On a Serious Mission to Facilitate Malabar’s Development


Thiruvananthapuram: Fifteen years ago, Dr. Azad Moopen took a major initiative in the Malabar’s healthcare sector by setting up MIMS (now Aster MIMS), a pioneering institute in super specialty treatment which went on to become the first hospital in the country to attain NABH accreditation. Now, the physician-turned entrepreneur is on a different mission – ‘Build a Better Malabar for the Next Generation’. Dr. Moopen, the Chairman and Managing Director of Aster DM Healthcare, also heads Greater Malabar Initiative (GMi), a professional body comprising like-minded entrepreneurs working for the development of Malabar region in North Kerala.

In an exclusive chat with Destination Kerala, Dr. Moopen shares the origin of GMi, its vision and the objectives of GMi’s first initiative, Kerala Investment Conclave (KIC) 2016.

What was the inspiration behind launching Greater Malabar Initiative? Kindly share the story.

If you look at the development in Kerala, you will see that Malabar region has always been lagging behind due to diverse reasons. It is a reality. Take for instance, the tourism sector. In South, there is a famous tourism circuit involving Kumarakom, Munnar and Kovalam. Despite having the same kind of potential, or rather more, no such circuits have been developed in North Kerala yet.

The immediate provocation to think about setting up an organisation was the issue of Calicut International Airport, Karipur. Till recently, as everyone knows, it was one of the busiest airports in India. However, due to the instability of the runway, the authorities partially closed it, resulting in drastic reduction of services by various airlines and cancellation of all wide-bodied aircraft operations to and from Kozhikode. This resulted in hardships not only to travellers from the districts of Kozhikode, Malappuram and Wayanad, but also adversely affected farmers and exporters from this region because of the lack of enough export cargo movement of perishables to the Gulf area. Similarly, when the Union Government recently announced the list of cities identified for the Smart Cities Mission, Kozhikode was not included. Having noticed all these, we thought why not we exercise our soft power to exert pressure on decision-makers and try to make things happen for Kozhikode, thereby ensuring the development of the entire Malabar region.

Like other organisations in Kozhikode, GMi is also a social outfit and the official inauguration will be held during KIC. However, we want things to be done in a professional way. Hence, we have appointed a CEO. With the founders as promoters, a company has been set up. The whole idea is to identify the requirements of Malabar and act as a facilitator for the government and ensure the overall development of the region. The membership is open. We started the membership campaign around six months ago and the response has been overwhelming.

What do you expect from Kerala Investment Conclave (KIC) 2016? How is it going to be different from Emerging Kerala?

The difference will be in the approach, the way it will be organised. Three of the Big Five consulting firms – KPMG, PwC (PricewaterhouseCoopers) and E&Y (Ernst & Young) – will present actionable projects before the highly distinguished delegates. There will be HNWIs from Kerala, other States, potential investors from the GCC countries and representatives of trade bodies in the Middle East. For the time being, we are not divulging the list of participants. There will not be any big ticket announcements at the venue. As an investor, I believe that those things are nothing but a farcical exercise. You cannot take such decisions in a day or within a month. We will showcase whatever is possible and let the investors take the final call after conducting proper study.

Parallely, GMi will identify potential investors in each sector from the delegates and do proper follow-up. We will act only as a facilitator between the investors and the government. At the same time, there are certain things which the investors themselves have to execute for the project to materialise. GMi will not act on their behalf to secure sanctions and permissions from the concerned authorities. We will always put the true face before them. However, we can arrange meetings, provide inputs and support them locally. We believe that is the most feasible way of soliciting investment.

In your view, what role should the government play to support GMi and KIC?

We are happy that the State Government has extended complete support for the initiative, especially the Industries and the Tourism Departments. Kerala State Industrial Development Corporation (KSIDC) is one of the partners of KIC 2016. It has also taken a decision to set up an office in Kozhikode. Being one of the Directors of KSIDC, I can clearly say that the decision would help create better connect between the government as well as the industry in Northern Kerala.

The main issue that hampers mega projects across Malabar is protest from local people. What should be done to take the public into confidence?

GMi has just commenced operations. Regarding the issue of local protest, I do not think GMi can do anything more than what other civic bodies are doing. We do not want to orchestrate agitations and add one more ‘black day’ or ‘hartal’ in this connection. Land acquisition is the issue and the permanent solution to this is to provide proper and adequate rehabilitation package. Also, there should be political will to execute the decision. At the same time, we will continue our efforts to meet the decision-makers and expedite measures. For instance, I have met Amitabh Kant IAS, CEO, Niti Aayog twice and conveyed to him the need for including Kozhikode in Smart Cities Mission project.

As far as Calicut International Airport is concerned, the immediate requirement is to obtain permission for operating wide-bodied aircraft. We have been constantly following up with the Ministry of Civil Aviation in this regard. Though the airlines are ready to operate with the existing facility, the Ministry is withholding permission citing safety reasons. Meanwhile, as I have mentioned earlier, land acquisition is the only solution for the next phase development of Calicut International Airport. Even if we complete the process now, it will take four to five years to complete the work. However, I am optimistic that it will happen.

What are the prospects of healthcare industry in Malabar?

Of late, Kerala has been witnessing good developments in the healthcare industry. Generally, the State has been promoted as a wellness tourism destination. Wellness tourism related to Ayurveda has been our brand. Now, it is high time we shifted the focus to healthcare tourism involving both allopathy and Ayurveda treatments. At our hospitals – Aster Medcity and Aster MIMS, lot of foreigners are coming for treatment especially from the Gulf region for various medical procedures. We have to launch more campaigns showcasing the treatment capabilities available in Kerala and strive to become a Medical Value Travel (MVT) destination.