V. S. ACHUTHANANDAN
Chief Minister of Kerala
Chief Minister of Kerala
Let me at the outset congratulate the Ganasakti for this initiative to bring out a compendium on the role of left-led governments in India, especially Left Front govt. in West Bengal. My article will be confined to highlight the advancement in Kerala of the Left politics in general and LDF government in particular.
In the present era of globalization it has become a habit of even social democratic governments to pay special attention to the welfare of the rich than of masses. Only the Left governments are developing policies catering to the needs of masses. LDF government is one among them.
Left in Kerala has a tradition spanning over five decades of implementing a Left agenda. Through various measures including land reforms, democratization of many activities of the state, upholding and extending rights and freedom of workers, peasants, students, youth, women and other sections of people, ensuring social justice for the deprived classes and introducing decentralization at various levels of government, Left governments in Kerala developed a quality of life at a very low per capita expenditure which attracted attention of the whole world. They gave it a pet name, Kerala Model. The challenge has always been to preserve and enrich it in spite of the pro-rich policies of the central government and continuous intervention of UDF governments led by Congress to distort and undermine these popular achievements.
When the present LDF government assumed office, the state was in shambles literally. During the previous UDF rule Kerala, which was famous for religious amity, witnessed a number of communal clashes and murders. A series of sexual atrocities on women were committed. Various dastardly acts had become familiar sight. Now, according to central government records Kerala is the most peaceful state with minimum number of crimes. Communal strifes, atrocities on women and different types of crimes have been contained.
Owing to the neglect of the central government during the NDA and UPA rule, agricultural production, especially of commercial crops, as also their prices, had fallen leading to a large number of suicides by peasants. Central government had done nothing to prevent further loss of life. It was at this time the LDF government assumed office. Kerala also had witnessed suicides by a few hundred farmers during the UDF regime. LDF government appointed a debt commission to study the problem and announced a series of steps in support of families of the farmers who committed suicide and those in the grip of debt. These steps infused confidence among the peasantry so that the trend of suicide came to a stop in Kerala within a few months. The achievement will become evident when one compares it with states like Maharashtra which are still witnessing continued peasant suicides in spite of thousands of crores of rupees spent in the name of Vidarbha package and others.
The LDF government decided to give priority to intervention in primary sector recognizing the fact that it was to this sector the largest section of deprived people belonged. It gave substantial budgetary support to this sector which has infused confidence among people to seriously engage in agricultural operations, dairying and fisheries. LDF government has increased the support price of paddy from Rs 7 per kg in early 2006 to Rs 14 by now. This has resulted in the increase of paddy cultivation area by 60,000 acres and paddy production by about one lakh tons paddy. Production of vegetables, milk, fish, eggs and meat also has recorded marked increase as also income of those engaged in this sector. Cooperative banks have thrived under the patronage of LDF government and through them the government have arranged loans with zero or low interest to the various producers in the primary sector.
Women have gained most under the LDF government. They have been the worst affected by policies of globalization, liberalization and privatization of the UPA and UDF governments. In order to get them employed and able to have their own earnings LDF government organized them into SHGs which are tied together at panchyath, district and state levels through an organization called Kudumbasree which at present has a membership of 37 lakh women organized in about two lakh SHGs. They are engaged in production of paddy, vegetables, milk, meat, in the processing of various agricultural products, in many small scale industrial units and in rendering a number of services.
Majority of workers in Kerala are employed in traditional industries including coir, cashew, handloom, bamboo, etc. Because of the utter neglect of these sections by the central government and previous UDF government, number of days of work and wages they got dwindled in course of time. LDF government intervened in their favour by substantially increasing budget allotment and ensuring that workers got benefit of increase in production and price rise.
During the UDF rule most of the public sector industries were sustaining big losses. For that reason that government tried to close down many of them and even sell them. But the united resistance of workers irrespective of union affiliation prevented their sales. The LDF government on assuming office took effective steps with the cooperation of workers and experts with the result that now almost all of them are making profits. This imparted confidence and courage to the government to start nine new industrial concerns in public sector at a time when at the centre and many states public sector concerns are being handed over to private sector.
LDF government is implementing a major project of providing funds to all BPL families to have their own house. This project is named after E M S Nambudiripad, the first chief minister of Kerala. In the previous two five year plans about 8.5 lakh houses were provided in this manner mainly under the auspices of local bodies. Now, those who do not have any land of their own are being provided with land to put up the house. Most of the beneficiaries are the scheduled sections. If they were to get a house under IAY scheme, they would have had to wait for decades. Also, with the money given by the central government under IAY scheme it is not possible to put up even a hut in Kerala. In order to complete the scheme within the next year local bodies have taken loans amounting to Rs 3000 crores from cooperative banks on state government guarantee.
LDF government has given priority to SCs, STs and minorities in giving assistance of various types. This is based on the policy of social justice adopted by LDF for the past so many decades. The government had declared that one acre of land would be given to every landless tribal family. This assurance is being implemented now. also tens of thousands of landless dalit families have been given small pieces of land. In the matter of accessibility of education, health and so many basic necessities of life in the modern world Kerala has been able to extend them to almost all of these deprived and dispossessed sections. That is the basis of Kerala having a better social justice compared to many other states.
During the last three matriculation examinations the pass per cent in Kerala was more than 90 per cent. This result shows that a large number of children from backward sections pass the examination. This is a welcome change compared to previous years. Though SCs, STs and minorities are still lagging behind in various ways, their lot has substantially improved from what it was earlier.
Another area where Kerala is placed by central government at a higher pedestal is with regard to public distribution. Kerala has historically been a deficit state in the matter of food articles. For this reason some 45 years ago the centre allowed Kerala to have statutory rationing. Also most of articles of daily use come to Kerala from other states. This often gives a chance to traders to fleece the people. LDF governments over the years have developed a network of civil supplies stores and cooperative consumer stores which make wholesale purchase and distribute essential commodities at reasonable prices. Because of these measures which cost six hundred crores of rupees annually at present to government price rise of essential commodities in Kerala is the lowest according to central government.
Health system in Kerala has a huge network of allopathy, ayurveda and homeo hospitals in every panchayath in the form of PHCs, at the block level in the form of CHCs, and as general hospitals at important centers and as district hospitals in every district. New buildings and modern equipments are made available to many of them and necessary staff made available in every hospital. A Medicine Corporation is established to ensure proper availability of medicines in hospitals. Health insurance scheme introduced by central government is implemented in the state in a manner which make it more patient and family friendly.
There is no power cut or load shedding in Kerala for the past few years. This has been achieved by reducing transmission losses substantially and making people introduce CF lamps at their homes and workplaces. New projects to produce energy from a large number of mini and micro units as also from gas based units are in the offing. Kerala has one of the lowest tariff rates in the country.
The state being highly populated and having a network of backwaters, 41 rivers and a large area of marshy and wet lands, confronts with various kinds of environmental issues. The previous UDF government had in the name of development allowed widespread annihilation of forests, wetlands and privatization of public property including water bodies. The central government often invoke environment and forest laws to prevent implementation of projects that are highly essential for the development of the state, while at the same time giving sanction to application of hazardous chemicals in agriculture as pesticides and in industry as raw material. In the northern district of Kasargode a dangerous chemical, Endosulfan, used to be sprayed airily on cashew plantations. Now after so many years of spraying it is found to have caused various kinds of disabilities and diseases to young and old. While the central government still adopts a callous attitude towards the problem, the LDF government is giving health care, assistance of different nature to make the lives of affected people more bearable.
Two questions are to be normally expected: How do you find resources for all these expenditures? Is it enough for a government to bestow attention on socially and economically backward, differently abled and those stricken with diseases?
When LDF took office annual income of Kerala government was About Rs 10,000 crores. By management of resource mobilization this has increased over the years crossing Rs 20.000crores this year. The dictum followed by LDF is to mobilize more resources and meet higher expenses which is different from the dictum of UDF to collect less taxes and spend less. Less expenditure during their tenure meant less benefits and less support to the poorer sections of people. LDF government has cleared all outstanding arrears of welfare pensions due to various sections of deprived people. It has widened the benefits to the deprived by ensuring that there was enough resources to meet such demands.
In Kerala more than 50 per cent of people belong to middle class sections. Their youth, both girls and boys, are educated. They aspire better jobs. To ensure them jobs new avenues are to be created. Due to environmental problems and paucity of industrial raw materials certain kinds of industry are not acceptable to Kerala. IT, tourism, Biotechnology, etc are some of the fields suited to it. In the IT sector projects for two major IT parks at Thiruvananthapuram and Kochi and a number of smaller parks in different districts are at different stages of implementation. Already they offer more than 20,000 jobs. Once completed they are expected to offer more than 2,00,000 opportunities of different kinds. Kerala being a tourist destination of people from far and near, tourism industry is bound to grow here offering umpteen job opportunities. Necessary groundwork for this has already been carried out. Recent advance in the field of biotechnology has opened up wide areas of development and employment for a state like Kerala. It has rich deposits of rare metals like Titanium, Thorium, etc. Schemes to use them for producing high value added products are being prepared which in future will open up a number of opportunities to the educated sections.
This shows that the path of development envisaged by LDF in Kerala offer opportunities of growth not only to forward sections of the society, as is normally done by promoters of globalization, but to the deprived sections as well. This trajectory of growth will ensure all round development of the country. Also it will prevent confrontation and conflict between various sections of society usually sponsored by the ruling classes on the basis of religion, caste, ethnicity, language, etc.