What emerges out of 'Emerging Kerala'?

Everything needs an inspiration. Unfortunately not all inspirations make good story lines. That is why inspirations as banal as making easy money do not count for stories even when glaringly true. So here is the inspirational story behind 'Emerging Kerala' as told by our adorable CM himself.

Once upon a time, when I participated in an NRI meet, I was stumped by this question from a Malayalee. "In the last twenty years that I have been sweating out in this desert, I could spend hardly two and half years with my family. I'm a single child to my aged parents who live alone in my hometown. Can I get a job in Kerala?"

And then it all began. A 3-day investor meet from September 12 to 14 in Kochi, expected to have cost 15 crore rupees to the state exchequer.

A bouquet of opportunities for the world to take note of, Emerging Kerala 2012, is your opportunity to explore, invest and establish your business interests in Kerala. With a pro-active administration and investment-friendly policies, this is your gateway to make a mark on the industrial playground of Kerala.

Thus read the ad-line on the banner of the website for this 3-day event called 'Emerging Kerala'. There was not a mention about that elusive "job in Kerala". The event identified a lot of 'priority sectors' and even listed out 11 'mega projects'. But estimates on the number of jobs to be created by each project and in each sector were mostly conspicuous by their absence. It is so utterly clear from the website and the shrill propaganda around it, that job creation is the least, if not the absent priority in this event.

Is it because the event is an interface to the capitalists and they just don't care about the number and kind of jobs? Or may be it is because in these days they do care. A budding entrepreneur whom I had talked to recently told me that less the number of unskilled and semi-skilled people he has to deal with, the better. That is probably why sectors like the financial sector is in vogue these days. And yes, there is indeed a proposal to set up 'hub' to offer professional courses in the financial sector in Ernakulam.

The event

The event, to put it mildly, was a comedy of errors. The state capital was shifted to Kochi for a few days! Even on the day of the event, no one was sure as to which is the final list of projects on offer. A 100 something list of projects were initially put up on the website. When some of them generated strong criticisms from within the ruling front, CM admitted that the list of projects were not screened and the chief secretary was entrusted with screening the same in 24 hours time. Some of the projects which were rejected by the screening, later made a miraculous reappearance on the website. The media helped the government a bit by parking a lot of discussion around a proposed night club at Veli.

What is becoming increasingly clear is that most of the projects which succeeded in wooing investors were proposals for shopping malls, tourist resorts, hotels, convention centers and five-star hospitals. How much new jobs it will create, and how much existing ones it will destroy is left to be seen.

Among the dissenting voices, what got most media attention was the dissent raised by a team of 6 MLA's from the ruling front, fondly called the 'Green MLAs'. But the irony within the comedy, that the 'Green MLAs' were led by Mr. Shreyams Kumar, who hails from one of the biggest landholding families in north Kerala, was largely missed.

The inaugural speech by the Prime Minister poured cold water over the event by not announcing anything new for the state. Probably he was busy tabulating reasons as to why a diesel price hike was the need of the hour for the country. But the star of the show was the other Singh, Mr. Montek who made it to the headlines by declaring that Kerala should move away from paddy cultivation and find better uses for its land. No one needs to guess these days as to whose use this Flying Singh refers to every time.

The concluding press conference was no less hilarious, with the finance minister and chief minister having different figures on the amount of investment attracted by the meet. A list of projects which attracted investors during the meet was initially given to the media by the Public Relations Department (PRD). But this was later disowned by the CM, stating that it was the list by some advertisement company, and that the Government will publish the list only after detailed discussions. Who knows, if there was a project in the meet to convert the PRD to an advertisement company!

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Among the dissenting voices, what got most media attention was the dissent raised by a team of 6 MLA's from the ruling front, fondly called the Green MLAs Photo: Greenthougts Kerala

True to the spirit of the event, the outcomes still remain in the realm of speculation. But what is becoming increasingly clear is that most of the projects which succeeded in wooing investors were proposals for shopping malls, tourist resorts, hotels, convention centers and five-star hospitals. How much new jobs it will create, and how much existing ones it will destroy is left to be seen. But what can be seen for sure is a Kerala that will emerge into the shopping malls and submerge not much later into a five-star hospital bed.

What was on offer?

A one word answer should fetch 90% marks here - Land. That the CM chose to reiterate on every speech that not an inch of land would be sold only made it more suspicious. But the Group CEO of TECOM Abdul Latheef Al Mulla spoiled the plot when he made it clear that the much awaited 'Smart City' project of the state would be a full township and that IT will be only one of the four clusters in Smart City, the others being a residential complex, a shopping mall and a theater complex. But to understand the scale of land abuse that was on the cards, it is important to take note of a few specific projects showcased in the meet. The Kochi Petrochemicals Project was a project envisaged by the previous LDF government on a land of 600 acres. This appears as the PCPIR project in Emerging Kerala with a proposed land acquisition of 10,000 acres in Kochi. The Kochi-Palakkad NIMZ project, another proposal in the list, demands 13,000 acres of land. The land alloted for Cheemeni gas power plant is 1621 acres while the previous power minister, A. K. Balan certifies that the actual requirement is only 50 acres. Mr. Balan also points out that the power sector projects kept on sale at the Emerging Kerala meet are those which could be easily executed by the State Electricity Board as was demonstrated by the last Government.

There were enough clues before the event itself that the UDF Government has up its sleeves some drastic plans to alter the land use patterns in Kerala. One was the move by the Government to legalize all the conversions of paddy fields into dry lands that happened up to 2005. The next was the plan to sabotage the 13 conditions laid down by the previous Government for Special Economic Zones, which were incorporated considering the specificities of Kerala. The main condition that pricked inside the boots of the lurking land grabbers was that in the land leased from SEZs, at least 70 percent should be used for industrial purposes only.

There were enough clues before the event itself that the UDF Government has up its sleeves some drastic plans to alter the land use patterns in Kerala. One was the move by the Government to legalize all the conversions of paddy fields into dry lands that happened up to 2005.

With so much of land under the bulldozer, the project reports are silent on the amount of human displacement it will produce in a densely occupied state like Kerala. It was only after the wide spread protests against the human displacement caused by the proposed High Speed Rail Corridor, that the Government started coming up with numbers. Strange numbers it were - counting 2.5 house-holds per acre of land in the proposed route from Thiruvananthapuram to Kochi.

Apart from land if anything was on sale, it was Malayalee's penchant for low quality goods packaged in flashy plastic boxes and kept on grand display at shopping malls, food courts and private educational institutions.

Voices of dissent

There was strong dissent from the opposition parties which boycotted the event. There were protests from numerous other organisations. KSSP organised a people's collective for an alternative development model. The Green MLA's too got a rather disproportionate share of the limelight. The protests were not allowed within 2 kilometers of the venue and were threatened with dire consequences if they crossed the particular line. May be next time the government will be more imaginative and come up with a Special Protest Zone. It was not just the protesters who were cleared off the premises, but so were the roadside vendors.

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KSSP organised a people's collective for an alternative development model. Photo: KSSP

Most of the protests were around the adverse environmental impact of the proposed projects. Some of the groups and intellectuals were naive enough to rest the entire blame on a few individuals in the bureaucracy. The left parties have categorically stated that what this event exemplifies is the submission of the UDF Government to the neo-liberal notion of development. There has been attempts at projecting alternative development models both in the form of new proposals and also in pointing out examples from the 2006-11 period. What makes this attempt by the UDF Government to add fuel to the neo-liberal development so repugnant, is that it comes right after a 5 year period that saw a commendable success of the socially conscious development model by the state of Kerala, albeit with all the limitations of a federal system. Even when the last Government was a failure in terms of controlling the dangerous trends in private education and real estate sectors, it deserves full credit for the revival of a productive atmosphere in the state - be it in the agricultural sector through collective farming and Kudumbasree or in the industrial sector by increasing government spending, building infrastructure, reviving public sector units and encouraging small and medium enterprises.

What the dissenters did not voice

Those who debate whether the proposal of a Night Life Zone, with discotheques and cabaret theaters is good for Kerala missed the most important point. That the most obscene of the cabarets was this very event called Emerging Kerala. It was surely the UDF Government on stage, with costumes that can barely hide its tainted history, flexing its body into impossible postures to lure the audience. But, we should look behind the stage to see that this Government is just a dancer hired by much bigger fish. The genre and the list of songs is decided by the big capitalists with an eye on the priced natural resources of this gifted state. With the kind of money and power they enjoy, they can buy the bureaucrats, they can buy environment clearances, they can buy research surveys, they can bury the alternatives, they can buy out entire governments and they can even buy out some of the protests. It is suicidal for the protesters to under-estimate their might.

The first step in fighting against these giants armed with the state on one hand and the media on the other is to see them in their entirety. To realise that even a people friendly state government is severely handicapped to deal with its might. To realise that full employment is incompatible with capitalism. To realise that our portion of the planet cannot sustain capitalism far longer. To realise that what we need is a radical redistribution of the resources and a rewriting of the laws on ownership of natural resources and means of production. To realise that all this is nothing short of a revolution. And finally to realise that if this demands a revolution, then there shall be one.

A desalambrar, a desalambrar!
que la tierra es nuestra, tuya y de aquel

Tear down the fences! Tear down the fences!
This land is ours, mine and yours

~ written by Daniel Viglietti, sung by Victor Jara, 1969