Economy

Clean environment, infra are attractions for industry looking to invest in Kerala: P Rajeeve, Industries Minister

AM Jigeesh New Delhi | Updated on November 19, 2021

Kerala Industries Minister and former Rajya Sabha member P Rajeeve

The former Rajya Sabha member unrolls a unique plan for development in the province

As the CPI(M) Government in Kerala completes six months in its second term in office, the State Industries Minister and former Rajya Sabha member, P Rajeeve, unrolls a unique plan for development in the province where the industry has thus far not been a very attractive destination for investment.

In an interview with BusinessLine, Rajeeve said increasing levels of air and water pollution in major industrial belts in the country has shifted the dialogue to better living conditions, a cleaner environment and infrastructure for companies to set up their offices.

The State, which has a “bad name” in inviting investments is trying to showcase its environment, higher social indicators and “transparent administration” for improving the scenario. Excerpts:

Kerala prepared an industrial policy in 2018. But has the floods, the pandemic and the ongoing economic problems made it redundant? Are you trying to review it?

Kerala does not have much space or scope for big industries. We have a scarcity of land and the density of population is high. But our advantages are highly qualified human resources as we have built good infrastructure for education and healthcare. Apart from that, ease of living is also good in the State with better quality of air and water. Globally, one-fifth of the jobs are now turning into remote jobs.

So people prefer to work where ease of living standards are high. Malayalis work almost everywhere in the world. So if anyone wants to work from home, they can choose to come back and stay in Kerala. Kerala also has homemakers who are well educated with post-graduation in technology and science. We are trying to help them to upgrade their skill sets and start working from home.

For example, in Delhi-NCR, many companies and their offices cannot even open because of air pollution. So we offer a pollution-free atmosphere for working. We will not be able to accommodate polluting industries in the State but industries such as IT, tourism, pharmaceuticals, consumables, food processing and electronics are always welcome. MSMEs have large scope in Kerala. In the last five-six years, there is a hundred per cent increase in registering MSMEs compared to 1957 to 2016.

But will this bring investments? You had to face controversy when textile manufacturer Kitex decided to shift its base from Kerala.

Our focus is on environmental social and corporate governance (ESG) investment. One-fourth of the investment in the world itself is turning into ESG investments. In the environment and social indicators, Kerala is among the top. On corporate governance too, we offer transparency in administration.

So we are trying to make Kerala a destination of ESG investment. Our proposal for this is Responsible Investment and Responsible Industry (RI-RI). Kitex’s problem was an isolated issue. CII said recently that Kerala’s single-window clearance system is number-one in the country. We are modifying this existing system. We have now eased the systems by amending some existing Acts. We have received investment proposals with ₹3,600 crore.

We brought statutory redressal mechanism too. If there’s no action on the complaint in 30 days, the concerned officer will have to pay a penalty. This is a major step towards transparency. A committee is looking into outdated laws and they will be repealed according to the report of this panel.

Production, both agriculture and industrial, has been a problem for the State for quite a long. Are you addressing this?

Kerala model of development has a lot of advantages. But the main weakness is that its base is weak. The first Chief Minister of the State EMS Namboodiripad had always pointed out that the State is laggingin agriculture and industrial production and this course should be corrected. So, we are now focussing on infrastructure development by improving highways and waterways.

Agriculture production has also increased. We are now looking for the next stage, which is value addition. We should add value to not just spices, our traditional product, but also to other products such as paddy and coconut.

We have launched two food processing parks and are encouraging start-ups and incubators in this area. Digital Hub set up by the Kerala Startup Mission at Kochi is the largest infrastructure for such start-ups. We now have a land policy and we are establishing multiple logistic parks.

As the next step, we are now trying to use the possibilities of virtual markets. Corporate e-commerce platforms mostly protect consumers’ interests. We are trying to create a platform that protects the interests of both the consumers and the producers.

Kerala Digital University is developing an e-commerce platform that will market Kerala’s indigenous products such as handloom, spices, cashew and handicrafts. This platform can be integrated with other such platforms in the private sector.

Are you reaching out to the Centre for such initiatives?

Yes, we are. But all the schemes of the Centre are uniform. They do not see demographic and geographical differences among States. Our policy is against the steps such as monetisation pipeline and disinvestment of the Centre.

We recently took over the Hindustan Newsprint Ltd from the Centre by entering into a bid. We have started two companies in that compound and both will be made profitable within a specified time. We have asked the Centre to hand over the Instrumentation Ltd to us but the Centre is asking the market rate for the land that we gave them for free some years ago!

The public sector is important in our concept. We are building our State’s optical fibre line which can be used by any companies. We are all for strengthening public sector. For example, chip availability is a global problem.

Our Keltron is doing commercial production of chips with the help of Cochin University and ISRO. 41 such PSUs under the State government have specific plans for generating profit. Protection of the public sector is important for the State and the country.

Published on November 19, 2021

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