June 26, 2022

Workshop on Kerala's Development

K N Ganesh

THE Kerala state conference of the CPI(M) held in Ernakulam in March this year created a landmark by adopting a document outlining the development perspective for a new Kerala. This was an important step forward, coming in the wake of the historic victory of the LDF in the 2021 elections when the LDF was given a continuous second term by the people of Kerala.

Just before the formation of Kerala State, the Communist Party conference held in Trichur in 1956 had adopted a development resolution, which outlined the development strategy that the state will have to follow from the perspective of the Party. The resolution took into cognizance the reality of a bourgeois-landlord regime following its own class policies from the centre and the necessity to build people-centred development strategies. This included the development of all basic structures, including industry, agriculture, energy, transport and communication, education, health and culture. The framework of the resolution became the basis for the development strategy of the 1957 communist ministry with E M S Namboodiripad as the chief minister. The EMS ministry also took the important decision to allow the Birlas, the well-established big bourgeois firm, to set up a factory in Calicut, showing that the Party considered industrial development as of paramount importance to the working class.

The 2022 document outlined the general perspective on Kerala’s development covering all the sectors. The development perspective was designed as an alternative to the corporate-communal initiatives by the Modi regime, which is also rapidly becoming a junior partner to imperialism. The document reiterated its commitment to the welfare of the exploited and the marginalised, social justice, and the protection and rehabilitation of public sector undertakings. At the same time, the document also advocated innovative steps for tackling the problem of providing employment to the educated unemployed, ensuring growth of agricultural productivity, exploring new sectors like IT and tourism and setting up an infrastructure aimed at the growth of Kerala economy for the next 25 years. Transition to a knowledge society was made basic slogan for such a perspective.

The document has been released to the public and discussions have already started taking place. It is not surprising that June 13, the birthday of EMS, the pioneer of developmental perspectives in Kerala, was chosen to conduct an in-depth examination of various positions put forward in the Party conference document. Such a workshop was held at the EMS Academy on June 14 and 15. As many as 315 delegates participated in the workshop. The workshop aimed at the internalisation of the positions taken in the party document and also to explore the possibilities of developing new ideas that would enable the implementation of the document.

Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan inaugurated the workshop. He briefly outlined the salient features of the document and discussed the steps being taken by the government to implement the perspective. He also touched upon the impediments caused by the central government, including financial and legal constraints, and political opposition of the UDF and BJP which function, for all practical purposes, as a single unit. S Ramachandran Pillai, who presided the session, emphasised the constraints in running a state government under a bourgeois landlord regime. He pointed to the agreement with the Birlas by the 1957 ministry to emphasise the point that private capital may have to be invited if it promotes development from a people’s perspective.

Thomas Isaac presented a paper on the perspective for an industrial Kerala. He pointed out that Kerala has remained industrially backward. The traditional agro-based industries have declined and development of modern industry has been sluggish. More vibrancy is seen in the MSME sector. The economic development during the past few decades has been due to the inputs from the Gulf and resulting growth of consumer industries and consumer services. The decline of Gulf returns has already affected the economy. The number of educated unemployed is rising and a large part of them are seeking jobs in the unorganised sector. No economic growth is possible without a rapid leap in industrial development. The neoliberal policies followed by the centre, including delicensing, privatisation of the public sector, opening up for the entry of foreign capital and withdrawal of all controls over monopolies have not promoted industrial development, particularly the manufacturing sector. The central policies have put obstacles to efforts by the states to mobilise their resources, attract investments or finding innovative methods to tide over difficulties. The alternative proposed in the party document affirms its commitment to safeguard all the gains by the working class and the people as whole, including the marginalised sections, protect and develop the public sector and sustain the development of traditional industry through technological modernisation. The basis of the strategy would be the promotion of a number of startups, particularly in new innovative areas, and efforts to provide training in such innovative areas so that the educated would get suitable remunerative employment. This would imply the growth of the IT sector, elimination of digital divide and the transformation of the entire population to be digitally skilled so that they can participate and earn their returns through the knowledge economy.

S S Nagesh presented a paper on agriculture. He pointed out that agricultural development in Kerala in recent years has proceeded along with decentralisation. Earlier, monocropping has been at the center of government policies, which has tended to ignore the fact that majority of the farming lands in Kerala have been small scale mixed crop lands. Since the crops grown in such lands vary from region to region, detailed farm plans become necessary with appropriate technological input. Also there is a need to dispense with the centrally sponsored corporate ‘farm companies' and replace them with cooperative farming. Intensification of productivity is another idea that can be explored with appropriate inputs of science and technology.

Dr. Jiju P Alex continued the same theme from the perspective of LSG institutions and cooperative sector. He stressed the importance of a close linkage between LSGs and cooperative sector in facilitating the relationship among production, circulation and consumption. Agricultural loans to small and medium farmers could be facilitated through LSGs and producers’ cooperative societies also could be developed by them. Loans given by Kerala Bank and other cooperative ventures could be geared to bringing wastelands under cultivation, providing funds for innovative production schemes and finding markets for such products.

In her presentation on health, Dr. P K Jameela reviewed the changing health scenario in which emphasis has to be given to morbidity, lifestyle diseases and epidemics. Demographic changes in which the number of the elderly is rapidly increasing and climatic change is also contributing to the shift. She stressed the importance of decentralised health planning such as the Ardram mission, healthcare for the marginalised, integrated forms of healthcare including modern medicine and Ayush and promotion of health research related to the changing health scenario in Kerala.

K N Ganesh underlined the limitations introduced into Kerala’s educational development by NEP-2020 with its unqualified endorsement to centralisation, commercialisation and communalisation of education. Kerala is committed to protecting its democratic gains in education but is also devising a way forward by making the educational sector vibrant so that it reaches up to international standards, both in facilities and quality. This can be done only by curriculum development from the preschool level and a thorough overhauling of higher education both in terms of the nature of institutions and courses offered. The stress of education will be on social commitment, democratisation and scientific temper.

C S Sujatha, in her presentation on gender justice, pointed out that in spite of the enormous advance that Kerala women have made in the fields of education and quality of life, their work participation has not improved. Women are also facing safety hazards and oppression of all kinds. Although kudumbasree has worked as a kind of second Renaissance for women, much more needs to be done. Technical skills will have to be provided and entrepreneurial potential will have to be developed. In order to free women from household drudgery, devices such as community kitchen will have to be promoted. Women will have to be provided safety in their workplaces and their families will have to be democratised. Awareness regarding various legislations that bring safety to women will have to be brought to the ordinary women.

Dr. U P Anil, presenting a paper on social justice, stressed the new challenges faced by the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in the wake of the neoliberal policies. The Salita and Adivasi have been dispossessed of their lands and resources, denied reservations in jobs, denied any assurance of safety of employment and even denied their constitutional safeguards. Priority will have to be given to demand for land and housing, provision for a workplace associated with housing, enhancement of facilities for education and training including the development of skills that will enable the socially oppressed to seek jobs abroad, and growth of micro business hubs in Dalit colonies, Adivasi habitation.

M A Baby, presenting a paper on culture-media-language, stressed that Malayalis should be proud about the cultural space emanating from Renaissance, progressive literature movement, and tendencies of people’s science, rationalism, arts clubs and libraries nurtured by the Left forces. The LDF government has been unsparing in their effort to sustain this process, and encouraged all such tendencies by providing them with grants and assistance. However, there have been challenges. Communal and commercial forces have entered arts and literature vitiating the environment, and the media, now controlled by the corporates, are interested only in spreading lies and calumny against the Left. There is a need for people’s vigilance, similar to FAIR in the US, against the fake news being spread.

Puthalath Dinesan, in his presentation on administrative reforms, briefly recounted the steps taken by the Kerala government for administrative reforms. Several administrative reforms commissions have been constituted, including the one under V S Achuthanandan by the previous LDF government. Numerous suggestions for ensuring transparency of governance, democratisation including that the police, efforts to ensure that services rendered by the government actually reach the doorstep of the people, particularly senior citizens, have been proposed and implemented. There is an increase in access to information on all the decisions by the government, and there has been expansion of e-governance which ensures rapid delivery of services. The most important innovation has been the introduction of Kerala Administrative Services to streamline the administration. Efforts are on to use Malayalam as official language at all levels. Thus, every effort is to make the administration democratic and people-friendly.

Nine technical sessions were organised to discuss the papers in full and the coordinators included P Karunakaran, P K Sreemathy, K K Shylaja, A K Balan, P K Biju, M Swaraj, Anavoor Nagappan, Valsan Panoli and K Somaprasad. The ideas and suggestions generated were presented in the plenary session. In his concluding remarks, CPI(M) state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan emphasised the importance of this exercise and that the ideas generated will be compiled into a volume for further discussion.