Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan says the perception that the State is not friendly towards industry and investors is unfortunate and completely misplaced. On the contrary, the State has always welcomed guests and the government has taken a series of steps to help investors.
Of course, he adds, the State does not have land in plenty as is available in other States such as Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra or Andhra Pradesh.
To overcome this problem, the State has identified specific sectors where it has strengths and which do not require large tracts of land.
Also, the government recently amended some outdated legislations and has promised time-bound, transparent and trust-based clearances.
The government has enacted the Kerala Investment Promotion and Facilitation Act, 2018, amending seven Acts and 10 rules to simplify clearance procedures, remove redundant regulations and ensure time-bound approvals.
In an interaction with journalists here, just before the opening of Ascend Kerala 2019 – a gathering of investors and entrepreneurs – Vijayan said the government had done away with the age-old practice of ‘ nokkukooli ’ – or gawking wages, where money had to be paid to trade union activists by anyone unloading materials using their own machines or labour.
He said Kerala could not be generous with land as it faced constraints on land availability. It will follow the CIAL (Cochin International Airport Ltd) model of public-private partnership for developing projects and the government will remain an active investor in projects.
Hartals on backfoot
Even on hartals — shutdowns as a mark of protest — which affected public life, there is an emerging consensus that hartals should not be called at the drop of a hat and that there should be some discipline in organising these protests as a last resort.
Kerala government officials, including Chief Secretary Tom Jose and K Ellangovan, Principal Secretary – Department of Industries & Non-Resident Keralites Affairs, highlighted Kerala’s unique model of development, without compromising on environmental and social concerns.
Ellangovan pointed out that over the last three years, Kerala has consistently moved up in the ease of doing business rankings. But, he said, it was unfair to group Kerala with the larger States that have plenty of land to offer the investors, while doing the ranking. Instead, Kerala should be grouped with the smaller States such as Himachal Pradesh and Haryana. The density of population in Kerala, at 859 people per sq km, was more than double the national average of 382, he said, highlighting Kerala's problems in giving large tracts of land to investors.
To overcome this, it has been decided to focus on sectors where raw material and skilled manpower are locally available. The sectors include food and wood processing, electronics, lifesciences and biotech, aerospace and defence. The government had also decided to permit vertical development of office space so that entrepreneurs had plug-and-play space readily available.
The government is acquiring about 5,000 acres in Kannur for small and medium enterprises. A single-window clearance system for investments on a digital platform has been unveiled on the assurance that approvals by various departments will be given within 30 days.
The government’s attempt is to transform Kerala into a knowledge economy, tapping into the highly literate workforce. The Chief Minister said companies such as Nissan had committed to set up research hubs in the State, while investments from Fujitsu and Tech Mahindra are in the pipeline. To a question, Vijayan said the State continued to receive a step-motherly treatment from the Centre on Central investments or in the matter of aid to the rebuilding process after the floods last year. Long-pending demands for a wagon factory and an AIIMS in the State have not been met, he added.
The writer is in Kochi at the invitation of the Kerala Industries Department