Oceanarium caught up in a controversy

| 17 July 1998 23:10 IST

The department of ocean development of Government of India has come under fire for scandalously delaying Asia's biggest oceanarium project, to be located in Goa. The contract is allegedly given to Studio C, an Australian firm, without checking its credentials.

Countering the government view at a heated debate during the ongoing Assembly session, the opposition however has held Goa's science and technology minister Mauvin Godinho responsible for negligently finalising the international bids called for the prestigious project worth Rs 100 crore.

The Goa government had signed an agreement with Goa Theme Park Pvt Ltd, a Goan firm floated by Studio C and its Indian subsidiary Bharat Oceanic Recoveries Pvt Ltd, in December '96 with a pre-condition to commission it by August this year. The company however has not even begun preliminary work at the site till date while shifting its local office to Thiruvananthapuram.

Dr Kashinath Jalmi, who raised furore over the issue in the House, alleges that the Australian firm is a fraud, having no experience of oceanariums anywhere in the world. He also alleges that their senior engineer Rodney Wright, who takes credit for several such projects, was merely a site engineer earlier with the Singapore-based Alliance Technologies and Development Ltd (ATD).

Gordon Crowther of the Studio C however claims to have built several oceanariums including the ones in Singapore, China, Perth and Sydney. The House was stunned when Jalmi showed copies of the letters he had received from all these oceanariums, expressing total ignorance about Studio C.

Chief minister Pratapsing Rane, who also supports Godinho's stand that the state government has no active role to play into it, has now assured to find out about the firm's credentials as well as the reasons behind the DOD contracting out the project to the Australian firm.

But BJP MLA Manohar Parrikar categorically points out that the DOD is merely a nodal agency and Studio C was given contract solely at Godinho's initiative. Rane however has accepted his demand to recover the revenue Goa has lost due to unwarranted delay in completing the project.

Growther also appears to have been claiming that his firm was selected from among 16 bidders when actually only two bids were received. The state minister has also dismissed Studio C's claim that they have been exempted from entertainment tax on the project, which would be built on BOOM basis.

Growther also sought FIPB approval for the project, assuring to generate 75 per cent funds from within India. Investigations have now revealed that the foreign companies he has collaborated with are his own companies, with different names. The project also got delayed because he could not raise the required amount of money in last two years.

The state government however has leased out 32,000 sq mts of prime land at Miramar beach to the Australian firm for a song when its market price today is above Rs 5000 per sq mt. While having no restriction on the price of tickets, the government would earn only three per cent on its gross sale.

Besides having world's largest underwater aquarium, curved acrylic tunnel, touch pool and external turtle pool, the prestigious project of the country would also have research-based facilities here including a laboratory, marine archaeological museum and multi-media plaza.

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