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Kerala royal summer retreat goes to NRI tycoon
By Ashraf Padanna July 28, 2017
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TRIVANDRUM: After a prolonged legal battle, the Kerala cabinet on Thursday decided to leave Halcyon Castle, the summer retreat of the erstwhile royalty, to RP Group of Bahrain-based billionaire Ravi Pillai.

According to a WhatsApp communication from Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan’s office, 10.21 acres of land and the castle on it on a cliff facing the Arabian Sea in the famed tourist destination of Kovalam would now be in possession of the group.

However, it said, the government was transferring the property retaining its right to move a court of law if it wanted to take back its possession.

It pointed out that the group had filed a petition in the Kerala High Court for contempt of court proceedings against the government not following the court order that vests its rights with them, limiting its options.

Though the group’s Raviz Hotels and Resorts owned the priced property, its previous owners, The Leela group, which bought it from MFar group of another NRI businessman P Mohammed Ali, still manages it.

The seaside luxury hotel has 125 garden and beach view rooms and 49 club rooms with dedicated butler and exclusive club spa and gymnasium.

It reached in the hands of Oman-based Ali from the state-run India Tourism Development Corporation (ITDC) through a transparent bidding process in 2002 as part of the federal policy to divest enterprises draining public money.

A year later, the state government headed by Congress leader AK Antony took over the castle under tremendous pressure from Vijayan’s Communist Party of India (Marxist), which led a violent campaign, paving the way for a prolonged legal battle.

The state government, which took over the property in 1962 from the Travancore royal family and handed over to the ITDC for its Asok Beach Resort project in 1970, was since maintaining it, though poorly.

The legal battle hiring the most expensive lawyers also cost the exchequer dearly.

Though the government last year moved the Supreme Court against the High Court order restoring its possession to its current owner, that was rejected, following which the group started contempt procedures.

The MFar group, which also owns the Le Meridien in Kochi, acquired the loss-making property spread over 65 acres in 2002 for Rs 440 million and sold to The Leela in 2005 for Rs 1.2 bn after renovation.

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