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March 4, 1999


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The Rediff Business Interview/ Suseela Gopalan

'Investors who have come to Kerala are happy'

Suseela Gopalan After communist-ruled West Bengal's summits with investors to boost industrialisation, it seems Kerala's turn now. The southern state made an effort to lure foreign investors at the recent Dynamic South summit in Madras.

It is also fighting the Centre against the free trade pact with Sri Lanka that encompasses import of items that are detrimental to Kerala's economy. Moves are also afoot to modernise / establish airports.

Kerala's industry minister Suseela Gopalan is spearheading the campaign to pitchfork the state into higher growth orbit. On March 5, she will woo captains of industry in a CII-organised show in Bombay. Shobha Warrier interviewed the minister recently. An excerpt:

Kerala can boast of high literacy rate, low birth rate, better status of women and high standard of living. Social indices are said to aid industrialisation. Still investors are wary of coming to Kerala. Why? What is being done to change the situation?

Actually they have some apprehensions about us. People have spread a lot of scandals about Kerala: that we have labour problems, that it is difficult to set up business in Kerala.

Don't you have labour problems?

No, not at all. Do you know we hold only the 18th position in India with regard to strikes? See there are 17 other states which have worse track record than us. So, 18th position is not bad at all. If at all there are any problems now, we intervene and set them right.

But the truth is, investors are still scared of investing in Kerala.

That is because we have not marketed our state properly. Now we have started doing it and people are coming. Wherever there are exhibitions, we are going and marketing our state. Now people know that Kerala has something to offer.

We have created the infrastructure for industrial development. We have electricity, water, communication systems... everything. We are providing everything. Now we are seriously thinking of going to more places and make others aware that we have all the facilities that are necessary for industrial growth.

Before we (the LDF) came to power, only an attempt was made. Now we have four growth centres and several parks.

Don't you have the power problem now?

No, we have solved the power problem effectively. We have no power cuts now. Not only that, new power projects are also coming. Kayamkulam thermal power project is complete. BSES will complete its 160 mega-watt project in two or three months time. We have taken up many small hydro power projects too. That is the reason why our power tariff is less than many other states'.

Generally, what kind of questions do the investors ask you?

The most common question is whether we have labour problem. They also ask whether we have enough power. Now that we have solved that problem, we are sure more investors would come to Kerala. We had electricity in all our rural areas in the Seventies itself. As far as human resource is concerned, we are on top, more advanced than any other state.

Social standard of the Keralites is comparable to any other developed country but it has lagged behind in production and has become a consumer state. It is not a paradox?

We are happy because our people are sending money to the state. What happened was, earlier we concentrated on education and healthcare. No other state in India has provided so many welfare schemes for its workers. We have made the life of the ordinary person better on all counts. Now that his life has improved, we want to develop our state industrially. We are setting up small five-acre industrial parks in all the assembly constituencies. And all the investors who have come to Kerala are happy. They face no problem at all; not even labour problem.

What about bureaucratic hurdles?

We have already started single window clearance for most of the proposals. We have also simplified many measures. Do you know we have decentralised the planning system itself? Fifty per cent of the money from the state goes to the villages and there the villagers themselves are setting up industries. There is no clearance needed for that.

As the industries minister of a communist government, you are inviting private investment to your state. From the communist party's point of view, are you changing your opinion about development, that individuals or capitalists can help the economy to grow?

No, we have not changed or will change our opinion. Yes, we need investments. But we do not say that only capitalists can change the society. You just come to Kerala and see how the lifestyle of the people has changed. That's our concern.

Whatever development we have achieved and are achieving now is for the common people. Let the investors come, invest and take their returns. What we are concerned about is only the development of the ordinary man in Kerala.

Now we are going to get a Rs 70 billion project from Oman. We will give all the facilities to them so that they can function satisfactorily.

Does it not clash with the communist ideology?

No, we are implementing only our own ideas. They are only coming to run the industry and not the state. ( Laughs) See Kerala has developed in such a way that human life has progressed so much. We feel that is the most important thing, improvement of human life. We communists have not changed at all because we are interested in only one thing. Betterment of human life. What will be the net result of industrialisation? Betterment of human life.


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