The architect of land reforms, Gouri Amma was also behind India’s largest technopark

KR Gouri Amma, a stalwart of the Communist movement in Kerala who breathed her last early Tuesday morning, is remembered the most for piloting a revolutionary legislation that ushered land reforms in the state. But perhaps, less-talked-about, is the mark she left behind in the industrial and IT sectors in the state when she handled the industries portfolio in successive Left governments through the 80s and early 90s.

Significant among her contributions is undoubtedly the birth of Technopark, which is today India’s largest IT park in terms of developed area and home to over 400 firms and over 50,000 professionals. The idea for the park, located near Thiruvananthapuram, was conceived in early 1990 when EK Nayanar was the chief minister and Gouri Amma the industries minister.

It bloomed during a visit to the US in which KPP Nambiar, a veteran technocrat and founder-director of Keltron, showed a delegation of Nayanar, Gouri Amma and other officials glimpses of how tech firms functioned in Silicon Valley.

Upon returning to Kerala, Gouri Amma began efforts on building an industrial park near the state capital and Nambiar was entrusted with the job of chairman of the project board. Through Nambiar, G Vijaya Raghavan was brought in as the ‘officer on special duty – tech parks’ who later became CEO, Technopark.

Raghavan, upon Gouri Amma’s demise, recalled in a Facebook post, “She was a person who, once she was determined to do something, would ensure it was done. We were looking for land for Technopark and many sites that we liked did not work out. We then identified land at Kariavattom university campus (of Kerala University), I told her about this possibility. She picked up the phone and called two of the syndicate members, G Sudhakaran (now a minister) and Devadas, both CPM members, and asked them to meet her at her home.”

KR Gouri Amma (Photo: Twitter/@vijayanpinarayi)

“I was also asked to join the discussion. She told them that Technopark is a very important project of the government and 50 acres of land needs to be given. She said, ‘it is your responsibility to ensure that it is done soon’. When they tried to say something, she said the decision is taken so get it done. I worked closely with them and at the next syndicate meeting, made a presentation. The syndicate approved it and then went to the senate who also approved it. District Collector Nalini Netto was asked to fix the price. We paid Rs 50 lakhs for the first 50 acres of land,” he wrote, stressing that it was Gouri Amma’s determination that moved the usually slow bureaucracy to get things done.

When the Technopark Governing Council came into being, she became its first chairperson. The foundation stone of the project was also laid under her tenure though the development of the buildings and infrastructure continued under successive regimes.

She stood out by declining to intervene in appointments to leadership posts and instead entrusting the team of Nambiar and Raghavan to do the needful. “Once she called me up and said, ‘I know you wont take this person but just interview him and send him off. One of my senior party people has been continuously pestering me. I saw the person and later told her that he would not fit and she said no problem,” Raghavan wrote.

Gowri Amma, for decades, remained a constant fixture of all Left-led governments until the early 90s, serving a diverse array of portfolios from revenue, agriculture, social welfare, industry, excise, food and public distribution to coir. (Express Photo)

When months passed by and Raghavan didn’t get his salary or arrears, Gouri Amma was furious. She called the Industries secretary and told him not to come to her office until the issue was resolved. Raghavan’s salary, along with arrears, arrived the next day.

“She helped in terms of professionalising the public sector to an extent as the industries minister. She used to make it clear to managing directors of companies that if they didn’t have information, it was going to be a problem. They would gather information and most of the times, she would have more information than they had,” Raghavan told indianexpress.com over a phone call.

“She knew what was happening in all establishments under the department. That made the difference. We talked of 5000 jobs at the time (in Technopark) and a lot of people said it won’t happen,” he said, adding that she studied every file as if she had an examination the next day.

“She was said to be short-tempered but I have never seen her shout at anyone for something that was not reasonable. For her, it was difficult to accept incompetence and she would scold people for that,” he wrote in the post.

Gouri Amma, said Raghavan, was especially instrumental in persuading Ratan Tata to invest in Kerala’s hospitality sector. “It was the beginning of the Taj investments in Kerala,” he said.