On October 31, Chief Minister of Kerala Pinarayi Vijayanoutlinedthe schedule of the first edition of Keraleeyam, a seven-day celebration to highlight the pride of Kerala. He envisions the programme to prepare a blueprint for tomorrow’s Kerala.
On November 1, the day the state was formed in 1956, Vijayanlit the lampof Keraleeyam 2023, at a star-studded inauguration to a seven-day event. In his inaugural speech, Kerala’s Chief Minister compared ‘Keraleeyam 2023’ to the Edinburgh International Festival, a festival that used art and enterprise to heal the trauma and economic bleaknesscaused by World War II.
The main venues and streets for the ‘Kerala’s Edinburgh’ festival were illuminated at a cost of Rs 2.97 crore. Additionally, Rs 9.39 crore was spent on exhibitions, and Rs 3.14 crore on cultural shows, including Rs 1.03 crore for a music show. In all, Rs 27.14 crore was budgeted for the seven-day event.
Unfortunately, there is a mismatch between government’s projection and ground reality. Despite the Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led Left Democratic Front (LDF) government’s tourism gala and being featured in global travel magazines, the tourism sector in Kerala is a pale reflection of the picture-postcard image projected.
The numbers from the Union tourism ministry’sIndia Tourism Statistics At A Glance 2022reveal that Punjab received the highest number of foreign tourists in 2021; with 308,135 registered foreign tourists it secured 29.2 per cent of the total share. Kerala could secure only the fifth position with 5.7 per cent share with 60,487 tourists. Meanwhile, whileconsideringthe domestic tourist numbers, Uttar Pradesh tops the list with 16.9 per cent, while Kerala is not even in the top 10 list.
Keraleeyam is the latest in a series of programmes organised by the LDF government to attract investment into the state. The Loka Kerala Sabha, a programme organised to attract NRIs, have been unsuccessful in attracting adequate investments.
Despite Finance Minister K N Balagopal’s optimism, the ‘Kerala’s Edinburgh’ festival also seems to be just another loss-making event, costing the government crores of rupees without any guaranteed returns.
The Rs 27 crore jamboree takes place at a time when the Kerala government is facing a severe financial crisis. So dire is the situation that it has led to thestoppage of milk and bread suppliesto inpatients at the capital city’s medical college.
Disbursement of scholarships for Schedule Caste/Schedule Tribe students has beenhalted, paddy farmers are struggling due todelayedsubsidy payments, welfare pensioners arewaitingfor months for their payments, mid-day meals at schools areaffected, allotment of Life Mission houses isdelayed, and State-run bus employees are notreceivingtheir salaries — all of are signs of Kerala’s poor financial status.
For extra revenue generation the state government cannot turn towards the people because they are alreadypayingextra fuel cess to fund welfare pensions,hikedwater charges to compensate for the loss-making water authority, andincreasedpower tariffs to pay off the state power supply board’s loans.
Unlike Kerala’s previous communist governments, this second-Vijayan government has made it a norm to waste money on misplaced priorities. The two-storied Cliff House, the official residence of the Chief Minister of Kerala, was renovated late last year witha new elevatorat a cost of Rs 25 lakh, and acowshedand a wall was built at a cost of Rs 42.9 lakh. Since 2016, from when Vijayan has been Chief Minister, about Rs 42 lakh has been spent on renovating the swimming pool at the Cliff House.
Ministers in Vijayan’s Cabinet have also not restrained themselves. A few days ago, the public administration department approved Kerala Higher Education Minister R Bindu’s application for reimbursing herRs 30,500 spectacles, This news of this has caused a stir and the Congress’ student body is protesting against this splurging of taxpayers’ money.
Meanwhile, Comptroller Auditor and General in Kerala has found many fault lines in the state’s governance. The constitutional body has found that the state hasfailedto collect Rs 28,000 crore tax arrears, Rs 4,478 croremismatchesin welfare pension disbursal, Rs 10 crorelossin Covid-19 time purchases anddistributionof expired medicines.
The latest figures reveal that Kerala’s public debt is nearly Rs 3.57 lakh-crore and the GDP-to-debt ratio is nearly 39 per cent, which puts debt-ridden Kerala at a high risk.
Supplyco stores are government-owned stores where essential food items and supplies are sold at discounted prices. On November 1 when Keraleeyam was underway in Thiruvananthapuram, agents supplying foodgrains and other items to Supplyco staged aprotest in Kochi demanding the state clear their Rs 720 crore pending payment.
In short, the Chief Minister and his Cabinet revel in luxury, and gala events are held by spending crores of rupees, but the common people are left to fend for themselves. All this due to misplaced priorities.
(Rejimon Kuttappan is a journalist, and author of Undocumented. X: @rejitweets.)
Disclaimer: The views expressed above are the author’s own. They do not necessarily reflect the views of DH.
(Published 09 November 2023, 05:26 IST)