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Kerala needs industrial-friendly rebuild strategy
News analysis

Kerala needs industrial-friendly rebuild strategy

Ajayan

Demolition of Maradu flats, the strike at Kerala's leading Non-Banking Finance Company Muthoot Finance, the January 8 national trade union strike that crippled Kerala, the Ascend Kerala global investor meet the next day, and above all that the devastating 2018 flood in Kerala and the near repeat one the next year - all point to the need for a reassessment of Kerala's development strategy.

The building of four flat complexes at Maradu in Kochi was done flouting all environmental norms. The local body which gave permission to build the flat complexes which went against the basic norms of Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) rules. There was political backing for the construction. Even till date, owners of some of these flats are yet to be identified, explaining the benami connection behind the deal.

But for the 2018 flood, despite the hardships that several people endured and are yet to get proper relief, such a grave environmental cruelty would have skipped off the clutches of law. It remains a fact that the builders expected a token fine like in the case of of the DLF flats in Kochi for which the court did not order demolition.

Thanks to the firm stand that the Supreme Court, a message was sent out loud and clear to the whole nation that such flouting of environmental norms would not be tolerated.

When the four flat complexes were demolished most successfully over two days, the message from the sound of the explosions reverberated across the country. The realty sector has been given its first lesson. Even the state government which tried to kowtow in the matter had to face the wrath of the apex court and finally submit meekly.

Given the tough stance that the Supreme Court has taken and the growing concern of the people for conserving nature can make things difficult for those who have invested in projects on filled paddyfields and encroached canals and waterfronts. It remains to be seen what stand the Government will take when these issues hot up.

Development does not mean high rise buildings and Dubai is not Kerala. Gross violations in the name of tourism promotion got yet another slap from the Supreme Court which has ordered demolition of Kapico Resorts in Alappuzha built even by eating into the Vembanad backwaters. The lake there is part of the Ramsar site, designated internationally.

The State has earned the tag of being a land of agitations that could drive away investors. The recent investors' meet in Kochi where it was a flood of investment proposals. Incidentally, the Left Government has been harping on making the state investor-friendly and not saying anything about it being made industrial-friendly.

It is not just the investor who makes an industry move forward. Workers too contribute to the success of an industry. Surprisingly, the Left government has been purposely ignoring the aspect of the worker, the base on which the party has been built. A senior Left trade union leader recently admitted that this government was willing to offer all that an investor demanded. Experience after the two floods calls for a rethink on the development paradigm. It is for the government to dictate terms and not the investor. The basic rule in a capitalist economy is that there is no need to run after an investor. If there is the right condition, the investor whose only eye is on the bottomline, will make it to the State.

There was much criticism against the national trade union strike with top management brass tweeting and posting that the strike will 'drive away investors'. Their concern was that though it was a call to have a nationwide strike, it would be total only in a few places like Kerala. That workers here are more united and more conscious of national and international developments, political and socio-economic is no fault of theirs.

Another issue that the industry harped on was the strike at Muthoot Finance and an attack on its managing director. All violence has to be condemned. But that there was strike going on at Muthoot when one had been settled a few months ago was purposely forgotten because of the highly condemnable attack on the MD.

The leader of the Muthoot workers' union and CPM legislator, M Swaraj, went public and admitted that the management had flouted all terms of the agreement made to end the strike a few months ago. Workers who participated in the strike then we're recently dismissed which was against the agreement made. He said that the management refused to abide by the agreement and even take part in conciliation talks convened by the minister. Even the High Court directive for a referendum among workers was not being implemented. This is nothing but the failure of the Government that is on a hunt for investors. If it cannot implement the laws of the land, forcing workers to take an agitational path, the problem is certainly not with the workers. The management and the Government, ironically a Left one in this case, are guilty of vitiating an industry-friendly atmosphere and this needs to be acknowledged by one and all.

As the Government enters the last phase of its term, there will be a scramble to go ahead with its Rebuild Kerala exercise. It is not the needs of the investor alone that the government should consider, but learn from the floods and evolve a strategy for sustainable growth, go green even if a section of investors accuse it of being too nature-friendly and create the right infrastructure that will make investors vie to come to Kerala. The Rebuild Kerala meeting later this month is more relevant and vital than an run-of-the-mill investors' meet.