May 31, 2020

LDF Goverment: Four Years Exemplary Record

THE completion of four years of the LDF government in Kerala on May 25 was invested with a special significance. It came in the midst of the Covid-19 epidemic, the tackling of which, by the state government, has earned it widespread appreciation in the country and abroad.

The effective manner in which Kerala has met the coronavirus threat is not an isolated episode.  Behind it lies a history and a social and political background.

Everyone acknowledges that Kerala has a relatively better public health system than other states.  The Niti Aayog, in its health index, has placed Kerala on the top of the list of states.  The public health system in Kerala has been built up over decades. But it is the LDF government that gave a concerted effort to modernise and expand the public health system through the Aardram mission.

The four years of LDF rule are unparalleled in the history of the state. Never before has the capacity of a governance mechanism being tested to this extent where, year after year, it had to face crises of unprecedented magnitude. While the impact of the Ockhi cyclone of 2017 and Nipha virus of 2018 was on certain parts of the state, the floods of 2018 cut across sectors and districts bringing the entire state to a standstill.  The damage recurred with the floods of 2019, though of a less severe extent than in 2018.  On top of all these has come the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Despite all the crises, the LDF government stood by its commitment to the people of Kerala, reposing faith in public institutions and people’s participation. The hallmark of this government has been meticulous handling of every crisis and turning crisis into opportunity. Kerala has won acclaim and accolades for the way it has handled every crisis under the leadership of chief minister, Pinarayi Vijayan. During the floods of 2018, the government and people of Kerala demonstrated exceptional capability in undertaking immediate rescue and relief work. The speedy, meticulous, and people-oriented handling of the crisis by the state was appreciated by many. Kerala has again won admiration for the way it has handled the Covid-19 pandemic. These are examples of a strong, committed, and people-oriented government.

The LDF government, in line with its election manifesto, worked towards encouraging the productive sectors of the economy; strengthening and upgrading public education and health; and building upon the network of social welfare and reform measures that are part of the rich legacy of public action in the state. The government made efforts to ensure effective, timely, and monitorable/accountable delivery of the gains of development to the people.

The task of translating the pledges of a manifesto into policy, and of coordinating the activities of different departments and agencies of the government to do so is the task of planning. Kerala is the only state that has retained the five-year plan as a crucial instrument of public action, and as the most important institution for the allocation of finances for plan expenditure.

The overall planning process in the state is further strengthened with a robust system of decentralised planning. The LDF government initiated the first phase of decentralisation in the state to make Kerala a model in decentralised governance. The present government in 2016 started the second phase of decentralisation to further strengthen the local governments in the state. In the past four years, local governments have recorded high levels of plan expenditure, have formulated district plans, and have streamlined the planning process to a remarkable extent. Local governments are playing a crucial role in time of this crisis. It is Kerala’s experience with decentralised governance that has helped the state in times of crises.

Another important institution that has been the bedrock of development in the state is the cooperative institutions. Cooperation and primary cooperatives are Kerala’s strength, a rich legacy of our freedom movement. People’s confidence in these institutions is part of Kerala’s historical heritage. Today, these institutions form the backbone of much of rural economic activity in the state. One of the major achievements of the present government has been strengthening of the cooperative system by forming the Kerala Bank, which will be the largest banking network in the state.

The government, when it came to power in 2016, put forth the vision of ‘Nava Keralam’ through four important missions addressing important areas of development, namely the housing mission termed Life, education mission focusing on improving the education infrastructure in the state, Aardram mission to upgrade the primary health centres to family health centres and create new medical infrastructure in government hospitals at different levels, and Haritha Keralam for creating a clean and green environment. These missions have progressed considerably over the past four years touching upon important aspects of development. In fact, the Aardram mission played a significant role in dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic.

A major achievement of the LDF government has been the remarkable turnaround in public sector enterprises, thereby showing the public sector can play an important role in the economy.  The government was able to also undertake various infrastructure projects like the much delayed GAIL gas pipeline of which 400 kilometres have been laid; the completion of the Kochi Metro and the Kannur Airport within the schedule.

The LDF government has undertaken the most comprehensive social welfare measures ever in the history of Kerala. Welfare pensions were increased by more than double from Rs 600 to Rs 1,300 per beneficiary in 2020. Social welfare pensions amounting to Rs 23,409 crores have been disbursed so far.  Compared to this, the previous UDF government spent a total amount of Rs 9,270 crores for welfare pensions. 

A key role is being played by the Kudumbashree network of women’s self-help groups. It has nearly 44 lakh members organised in 2.9 lakh neighbourhood committees. They are engaged in a wide variety of activities such as micro enterprises, farming, animal husbandry, marketing and in the social sector in providing food to destitutes and children.  Currently Kudumbashree is running 1,225 community kitchens during the Covid pandemic, along with local self-government bodies, providing free food to all the needy and deserving families and for Rs 20 for those who can afford it.

Another success has been the Life mission whose aim is to build houses for homeless families.  As of date, 2,19,154 houses have been built and handed over to the beneficiaries. The work to complete more houses, which was affected by the lockdown, has now been resumed.  The Haritha Keralam mission has revived 390 kilometres of rivers and 36,000 kilometres of water bodies after ridding them of pollution. 

The state had to overcome not only the damage caused by the natural calamities but also the financial difficulties caused by demonetisation, GST implementation and the overall negative attitude of the central government, as far as devolving resources to the state is concerned.

That the government stayed on course with its development activities and social welfare measures through repeated adversities have shown the calibre of the political leadership in the government.  Chief Minister, Pinarayi Vijayan, has set new standards in providing political guidance to policy making, always keeping the people’s interests in mind.

With only a year left for the completion of its term, the LDF government is concentrating on the continuing battle against the Covid virus and undertaking the daunting task of reviving the economy and livelihoods of the people. Given the experience of the past four years, the people of Kerala have full confidence that the Pinarayi government will fulfill all the commitments made to them. This is a government which has earned the trust of the people.

As for the rest of India, the LDF government in Kerala has shown that there is an alternative model to the neoliberal-communal regime. This is represented by a combination of fostering unity and solidarity among people, pro-people policies, empowered local self-government institutions, social justice and countering privatisation with strengthening of public health and education, public sector and cooperatives.

(May 27, 2020)