SPECIAL FEATURE: EMERGING
A new beginning
A new beginning
|Kerala seeks to take the high road to economic development and leave behind its history of lost opportunities.|
SPECIAL FEATURE: EMERGING KERALA
A new beginning
A boat cruise in Kochi. The time is ripe to change Kerala's profile from tourism paradise to investors' destination.
THINK Kerala, and a rather clichéd description of its pattern of development – “the achievement of a high quality of life without much accomplishment in economic growth” – is what comes to mind. But for some time now, economists have been claiming that a new ‘virtuous' phase of development has emerged in Kerala in which “human development and economic growth seem to have started reinforcing one another positively”.
No doubt, Kerala's economy has seen a revival since the late 1980s, when it displayed signs of growth with the support of a few key enabling conditions – demographic dividend, emigration and certain economic reforms. However, it was during this phase of revival that the State's human development achievements began to face some threats too. Kerala also continued to experience high levels of (educated) unemployment and a persistent problem of low levels of investment.
But, with the coming of globalisation, characterised by the advent of new technologies and innovation, the results of its human development achievements offered the State certain unique strengths. After an initial phase of confusion, political turmoil and false starts, the State seems to have learnt to use such strengths well in the pursuit of its goal of long-term economic development, the outcome of which is still unpredictable.
However, the amazing success of Kerala Tourism and, to an extent, the State's promotion of information technology (IT) and allied sectors, the mushrooming of business schools and institutions offering courses in emerging sectors, the opening up of the banking sector to the needs of the general population, the fast pace of infrastructure development visible all over, and the enthusiastic promotion of Kerala as a global brand – these are but a few examples of a State reaching a critical threshold in its search for sustained economic development.
THE IIM KOZHIKODE campus. The State is seeking to promote centres of excellence in education.
Now, less than a decade after Kerala first attempted to showcase itself as a friendly investment destination by organising a (controversial) Global Investor Meet (GIM) in Kochi in January 2003 (“Visions of development”, Frontline, February 14, 2003), the State is getting ready to launch a similar exercise to woo international sponsors and showcase investment opportunities.
The major promotional venture, “Emerging Kerala 2012”, is a biennial global business event and is scheduled to be inaugurated by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in Kochi on September 12.
The Kerala State Industrial Development Corporation (KSIDC), the key investment promotion agency of the State government, which incidentally celebrated its golden jubilee on June 30, 2011, has entered into an understanding with the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) to promote the event across the world. It is expected to attract heads of governments, corporate leaders, heads of major regulatory institutions, banks and financial institutions, and economists and investors in infrastructure, manufacturing, IT, tourism, logistics, health care, industry, food and agro-processing, and several other sectors.
“We are trying to tell the world about the innumerable opportunities opening up in Kerala, that we are fully committed to making use of those opportunities and are willing to welcome wholeheartedly those who come forward to invest in our projects,” Chief Minister Oommen Chandy said while releasing the “Emerging Kerala 2012' logo in Thiruvananthapuram recently.
“The story till now had been one of lost opportunities in Kerala, be it with regard to investment or infrastructure development. We cannot afford this any longer. We have to make use of the favourable opportunities that are emerging and claim for ourselves the gains that are duly ours. ‘Emerging Kerala 2012' will be the chance that Kerala can make use of. We will not allow projects that are useful to the State to be entangled in red tape or delayed by policy indecision,” he said.
The event is expected to put on offer before investors a number of mega projects, including an international transhipment terminal at Vizhinjam (near Thiruvananthapuram), a north-south high-speed rail corridor that is expected to alter the State's industrial and social infrastructure profile, the Kochi-Coimbatore industrial corridor with 12 globally competitive industrial hubs along its course, a life sciences park, an electronics hub, centres of excellence in education, and projects in fields such as power, gas distribution and municipal waste management. The State is also targeting public-private partnerships with international investors in electronics, energy, nanotechnology, pharmaceuticals, petrochemicals, education, transportation and airport infrastructure.
For a change, Kerala is looking ahead instead of harking back to its past. It dreams big as it seeks to take the high road to economic development – characterised by higher levels of skills and knowledge, a higher technological base, sustained huge investment, environment sensitivity, modern forms of organisation and management and higher wages, among other factors. The time seems ripe for changing its profile too, from ‘tourism paradise' to a contemporary global business brand, ‘the Investors' Own Destination'.