THE LDF government in Kerala came into office a year ago. It was a juncture when the deleterious effects of imperialist globalisation aggravated by the financial crisis of 2007-08 was being felt in the country and in Kerala.
Kerala is also part of the structure, where the present central government is on an overdrive to implement neoliberal policies which fuels globalisation. The RSS which is the driving force behind the BJP led NDA government at the centre is relentless at its efforts to rewrite India as a homogenous entity. Such homogeneity is precisely what globalisation needs to further its market interests. As the central government toes the line of the RSS, primarily on education and culture, the reframing of which will enable them to mask this heterogeneous society into a homogenous one, it is preparing the ground for the third level of economic reforms which is essential for bringing every nook and corner of this country directly in contact with globalisation. On the one hand, while the objective study of history and society is shunned, on the other much is said about skill development without imparting any skill or creating an environment conducive for development where such skills may come in handy. As part of economic reforms we see traditional and regional industries forced to shut down. As part of homogenisation efforts we see household and local business held to ransom. At the same time, public sector units are weakened and even the strong ones are being sold off to enable big businesses to take over the Indian economy.
It is in such a time that the LDF government is completing a year in office implementing the people’s alternative policies. We have seen two and a half decades of impoverishment of the Indian farmer, which has forced them to suicides, at the rate of one, every half an hour. Year after year, policies have been implemented so as to make agriculture non profitable for the small and medium land holding famers. They leave agriculture and become migrant workers, creating the reserve army of labour that is essential to sustain capitalism. While doing away with the planning process of the country, the union government set up a NITI Ayog, which in no way can substitute the erstwhile Planning Commission. In the name of food security, we have a situation where enough food grain is not supplied to the states and no serious effort is made to raise the procurement prices to remunerative levels. In an era of austerity measures, the government itself is taking the initiative to increase the area of cultivated land in Kerala. We are exploring all the possibilities of boosting up horticulture, milk, poultry farm etc. We have initiated cultivation in vast tracts of lands that were lying fallow, some for even close to two decades, to rekindle the hope of our farmers. Farming has to become profitable for those who get involved in it and even the educated young people should be able to find farming as a viable career option and that exactly is our effort.
PROVIDING QUALITY EDUCATION
If governments are withdrawing from their responsibility of ensuring food security on one hand, they are withdrawing from their responsibility in providing education on the other hand as well. However, in the state of Kerala, our primary focus is to ensure quality education to our students. We are also particular to not let education become a financial burden on our students. At a time when students’ movements against fee hikes and student debts have shook countries across the globe, we are taking up an ambitious Rs 900 crore scheme to enable students to come out of debt. While that is focused on higher education, particularly professional education, we are taking special care to ensure that our primary and secondary education enables our students to compete with students across the world of their same age. They will be equal in knowledge, skill and competence. Enabling all class rooms in the high and higher secondary sections with IT gadgets is a significant segment of our effort to revamp public education in the state. Internet connection is also being provided to all schools with support from the State owned telecom operator, BSNL. Similarly, while providing free uniforms to students, we are using textile provided by the handloom sector. As we try to revamp our educational system we are also supporting our public and traditional sectors, which is a true reflection of how people centric our alternate policies are. Adequate financial support will be provided to schools that have completed 200 years in their service to the public, so that they can overcome their infrastructural short falls as well. The approach we are following to revamp our education system is a complete bottom up model, where students, parents, teachers, alumni and people of the locality, contribute in how each school can make meaningful contributions in contemporary society.
Merely providing quality education is not enough. Education should also result in employment. Despite the promise of creating crores of jobs in the country, the reality is that we are at a time that is marked by massive job losses across sectors. Several industries, particularly those in the cottage and traditional sectors were hit by demonetisation, and together with the mass exodus of farmers out of the agricultural sector, we are virtually at the highest rate of unemployment this country has ever seen. Therefore, the onus is precisely on the government to create jobs. While there was an undeclared ban on appointments under the previous regime, the LDF government issued orders to publicise posts lying vacant in all its departments. Within the first 100 days itself, close to 10,000 vacant posts were announced and the Public Service Commission is proceeding with measures to fill each one of them. In fact, over the last one year the PSC has filled over 36,000 vacant positions, which were pending due to the earlier government’s ban. Simultaneously, around 3500 new jobs have been created in the health sector, under law and order, in education and so on. We are also aware that the government alone will not be able to meet the requirements in terms of creating jobs. Therefore, we welcome investors who can initiate job creating ventures without diluting any of the labour and environmental laws. At the same time, we are providing financial support to innovative ideas so as to enable our educated young people to use their training and skills for successful entrepreneurship within the state itself as well.
There is no substitute for industrial development. But, industrial development to us is not merely the establishment of new industries, but it is also the protection of our public sector units. While the central public sector units are facing threats of closure owing to negligence and faulty economic outlook of successive central governments, the state is proposing to breathe new life into such units in Kerala. The state government has already proceeded with the renovation so as to enable the reopening of Fertilizers and Chemicals Travancore Limited’s urea plant which was shut down earlier. The government has taken over the Palakkad unit of Instrumentation Limited which the central government had recently decided to shut down, thus saving it from closure. Efforts are also under way to set up pharma and petrochemical parks in the state. Thousands of people will be newly employed through such measures. Over this last one year, we have been able to turn around the fortunes of 13 public sector units in the state. While they were raking in losses year after year under the previous regime, our dedication to the public sector and our corruption free governance has enabled us to generate profits in them, while 18 others which were also in the red are on their way to the green. It is not enough for industries to become profitable, the workers should also benefit. That is precisely why we have revised the salaries and benefits for workers in several sectors including khadi, handloom and so on. Alongside, the Comprehensive Health Insurance Scheme has widened the scope of health insurance available for informal workers. We went the extra mile and opened shut down factories in the cashew industry. Over 18,000 people who had lost their jobs were able to earn once again, thanks to the reopening of those factories. We have planned similar interventions in the plantation sector as well.
Infrastructure is the backbone of industrial development and a quick and convenient transportation system is an absolute necessity for a modern society. We are leaving no stone unturned in our efforts to complete our infrastructural projects, particularly Kannur Airport, which will have a 4000 metre runway, something many other airports of India cannot boast of; and Kochi Metro, Light Metro at Thiruvananthapuram and Kozhikode and Kochi Water Metro. Kannur Airport is set to become the biggest airport of India once it becomes operational later this year. The next stage of development of Trivandrum and Calicut airports also is in the anvil. While transportation facilities are essential, it cannot be at the cost of our environment. Staying true to our promise to preserve the environment, we revoked all licenses that were granted to the Aranmula airport project by the previous government. As Kerala has a long coastline and numerous inland water bodies like rivers and lakes, the construction of Kochi Water Metro has been initiated as part of the development of the water transport sector which is waste-free and less accident-prone. We have also been able to introduce solar powered boats, evincing our commitment to environment and sustainability. Light Metro is our effort to reduce traffic congestion and pollution in our cities. Efforts are on to develop our National Highways on international standards as well. The maintenance of our state’s district roads as well as rural roads along with the smart road project is already being implemented. Even while doing all these, we have ensured that there will not be any kind of corruption in public works and have taken up social audit of such works.
While industry and infrastructure are essential for development, it cannot be at the cost of our environment. Haritha Keralam, a comprehensive project is being implemented to clear and remove waste from all the water bodies in Kerala; ponds, rivers, lakes and streams. A river and several streams have already come to life because of this intervention. At the same time, ponds have been cleaned to usable quality as a result of people’s interventions through Haritha Keralam. Disposal of solid waste, removal of waste water and measures to increase the area of land under cultivation are being undertaken under this project. Land cleaned up through this project is being used for vegetable cultivation, so as to achieve further growth in agriculture. Haritha Keralam is a peoples’ participatory programme on the lines of literacy mission, democratic decentralisation and peoples’ planning. Comprehensive waste management plan is being prepared to collect, separate and recycle waste in panchayats and municipalities. Power generation from solar energy and wind energy is also set to be a part of this project. A state level task force is supervising the implementation of this project.
HEALTH CARE FACILITIES
Kerala is known for the slogan of ‘Good Health at Low Cost’ but we realise that it is not enough, and are hence aiming at much more. Our flagship project Ardram mission aims at a total overhaul of public health sector making it people friendly, affordable for the poorest, and a means to provide substantial state of the art infrastructure facilities. Kerala has a wide network of healthcare institutions, ranging from Primary Health Centres to Medical College Hospitals, both in modern medicine and AYUSH streams. Specialist treatments are mostly given by MCH and institutions like Regional Cancer Centre. Ardram aims to extend the super speciality facilities now limited to medical colleges, to district and taluk hospitals. There was a serious shortfall of professionals in the public health care system of the state and we have sought to rectify it by creating around 2000 positions in the health and family welfare departments. Their services should be made available to all who access public health institutions.
Keralites and non Keralites are presently part of the society of Kerala and we do not discriminate in taking care of all of them, as we do not have a sectarian understanding of society. We have provided health insurance to the domestic migrant workers in the state who make up the bulk of the unorganised work force in Kerala now. Most of them work in the construction sector and the hotel industry, with some of them also engaged in farming. Their contribution to this state also needs to be factored in when we talk of a people’s alternative. Spiraling cost of health care is pushing more and more people around the globe into debt trap and we are taking such progressive steps in the health care sector to avert such a situation in Kerala.
One of the key issues people face because of the onslaught of globalisation is the rising cost of housing. We have seen how the sub-prime mortgage housing crisis in the US relegated more and more people to homelessness. Rent and cost of land has shot up astronomically even in India over the last two decades, pushing our citizens into a lifelong cycle of debt. Therefore, a responsible government cannot stop at just providing education, ensuring food, water, health and employment. We need to provide universal housing as well. In order to achieve that we are undertaking a massive housing campaign, LIFE – livelihood, inclusion, financial empowerment – to build houses for two lakh families without land or housing over the next four years. About five lakh people will benefit from this path-breaking initiative. As Kerala faces an acute shortage of land, housing complexes will be built, requiring only 1,140 acres. Social security schemes will be initiated in the housing complexes, as well as skill training for adults among the beneficiaries. The emphasis of the project is on financial empowerment and providing means of livelihood. Land and beneficiaries are being identified at the local level to ensure that there is no displacement. First round of beneficiaries under LIFE have already been identified and special focus is on ensuring that the homeless Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes have priority, whereas studies have shown that across India, the land share of dalits and adivasis is minimising while they are being made homeless in the name of development. No government in India has ever taken up a universal housing project. We are determined to not rest till we put a roof over everyone in Kerala.
One of our key promises was to set up a separate department for women and we are about to constitute it. We have constituted the Pink Patrol dedicated exclusively for the safety of women and children. A women’s help line has also been made operational in Kerala. Even pending cases of atrocities against women have been solved under our regime. Many a time, atrocities against women are not reported as there is hesitation in approaching the police. We have constituted all women police stations with full powers to charge cases. As opposed to earlier, women police officers have also been appointed as SHOs in the last one year. The hike in honorarium of nursery teachers, mid day meal workers and ayahs, of up to 600 per cent, has primarily been beneficial to women. We realise that a people’s alternative is not possible without catering to the needs of more than half of Kerala’s population. Transgenders have also received justice under our government. We have constituted reservation for them in positions under the Kochi Metro.
The projects meant for the well being of fisher-folk are also being implemented with top priority. The relief measures include the sanctioning of a special sum of Rs 3600. An amount of Rs 180 crore is earmarked for the welfare of the fisher-folk in addition to what was allocated earlier.
In order to reorganise and modernise the coir industry, a special package has been implemented. A scheme has been chalked out to make use of coir products in preventing erosion of soil etc.
STRIVING FOR SOCIAL JUSTICE
Compared to the rest of India, social welfare indicators of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in Kerala are higher. It is even true that the indicator on quality of life of Scheduled Castes in Kerala is higher than that of the general quality of life indicator of north Indian states. However, the economic status of the Scheduled Castes lags behind the general category in the state. The social indicators of the Schedule Tribes are also below the general standards. While the progress made in comparison to the national standards must be acknowledged, this can be no reason for respite. We are determined to set this right, and therefore we have set apart Rs 2600 crore for SCP and Rs 751 crore for TSP. 9.81 per cent of total outlay is being earmarked for SC population, which comprise 9.1 per cent of total population. 2.83 per cent is earmarked for STs who form 1.45 per cent of the population. Rs 188 crore for Scheduled Castes and Rs 366 crore for Scheduled Tribe have been allocated in excess of the proportionate normative share. Not only is this allocation proportional to population a first in India, it is also higher than that of any other state.
Our commitment is to all sections of the society and we have been able to emphasise it by constituting reservations for the differently-abled in higher education and jobs. Currently all tourist destinations and public spaces are being made ‘differently-abled friendly’ as well, by providing for their easy access. We are also becoming ‘senior citizen friendly’ with the introduction of special facilities in community policing to take care of their needs. Our commitment to the disadvantaged sections has been made amply clear as we raised social security pensions to Rs 1000 per month last June and further raised it to Rs 1100 per month in this year’s budget. We ensured that these pensions are delivered to the beneficiaries at their homes. Apart from raising pensions, we organised fairs to ensure that Onam, Ramzan and Christmas could be celebrated by all without any worry of affordability. Vegetables, pulses, grains and oils were supplied at subsidised rates. During demonetization, there was an unprecedented attack on the cooperative society of this country which is the real alternative to global corporate giants. It was we, the LDF in the state of Kerala, who took the fight to the centre on this issue that even the Supreme Court had to ask why there was so much hostility to the cooperative sector. We were able to ensure that not a single rupee deposited in the cooperative banks of the state was lost.
In the age of information technology, no society can afford to have a digital divide. We have therefore taken it upon us to bridge the digital divide. By promulgating a policy upholding the right to internet, a first in India, we have committed ourselves to ensure that each citizen in our state has access to internet. Alongside, efforts are on to provide free internet using WiFi in public libraries and parks.
What is to be noted is that the LDF came to power after having clearly articulated its manifesto to the people of Kerala. The massive support we received is to implement the idea of people’s alternative that we have put forward through our manifesto, which itself was prepared based on several consultations, including the International Congress on Kerala Studies, with people from all across the society on a wide spectrum of issues. It is indeed worth mentioning that in our first year itself, we have covered each point of the 35 Point Programme mentioned in our manifesto, which is the pivot around which our efforts are spun together. Each of our interventions, has been directly in contrast with what the ruling dispensations at the centre have been doing, in line with the wishes of their financial overlords. The LDF government in Kerala is one that can proudly stake claim to the tradition of the first ministry of 1957, led by Comrade EMS. In just 28 months, the short period by when it was dismissed, the EMS ministry had already completed 78 of its 92 promises made in the manifesto. Similarly, we are also determined to stay true to our promises. Not a single sector has been left untouched in our move towards achieving a people’s alternative. The Left is different because we hold ourselves accountable to the people and as each day passes by, we are proving to the people of Kerala that we are accountable, by championing the people’s alternative to globalisation.