-to-people contact, to an increase in the value of real estate, enhanced scope for businesses, and above all the creation of more jobs for our people.

Second, I will continue my strong support for the establishment of a High Court bench in Thiruvananthapuram. The stalemate has persisted long enough and energetic efforts are needed to press this issue to its logical conclusion.

Third, I will strongly support the development of world-class facilities in the state capital. It is good news that a new international convention centre complex will come up at Aakulam. This too will showcase Thiruvananthapuram's openness to the world.

And in our Information era, I welcome the news that a Rs 200 crore landing station is being set up in Thiruvananthapuram for the famous FALCON undersea optic fibre cable system, which will link four continents with over 65,000 Km of undersea links and put Kerala on the world map of data superhighways. As MP, I will work to ensure that that is the sort of project we keep attracting to Thiruvananthapuram. But, in our ecologically-conscious 21st century, it is equally relevant for Thiruvananthapuram to develop forward-looking ideas to celebrate and benefit from Kerala's astonishing biodiversity. I would like to make Thiruvananthapuram the capital of India's research into biodiversity. After all, the Tropical Botanical Garden and Research Institute at Palode is not far away, doing invaluable work to protect and enhance the treasures of our natural environment. We should seek to bring other such research institutes to our Thiruvananthapuram.

If we do things right, Thiruvananthapuram could easily become known across India as our equivalent of Boston or Cambridge in America -- an education capital for the region, attracting students from beyond our state. I will work to the best of my ability to this end.

Kerala should become a knowledge economy. Over 50 % of India's space scientists are already here. The new Indian Institute of Science Education and Research and the Indian Space Institute are coming up here. We must strengthen this as our USP and attract more such institutions to take advantage of the natural and human resources we offer. An excellent example is the Rajiv Gandhi Center for Biotechnology set up by the State and now directly under the Department Of Biotech, Government of India, which is doing cutting-edge research. I will push for the setting up of "technology incubators" which would attract scientific entrepreneurs and our own scientists to set up biotech based industries in Thiruvananthapuram - which would also lead to large employment. I will push hard for the realization of the proposed life science park being set up by the Industries Department of Kerala.

The list is not complete. The Asian School of Business already exists within Technopark and it is setting up a large campus not far from there. I will work to ensure that in a few years there will be many more such institutions in and around Thiruvananthapuram.

As a former NRI myself, I will strive to promote Kerala's ability to attract and use NRI funds for the state's development, particularly in the capital. I will seek to channel the talents available within Kerala to the great tasks described above, and also to bring Keralite expertise from around the world back to Kerala, and especially to Thiruvananthapuram. And I will do my to guide the municipal authorities of Thiruvananthapuram towards adopting the practices of other civic agencies which are acknowledged as the best around the globe. This includes working very hard to improve civic facilities in the city of Thiruvananthapuram. There was a time when our state capital was a model of civic planning; the well-drained streets would be dry within five minutes after a monsoon deluge. Today, when it rains, our principal streets are flooded and traffic disrupted. Potholes are common, bus shelters almost non-existent. Drinking water is erratic and power-cuts are a daily occurrence. Such basic facilities must be upgraded and I will work in partnership with the municipal authorities to bring state-of-the-art thinking to Thiruvananthapuram to resolve such problems without delay. In addition I will support the preservation of the great heritage buildings of the city and also fight to save its environment by supporting measures for the "greening" of the city and its suburbs. Thiruvananthapuram is, of course, not just an urban centre. I see a need for a metro line connecting Neyatinkkara, Nedumangad, and Attingal to the city, thus making it easy for people from these areas to travel to the capital for work. Similarly, I would work for the opening up of the waterway between Kovalam and Kollam through Varkala, which would benefit thousands of people in those communities as well as those living in the capital.

As the capital of the state, Thiruvananthapuram is inevitably the locus of political agitation, processions and demonstrations. That is unavoidable, but as MP I would work to ensure that such activity results in minimal disruption of the daily lives of the residents of the city. Why can't processions be obliged to march in single file on the side of the road, rather than occupying the entire carriageway? Why can't megaphones and loudspeakers be restricted to specific areas and times? Why should agitators be allowed to paralyze the lives, work, and travel of ordinary people going about their business? A consensus amongst all parties would help, but if this is not possible, the national legislature should take an interest in using the country's laws to benefit the common man and woman who wishes to lead their lives in peace.

These are just a few thoughts to improve our state capital.

Above all, I would keep my eyes, ears and mind open for new ideas and suggestions from the citizenry of Thiruvananthapuram. I pledge that my office in the city will be kept open six days a week to receive observations, complaints and suggestions from the people of Thiruvananthapuram, even when I am way in New Delhi. I will be a tireless advocate for Thiruvananthapuram nationally, internationally, and above all, locally. And I will ensure complete transparency about what I am doing with your mandate: I will publish details regularly of my actions and initiatives, provide full and audited accounts of the expenditure of MPLADS funds, and report regularly to the people about progress or lack thereof on the issues relating to their well-being. If Thiruvananthapuram is to be a global city of the 21st century, it deserves an MP who upholds the highest global standards of today.

If you share this vision for our great city and its surrounding district, and agree that we can make it an even better place to live, I humbly request you to please vote for me to help me make this vision a reality.

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