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Kochi hosted a widely publicized event intended to market the investment possibilities of God’s Own Country last week, an overview
Talking to media persons who visited Kerala chief minister Oomen Chandy at his residence, a few days prior to the celebration that was “Emerging Kerala” inside the air-conditioned comforts of a posh star hotel in Kochi last week, had focused his talk on Kerala’s infrastructure needs and made an emphatic statement that “money is not a problem”. When the CM emerged after the event, focus had shifted from the prioritized projects to the financial ‘commitments’ made by investors who attended the meet.
Reserve bank of India (RBI) deputy governor Subir Gokarn was a lone sane voice in the sound and fury created by the indoor festival that was “Emerging Kerala” in Kochi. He said the state should exploit the inherent strengths while planning for economic development. Kerala has all the potential to develop at par with some of the developed countries. A long sea shore, round the year comfortable weather, several rivers that can provide energy (electricity), irrigation and transport facilities in that order, across the state literacy of over 90%, substantial remittances from abroad, an enviable topography and history which can attract tourists round the year and so on are blessings other states in India do not share. It has to be said to the credit of the Kerala government that some projects which had some of these features as the basis had been there in the list showcased for ‘sale’ at the meet. But, in all probability, these did not get many takers, in the Utsav that was Emerging Kerala. One wishes that the RBI deputy governor’s mention about inherent strengths would open the eyes of powers that be who will be taking the initiative forward. The immediate impression one gets is that all, including the CM, got lured by the promise of ‘investment’ (read more per capita debt and a rise in import which will have an impact on forex position) and crowding of projects in and around Kochi leaves one with the doubt why it was not marketed as “Emerging Kochi”.
Projects, which were under discussion before the event, included 57 minor irrigation projects with capacity to produce an aggregate 170 MW power.
After concluding the event, the chief minister briefed reporters about an investment commitment of over Rs40,000 crore which include the proposed investment of Rs20,000 crore in certain projects by BPCL, an investment of Rs2,000 crore in an assembling unit by German car major Volkswagen, a Rs1,250 crore agro-processing unit by Agronomy Farms in Kannur, a Water City costing Rs3,000 crore by Dubai Phoenix in Kochi, a Smart Township and IT park with an investment of Rs1,300 crore in Kottayam by the Aabad Group, and healthcare establishments at five centres costing an aggregate amount of Rs2,150 crore by Dubai DM Healthcare Group. Reports show that certain other ventures like a huge underwater aquarium, a laser light show, a ship maintenance facility at Kochi and a University complex are also being considered.
On the whole, one gets an impression that the effort is going to be to replicate Dubai or Singapore in Kerala. Nothing wrong in it economically. Let me express my pain in the heart in a different way.
While I was in the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad in early 1990s attending a short programme, Professor Anil Gupta talked about ‘pre-industrial’, ‘industrial’ and ‘post-industrial’ societies. Guptaji’s words have come back to my mind in different contexts since then. Last year, we visited Dubai during the Shopping Festival. The places to which we were taken in Dubai and the people we met there during our short stay of 4 days made me think again and again and again about the civilization and people that would have existed before Dubai’s oil-dependent economic development took roots somewhere in the1960s. My enquiries about the people who lived in the geographical area which is now covered by United Arab Emirates or the real beneficiaries of the economic boom of the recent past did not fetch convincing answers. I wonder, when my grandson who is in Class 3 now in a Mumbai school visits Kerala after 10 years may repeat my Dubai question, “Where are the locals?” and his hosts or guides may be as evasive as my Dubai friends, unless the concept of development in the minds of our leaders does not get a makeover.
(MG Warrier is a freelancer based in Mumbai. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)