Kerala model’s mutation over the years

By K V Joseph – The pattern of development, which ushered in Kerala during the third quarter of the 20th century, attracted worldwide attention.

It was eulogized as an ideal form of development as Kerala could achieve impressive level of improvement in various social indicators without a corresponding development of the economy.

The growth of consumerism has paved the way for the emergence of various kinds of undesirable consequences. One of them relates to the attitude of Keralites towards work. A mentality for hard work, essential for economic development sadly, seems to have vanished from the bulk of Keralites. A fall in agricultural production, particularly of paddy, is a clear manifestation of such a mentality.

Though overall prosperity is discernible, the quality of life has also deteriorated beyond recognition. The state is facing new problems like shortage of clean drinking water and the menace of waste management with no clear solution in sight. Heaps of plastic bags containing household wastes are a regular sight from one end of the state to the other.

How to retrieve the model poses a major issue calling for serious attention. more>


Think big for overall development

Kerala needs to think big for overall development, says The Times of India feature: “State needs to think big for overall development” (May 23, 2016). Absolutely!

But the plans need to be comprehensive and integrated covering all sectors for the whole state, instead of the current piecemeal, fragmented, ad-hoc approach. Current diffused efforts (if successful) produce only a fraction of the benefits and advantages that can be achieved with an integrated holistic approach.

“Social infrastructure is the key to develop IT parks. More IT parks should be started in rural areas and they should be self-sustained in townships having all kinds of social infrastructure like schools, entertainment facilities, shops, etc. Then only renowned IT firms and professional would set their feet here,” said a top bureaucrat on condition of anonymity (“Time to revamp roads and waterways”) [2]. Clearly, the “top bureaucrat” has no idea how to make Kerala IT sector better, or even a minimal understanding of the necessary ingredients for a high performance IT sector.

Recently there were reports about Kerala IT achievements: “Kerala’s FY15 IT exports touch Rs 10,000 crore” ($1.5 billion). But the achievement is hardly a case for celebration, instead what is needed is introspection. The global IT spending was $3.8 trillion (2014). So Kerala share of IT industry is 0.039% of the global IT spending. In other words, Kerala share of IT is less than one-half of one-tenth of 1% of global IT. The good news is that scope for improvement is tremendous.

Clearly, repeating past failed strategies will not produce better results — fundamental changes are necessary — especially since whole IT industry is undergoing a paradigm shift.

The report adds, “The practice of inviting companies by offering land and other facilities at below market rate should end. Rather, the state should start making efforts to use IT as a tool to enhance the performance of every industry.” (“Bin old concepts, says IT industry”) [2]. Definitely.

So far real estate developments were camouflaged as IT, expecting the advantages and benefits of an IT industry. It is high time to acknowledge the mistakes of the past and correct them for a better future.

“Tourism in Kerala turned into a Rs 24,885.44 crore ($3.372 billion) revenue generating activity hosting 12.62 million domestic and foreign tourists in 2014,” says the report (“Re-branding & new products will bring change”). To put it in perspective, global tourism revenue was $1.245 trillion (2014). In other words, Kerala share is 0.27% of the global tourism industry. Or, Kerala tourism was less than one-third of 1% of global tourism.

For all the hype surrounding tourism, there are many negatives from tourism for the local economy. According to United Nations Environment Programme: “The direct income for an area is the amount of tourist expenditure that remains locally after taxes, profits, and wages are paid outside the area and after imports are purchased; these subtracted amounts are called leakage. In most all-inclusive package tours, about 80% of travelers’ expenditures go to the airlines, hotels and other international companies (who often have their headquarters in the travelers’ home countries), and not to local businesses or workers. In addition, significant amounts of income actually retained at destination level can leave again through leakage.”

In addition, “A study of tourism ‘leakage’ in Thailand estimated that 70% of all money spent by tourists ended up leaving Thailand (via foreign-owned tour operators, airlines, hotels, imported drinks and food, etc.). Estimates for other Third World countries range from 80% in the Caribbean to 40% in India.”

Trying to build the infrastructure needs of tourism in isolation is not viable. But it can be achieved by an integrated approach for transforming the Kerala economy to be sustainable.


A plan for economic development

A confluence of forces — increasing chronic budget deficits, declining agriculture, slowing tourism, reduced foreign remittance, among others — make it necessary to think about new ideas for developing Kerala economy.

It seems Kerala government gimmicks and shortcuts are catching up with the tourism industry, reports The Times of India (“God’s own destination, but heading nowhere,” Apr. 27, 2016).

“The problem is that what you see on the screen is very different from what a tourist experiences when they touch down,” says the report. Seems like the Kerala tourism department has been using the skills from the movie industry in the state to win awards, but lacks understanding of essentials for building a brand. Brand is about trust and promise. Marketing makes promises about future experience that must be fulfilled. Otherwise the trust is broken, and the brand withers. Apparently, Kerala tourism marketing was about “luring tourists,” and the methods are no longer working.

“The basic requirements are infrastructure development and capacity building. Government needs to ensure good quality roads, make tourist spots garbage-free, provide hassle-free inland navigation by mid-size boats from Kollam [2. 3] to Kottpuram, develop eco-tourism clusters to protect Kerala as a green destination, besides ensuring continuous quality audit of tourist facilities,” said E M Najeeb, president Confederation of Kerala Tourism Industry. Tourism cannot function in a bubble, but is enmeshed in the local economy. It is not viable or practical to develop good quality roads, make tourist spots garbage free, or provide hassle-free inland navigation for the sake of tourism. However, it would be feasible to achieve those goals as part of overhauling the Kerala economy for making it sustainable.

First step is to develop a plan for an optimum transportation network for whole of Kerala. Once different modes of transport suitable for different regions are identified and transportation networks are designed, they can be constructed as funds become available. It will not solve the problems immediately. But, over time, will provide adequate transportation — which will never be achieved with the current piecemeal, ad-hoc, fragmented approach. Here is an outline of the priority areas for transforming Kerala economy to be sustainable:

  1. Enhance quality of education
  2. Agriculture producing premium organic agro-products [2]
  3. Plan Kerala-wide optimum transportation networks for phased implementation
  4. Implement integrated wellness and heathcare solutions
  5. Implement integrated water distribution and management
  6. Implement integrated waste management and pollution control
  7. Develop electronics and ICT (information and communication technologies) industrial capabilities, beyond the current services focus

Building malls and apartments will not result in a sustainable economy. Neither will “exporting partially educated people.” As experience has shown, IT Parks, as currently implemented, will also not produce required results. So it is time for serious investment in core industrial capabilities. Electronics and ICT sectors can form core “market activities” for a comprehensive economic development plan, for example, using “Metropolitan business planning” methodology.

To sum up, trying to build the infrastructure needs of tourism in isolation is not viable. But it can be achieved by an integrated approach for transforming the Kerala economy to be sustainable.


Kerala government structure is outdated

Over the past several decades many theories on management, organization and leadership have evolved and new ones have been developed. However, Kerala government is continuing with a patch work of organizational structures that evolved historically, without any coherent plan or strategy for effective governance.

The Times of India report, “Eco warriors are missing the wood for the trees” (Apr. 3, 2016) is an illustrative example of this problem. “During the last three decades, the state has lost over 41,000 hectares ( 100,000 acres) of its forest cover. The largest parcel of land allotted for non-forestry purposes was in 1995 — revenue department took 28,588 hectares for ‘realization’ (legitimization) of encroachment by sundry settlers that happened before January 1, 1977,” says the report.

This shows the Kerala government does not have any serious plans for nature preservation. In addition, Kerala government organizational structure [2] is outdated and illogical. Why is the “Revenue Dept.” responsible for forest land? It should logically belong to the Forest Dept. And, by the way, the “Revenue Dept.” could use some name change to reflect its true functions.

“KCZMA (Kerala Coastal Zone Management Authority) maintained that though they were aware of violations of CRZ (Coastal Regulation Zone) norms, they have not received any formal complaint in this regard. ‘We can act only if we receive a complaint regarding violations of CRZ norms,’ said senior scientist with ECZMA,” (The Times of India, “Rampant reclamation of wetlands, mangroves,” Apr. 3, 2016).

This means that KCZMA of Kerala government is a joke. What is the use of KCZMA being an “authority” if it cannot take action on illegal activities? Unless there is enforcement, laws are ineffective. Who are they waiting to receive the complaints from? Why should those people make a complaint in the first place? Do they even know that they are supposed to make complaints? How are they qualified to know that there is a problem to make complaints?

It seems the KCZMA setup is a farce aimed at creating an illusion of effort without any real intention to preserve and manage the environment.


Wellington Island development requires imagination

The Times of India report, “A portal for Willingdon” (Apr. 13, 2016), illustrates lack of imagination and dearth of visionary ideas for economic development in Kochi.

Hotelier Jose Dominic says, “Willington Island [2, 3] is the most valuable resource that Kerala has but much of the land is lying vacant. There is a large tourism potential here.”

First, Willington Island not tourist destination. But it is centrally located in the greater Kochi area, thus has huge potential for development. However, the development planning cannot be restricted to Willington. Properly developed with water transport from surrounding areas, Willington can become a business, commercial and entertainment center for a greater Kochi metro region, extending all the way to Alappuzha [2, 3] in the south.

But the nearby Pathiramanal island [2, 3, 4] could be be a tourist destination, if developed sensibly. The report says, “The failure to conserve Pathiramnal, a picturesque island in Muhamma, has resulted in unscrupulous operators fleecing tourists who want to visit the spot.” The report also adds, “The island is home to 88 species birds, 58 species of fish, 23 varieties of spiders, 34 species of butterflies and more than 160 plant specieis” (“A fragile island goes to seed”). Clearly, Pathiramanal island with proper supervision and upkeep can be a tourist destination.

However, for plans to be viable, the first step is identifying “market activities” (“Metropolitan business planning“) to develop and promote that can take advantage of the unique geographical advantages of Kochi. Currently, the only market activity worth mentioning in Kochi is shopping [2, 3]. Since there is dearth of wealth generating market activities in Kerala, vitality of shopping is dependent on remittances from abroad, especially from the gulf countries [2, 3].

Wealth generating market activities require a skilled workforce, which is also lacking in Kerala. Hence, education reform is a prerequisite for economic development.

Unless a comprehensive approach is taken, trying to develop the Wellington Island in isolation will be squandering its potential.


Revive agriculture to promote tourism

The feature in The Times of India, “Ecoturism charts a revival course” (Mar. 22, 2016) is informative.

Kerala State Forest Development Agency (KSFDA) has the right approach for tourism development: “Bringing more destinations under community management is the way forward for the department to tap the state’s full potential in ecotourism.”

Finally, there is some sense in the tourism promotion activities by the Kerala government: “Tourism in forest areas brings in a lot of pressure, and to make it non-destructive and sustainable, the participation of dependent tribal communities is vital. We need to educate people on the conservation of nature,” said K. J. Varghese, additional principal chief conservator of forests.

However, the next report, “Unsound marketing means destinations remain unexplored,” contains misguided ideas. “We do have a significant number of domestic tourists thronging these destinations, but to lure foreigners, we need adequate marketing programs,” said ecotourism director Joseph Thomas.

First, efforts for “luring tourists” are misguided. It demonstrates lack of an intelligent economic perspective about tourism. A good starting point will be to think tourism development can also benefit “locals.” Well manicured roads and gardens surrounding charming castles of the Loire Valley [2, 3] in France is an example for developing tourism destinations, while preserving nature, culture and history.

Trying to market specific destinations will be counterproductive. There needs to be a unified marketing theme for all tourism promotion activities. For example, the caption could be “Destination Kerala.” Within this invitation, there can be several themes: 1) beaches, 2) mountains, 3) lakes, 4) forests, 5) wildlife, 6) human agriculture, 7) nature conservation, etc. Specific destinations may be highlighted within these themes. And all marketing efforts need to focus on “Destination Kerala.” Haphazard marketing activities aimed at specific spots will dilute overall marketing effect.

Agriculture by humans is rare or non-existent in developed economies. Reviving organic agriculture in fertile Kerala will provide multiple benefits, including pesticide free food available locally, provide a tourist attraction, and “nature renewal” of abandoned agriculture lands currently lying idle. Such coordinated efforts will help develop Kerala’s tourism potential, at the same time provide supplementary benefits in other areas.


Too many tourism spots will not bring more tourists

In response to a report in The Times of India, “Project to develop 40 micro tourism spots across state,” Mar. 3, 2016.

This project seems to be another publicity-seeking effort by the Kerala government.

As reported in recent news reports that biggest bottleneck for growth of tourism in Kerala is lack of direct flights [2] from potential tourists’ home countries. Hence, focus of any tourism development efforts need to address the lack of direct flights. Anything else is mere cosmetic effort for photo-ops.

Developing these 40 micro tourism spots is likely to be counterproductive. The biggest long term challenge to tourism in Kerala is environmental damage and nature-abusing construction activities.

Recently there were several news reports of dead fish floating in different rivers [2, 3, 4] due to pollution. However, there were no reports of any efforts to find causes of the pollution and take remedial actions. The likely result of these 40 micro tourism spots will be creation of 40 more pollution generating spots, leading to further degrading of the landscape and rivers.

Kerala has made enough tourism promotion efforts. What is required now is rigorous assessment of environmental costs of new tourism development before they are launched — Smart Tourism. Such long term thinking is a skill sorely lacking in the Kerala government.