Variety

State sheds tough old skin to welcome investors

Vinson Kurian | Updated on July 29, 2011

Mr Oommen Chandy, Chief Minister

Mr P.K. Kunhalikkutty, Industries Minister

‘Industrial development' and ‘State of Kerala' have scarcely been phrases that would be uttered in the same breath, distinct as they have been as chalk is from cheese for decades together.

But this may not be the case any more, and it's about time cynics realised that the State has indeed managed to leave behind the legacy baggage and ‘say cheese' to investors, says Mr Alkesh Kumar Sharma, Managing Director of Kerala State Industrial Development Corporation (KSIDC).

PERCEPTION PROBLEM

And this is something KSIDC has set about building on as it goes forward, having made some big strides in recent years as it completes 50 years since inception.

KSIDC is the flagship public-sector undertaking and torch-bearer of the as-yet-unfolding but progressively evolving industrial landscape of the State.

The State has had to deal with a problem of entrenched perceptions while moving heaven and earth to route badly needed investments into ‘God's Own Country'.

Not so much God's as the gadfly's own — the cynics with acerbic views on the State's investment climate would say. They are hardly amused by the unsolicited allusion to the Almighty conjured up by glib-talking and fleet-footed marketers of local-tourism attractions.

Just as well, considering the debilitating grind, calculated sulk and hideous stealth of a largely red-tape-happy bureaucracy of yesteryears having put paid to many an entrepreneurial initiative through the decades.

Mr Sharma, too, recalls having run into Keralites who, having settled elsewhere in the country since the 1960-70s, still look down on their land of birth and shrug away all good tidings wondering how anything can ‘work there' — given what they have already been made to see for themselves and hear from the comfortable perch across the border.

BRAND-BUILDING

But seeing is what believing is all about, Mr Sharma says. He had only a few questions to ask of these ‘non-residents' — how long have you been away from the State? When was the last when you travelled home? Did you make any investment proposition in recent times? Or even discreet enquiries on what the emerging investment climate is at present in Kerala?

Evidently, this was not something they had bargained for. Nor did they have any convincing answer to come up with.

It is quite easy to sermonise and easier still to lend oneself to posturing merely for the sake of it, Mr Sharma says. But it takes some doing to reflect, introspect and make an informed opinion on issues that you presume you know about but actually don't, he adds.

This more or less sets up the background for a new initiative that is being spearheaded by the Kerala Chief Minister, Mr Oommen Chandy, in tandem with the Industries Minister, Mr P.K. Kunhalikkutty, as part of which a brand-building exercise is being mounted to proclaim the State's positioning as an investment destination.

Centred on the appellation of ‘Emerging Kerala', the initiative has already witnessed high-level discussions with a view to promoting the State's case to major embassies in New Delhi to start with, Mr Sharma said. This will not just be a spirited take-off on the Global Investment Meet (GIM)it had hosted sometime back, but it is also being planned as a sustainable platform for periodic interactions with the investors.

MEGA PROJECTS

But one needs to be patient such mega events to fructify. For instance, SmartCity, the world-class IT infrastructure project promoted in partnership with Tecom of Dubai which is about to take off, was actually borne out of the GIM platform several years ago. The size and scale of such projects are such that they cannot come into being overnight.

KSIDC has by now become the single window (not to confuse with the policy environment under the same nameit offers promising ease to investors in getting clearances) through which all major investments and project proposals are being routed into the State.

The corporation has lately lined up a new list of mega-sized projects worth Rs 1 lakh crore spanning mainly infrastructure and knowledge-based sectors. It is only too well aware of the emerging challenges in the way as it goes forward implementing many of these projects.

Acquiring land in a State where scarcity of land resources can unsettle implementation schedules like nowhere else is one such. Raised environmental concerns and need for detailed environmental-impact studies is another.

But, according to Mr Sharma, KSIDC has already been able to cover some ground, at least for the most prestigious of all projects: the Rs 50,000-crore high-speed North-South rail project.

DMRC REPORT

In fact, as Mr Sharma is too happy to admit, there's actually not much more ground to be covered since the high-speed train is designed to be elevated for the most part (80 to 85 per cent). It was a conscious decision to go for the elevated model given the tight supply of land in the State.

In all, only 600 hectares need to be acquired for the 600 km-long and pillar-supported project — the alignment is such that it passes through mostly barren or wooded land or plain backwaters. Mostly owned by the Government, some of these lands will need tunnelling work. The Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) has already prepared a pre-feasibility report for the project.

The State Government favours the development of infrastructure projects that does require too much land. It also lays stress on prompt payout of just compensation where acquisition is unavoidable. The Government's policy also swears by an environment-friendly model of development while taking care to ensure that no big polluter comes up on the heavily populated and narrow strip of land that makes the State.

Published on July 29, 2011

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