State of Growth

State of Growth

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A hugely significant meet like ‘Emerging Kerala 2012’ shows that the leadership is focused on turning Kerala into one of the most developed states in India, writes T B Venugopal

When India achieved independence, Kerala was going through a golden period of industrialization, thanks to the enlightened and progressive royal rulers, especially of Travancore and Kochi. Historically, these pious rulers had been the pioneers in many fields in the country. Thinking ahead of their times, they promoted free universal education, helped to start schools, encouraged English education, started colleges, opened temples to people who were considered untouchables for long, set up hospitals, encouraged power generation, started public transport, provided help for setting up port and even financed railway lines. Because of their farsighted policies, the state had well-diversified industries by the mid-19th century which ran profitably till the early 1960s. In fact, it can be said that Kerala had emerged in all its glory long ago.

 

Missed opportunities

Kerala gradually lost its competitive advantage on the development front mainly as a result of the political path chosen by the leadership after the formation of the state in 1956.

If the new leadership of Kerala had not failed to follow the progressive steps taken by their own dethroned Rajas and their dewans with equal commitment, the state might have probably become a present-day Singapore or Dubai decades ago from the point of view of development while keeping the best of Kerala’s inherent natural gifts intact. Others might have looked at the state as a role model for development. Not only did it not happen, the state was left far behind by the less developed neighboring states. Skilled and unskilled workers migrated to the Gulf countries, followed by the educated youth from 1970s onwards. This phenomenon was only short-lived, and the problem of unemployment resurfaced in the state once the Gulf boom withered away towards the end of the last century.

A new awakening

The state only realized at the dawn of the 21st century that it had been overtaken by less fortunate regions. It was only then that the political leadership decided to catch up with the modern world, leading to the first Global Investors Meet in 2003.

Explaining the rationale behind the meet, the then Chief Minister of Kerala A K Antony said: “The government is helpless. It has no money. Government revenue is not enough even to meet its own expenditure or pay the salaries of government employees. The government can no longer be a big employment agency. It will be a disservice to the people if the government continues to cling to the old and resist change…. Until now, Kerala has failed to find itself a place in the list of investment destinations in south India, which are attractive to domestic or foreign private capital. This situation has to change. The government has to become a catalyst that encourages private capital to prevent Kerala from continuing to be the state with the largest number of educated unemployed in India.” Though the fact mentioned by CM was known to everybody for very long, bold action by successive governments had been lacking. The GIM, in a way, was a game-changer for Kerala. It did not change the ground reality immediately. But, people realized that the leadership was ready to bite the bullet.

Kerala gradually changed for the better. Developmental agenda came to the forefront of political discourse in the state. Today, the state’s Chief Minister is Oommen Chandy. It is his second term as the CM. In fact, he had succeeded AK Antony, the present Defense Minister, in his first term. Chandy is another votary of development of the state, a man with a passion for fast economic development. He is the only Kerala CM to ever attend the Word Economic Conference during his earlier term. Also, the state has got an Industries Minister in PK Kunhalikutty, the face of Kerala’s industry for long who was the main force behind both the global investment meets.

And, then came ‘Emerging Kerala’ 2012.

Vision

To make Kerala a premier global hub of economic activity by fostering entrepreneurship and industry, which could leverage its inherent strengths, resulting in equitable socio-economic growth.

Mission

To present and showcase Kerala and create awareness among all stakeholders: enterprises, the Government, institutions, leaders and influencers, investors and general public, through continuous engagement and connect initiatives, while simultaneously creating the right environment to facilitate the transformation of Kerala into a business hub and preferred investment destination.

Building on the excellent socio-development foundations like high literacy and high life expectancy, the state now proposes to bring on board partners who can help unleash the latent potential of the state for the benefit of all stakeholders. With this picture in mind, the Government of Kerala has brought together constituents from all walks of life under the umbrella of a biennial global connect event positioned as ‘Emerging Kerala.’ It has been emphasized that the intent is to elucidate thoughts and ideas that would be put into action for the common good elsewhere in the country and other places around the globe.

Ensuring success

About 50 countries, 2500 delegates and 300 VIPs comprising ambassadors, high commissioners and ministers from several countries participated in the meet held after a long road show in the country and abroad. Investors from private sector and public sector and NRI investors attended the meet. Some of the existing major successful industries in the public and private sectors in the state like BPCL and Apollo Tyres reiterated their commitment to Kerala by offering substantial investment. The offers from private investors and NRIs were more in less risky areas like hospitality, entertainment, education, real estate and low technology ventures.

After the event, the Chief Minister announced an initial investment offer of about Rs 40,000 crore which included the proposed major investment of nearly Rs 18,000 crore in petrochemical projects by BPCL. The final figure is expected to be revealed only after a close scrutiny of the proposals. Substantial commitments have been made by the existing public sector and private sector players to ensure that the state will witness a lot of developmental activities in the near future.

Apart from the investment figures, the event attracted the interest of the people, especially the educated youth, to the new and emerging opportunities in the state. People understood the need for more and fast development. The efforts that have gone into organizing an event like this can never go waste in the present-day competitive world of attracting investments. It is a price that must be paid for the long-term development of the state.

It is all about leadership

One aspect that must be kept in mind by those who passionately stand for development is that the state needs to exploit its inherent strengths while planning for development. Kerala has always had the potential to develop at par with some of the neighboring developed countries (not states), given its high human development index. The long seashore, comfortable weather, several rivers that can provide power, irrigation and transport facilities, highest literacy rate, ever-growing remittances from abroad, an enviable topography and a GDP growth of more than the national average are blessings that must be utilized. It is a tough challenge, but the highly competent political leadership that the state currently has can ensure that the state shines more brightly on the nation’s map.

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Somanjana Chatterjee

Somanjan Chatterjee is San Francisco based consulting editor