Dismissing as baseless Kitex group chairman Sabu Jacob's allegation that the atmosphere in Kerala is not industry-friendly, state Industries Minister P Rajeev on Wednesday said his government stands for "responsible investment" and the southern state would be made a destination of such investments in few years.
In an exclusive interview to PTI, Rajeev said the focus of the government is to attract green industries and IT-based industries in Kerala as land scarcity and environmental issues associated with it have been a problem in the state.
"We are always taking a stand in favour of investment, in favour of industries. But our need is that--investment should be responsible. We stand for responsible investment," said Rajeev, who represents Kalamassery—an industrial hub in Kerala--in the state Assembly.
Elaborating on responsible investment, the minister said it is a strategy and practice to incorporate environmental, social and governance (ESG) factors in investment decisions.
"If you are looking at the world, the new motto is responsible investment. The world is changing towards responsible investment," Rajeev said, hitting back at Jacob, who had alleged that the state industries department was like "a frog in the well"-- unaware of the investor friendly atmosphere in other states.
"His (Jacob's) activities are totally against this concept (of responsible investment)", the minister alleged.
His statement comes days after Jacob announced withdrawal from a Rs 3,500 crore investment project in Kerala, alleging harassment by state government officials and in turn promised to invest Rs 1,000 crore in a textile park in Telangana.
Last week, Jacob held a meeting with Telangana Industries Minister K T R Rama Rao for investments in that state.
Rajeev said "apparel industries are facing serious problems all over the world" due to environmental issues and moving from one state to another state is the existing phenomenon in that industry.
Textile dyeing is one of the most polluting aspects of the apparel industry, the minister said and opined that garment industries are being set up in places where the investors get low cost employment, environmental issues are very less and pollution is not a concern for the people.
"We are focussing on the new generation industries and IT-based industries and green industries. Now Kerala is becoming the largest hub of startups," the minister said, citing the growth of start-ups in a hub set up by the state government at Kalamassery in Kochi.
Rajeev said the Pinarayi Vijayan-led government, which has been in power in the state since 2016, has taken a lot of steps for ease of doing business in the state.
"In the first Cabinet itself, we have decided to bring in a law for setting up a grievance redressal mechanism. The bill is almost ready and would be passed in the Assembly session commencing next week," he said.
As per the bill, there will be a mechanism consisting of representatives of most of the departments in the government with an authority to take a decision for any issues on starting or running of an industry in the state.
"That mechanism has authority to take a decision for any issues regarding the industries and it is final and binding for all departments," the minister said.
Asked whether the decision of Jacob to back out from the Rs 3,500 crore investment has dented the image of the state as an investment-friendly destination, Rajeev said "it was an isolated issue and a purposeful attempt to tarnish the image of Kerala."
"Kerala is a valuable brand all over the world. No need for any propaganda to raise the value of this brand," the minister claimed.
He said the government had not taken any initiative to carry out inspections at the Kitex units.
The inspections were carried out following the directives of the National Human Rights Commission, Kerala high court and other departments based on complaints from people including people's representatives like MPs and MLAs, Rajeev said.
Rajeev also said as the minister for industries, he had tried to address the issues whenever Jacob had gone publicly against the government.
Asked if he suspected that any force is behind Jacob, who has also formed a political party called Twenty20 and fielded candidates in the Assembly election held in April this year, to target the government, Rajeev said, "I am not sure regarding that. He has his own industrial and political interests. He has the right to go anywhere but he should not try to tarnish the image of our own state."
Responding to Jacob's allegation that the single window system in Kerala is an outdated system, the minister said this propaganda is far from the reality.
"If anybody wants to blame his own state or motherland for getting more and more incentives from some other place, I think it is not fair," Rajeev said.
He also claimed that Kerala has never witnessed a trade union agitation reaching a level of burning down factories.
"There are no labour disputes in Kerala....some states...these types of persons are propagating as examples of being investment-friendly..where companies were burnt down by workers..in some other states, multinational automobile companies were attacked by workers and local people."
"I am not blaming the workers or local people. The governments of such states have failed to resolve the issues. These types of incidents have not happened in Kerala," he said.
Asked if there is still room for a patch-up with Kitex group, Rajeev reiterated that the government was open for discussions.
"We have certain reservations only to their approach-- bringing this issue publicly against the interest of the state. That is the only discontent," the minister said.
"We are ready to discuss again if they are ready to continue their letter of intent for investment of Rs 3,500 crore in Kerala," he said.
He said Jacob's allegations that he was "hounded and kicked out from the state" were totally baseless.
"I don't know why they have commented like that. Some agenda must be there," he said.
Rajeev claimed most of the industries in the state are supporting the initiatives taken by the government for attracting more investments in the state.
"We are trying to make Kerala a destination of responsible investment in the country. Within a few years, Kerala would be the destination for responsible investment," he added.