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Birla Group plans Rs 4,000 cr Knowledge Park in Kerala

Kumar Mangalam Birla
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Left Democratic Front meets today to consider the proposal

Kumar Mangalam Birla-led Group plans to invest over Rs 4,000 crore in future technologies by setting up a Knowledge Park and a branch of the Birla Institute of Technology and Sciences (BITS) at Kozhikode in Kerala.

The ruling Left Democratic Front (LDF) will consider the proposal from the Birla Group at its meeting tomorrow.

The commodity-driven business group, so far mainly into manufacturing sectors like cement, metals and fertilisers, plans to float a separate company under group company Grasim Industries to invest in nanotechnology, biotechnology, cutting-edge research and development (R&D), knowledge process management, besides advanced information technology (IT) services at the proposed park, said a group executive.

Elamaram Kareem, Kerala industries and commerce minister, told Business Standard that the Knowledge Park, one of the largest of its kind in India, will come up on 320 acres of land at Mavoor in the suburbs of Kozhikode city on the site of a defunct pulp and fibre unit owned by Gwalior Rayons (now Grasim).

Sources said the Birla group also plans to set up an arm of at the site at the state government’s request. Kozhikode already houses two nationally renowned higher education centres — the National Institute of Technology (NIT) and the Indian Institute of Management (IIM). The Birla group is looking to tap the synergy of these two institutes working in tandem with the project.

The Knowledge Park is the result of a suggestion made by the government that Grasim consider setting up non-polluting projects at the site of the factory, which was closed in 2001 owing to cheap competition from imported fibre and an intense environmental agitation against the management for polluting the Chaliyar River, the lifeline of Kozhikode city.

As part of plans to revive the fortunes of the erstwhile Gwalior Rayons, the former government led by the Congress had suggested that the Birlas either set up another industry or return the land to the state government. The government had also decided to take back the land, invoking provisions of the Land Reforms Act, if the management failed to develop an alternative project

Later, the Birla Group filed a case against the government on the land issue in the high court. Kareem said the LDF government was keen to settle the issue out of court, as the proposed project, which is 30 km away from the Karipur International Airport, is crucial for the development of the state.

Kareem, who was once associated with Gwalior Rayons as a trade union leader, said the Birla blueprint envisaged creating direct employment for over 100,000 professionals and indirect employment for 300,000 people.

T Balakrishnan, Principal Secretary (Industries), Kerala, said the government would give its final approval after the LDF green signal.

Sources said the group had hired an international consultant for a detailed feasibility study on possible non-polluting industrial ventures at Mavoor, where the Birlas had set up a rayon-grade pulp unit in 1962 and a fibre factory six years later.

Mavoor was in the news in the early part of this decade for the alleged suicide of about 11 of the 3,000-plus workers who lost their jobs when the factory closed.

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