With hardly any investment coming to Kerala, its industries are dying a slow death and the lack of job opportunities is forcing youth to seek jobs abroad
Kerala is fast becoming a graveyard of industries, enterprises and entrepreneurs. A trip from Kasaragod in the north to Thiruvananthapuram, the capital city in the south, offers one the experience of a ghost town. Industries that have been shut down for years and units awaiting their turn to pull down the shutters are what welcome the visitors to the State. It resembles scenes straight out of Western Spaghettis. No entrepreneurs with a little bit of common sense would venture out into this landmass laden with deadly mines!
The State may be the only one of its kind in India where entrepreneurs have resorted to suicide having failed in their efforts to open shop. Sometime back, The Pioneer had reported about the suicide of Sajan Parayil, a man in his early 40s who made a fortune having worked in West Asia for years and invested his savings to construct a convention centre in Anthoor in Kannur. P K Shyamala, the then municipal chairperson, refused to allot building numbers to the Convention Centre for months citing some minor procedure issues. The real issue was the refusal of the entrepreneur to pay speed money (as a bribe is known in Kerala) to the political masters. Shyamala was not an ordinary chairperson. She is the wife of M V Govindan, who is the CPI-M State Secretary. Sajan had invested Rs 20 crore in the convention centre but no investigation was held on the factors leading to his suicide.
Close on the heels of Sajan’s suicide, two more UAE returnees took extreme measures because of the high-handedness of the party’s local leaders in the Kollam district. The entrepreneurs had set up motor garages and had employed nearly 20 persons in the units. But the party apparatchiks won’t allow the garages to function till their palms are greased. Despite all these developments, the CPI-M-led Kerala Government relentlessly campaigns and projects the State as the most investor-friendly destination in India! Though no major industries have been opened in Kerala during the last 20 years, the claims by the government of the day show no dearth of enterprises. Of late, news about start-ups compensates for the failure of the Government in attracting investors to the State. But if any questions are asked about the number of jobs created out of these start-ups, the chances are that the persons who ask such unpleasant questions would be labelled as reactionaries and agents of the Centre.
The Periodic Labor Force Survey (PLFS) report released recently by the Union Ministry of Statistics is startling as well as shocking. The CPI-M Government portrays the State as the role model for the country as well as economically advanced nations in Europe and East Asia. However, according to the PLFS data for 2022-2023, Kerala leads the table of States with the highest unemployment rates. The all-India unemployment rate for the period 2022-2023 stands at 6.7 per cent while in Kerala it is 10 per cent. But the State is a study in contrast. Though unemployment is rampant in Kerala, it has become an El Dorado for migrant workers (Guest Laborers as the CPI-M describes them). A study by the Kerala State Planning Board says that according to a survey held in 2013, there were 25 lakh Guest Laborers in the State. Migrant workers, as well as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, constitute this workforce. Though there is no data about the latest figures, agencies monitoring the arrival and departure of such migrant labour forces put the figures at 40 lakhs. And many of them have disembarked in Kerala with fake Aadhar cards. Besides the labour-intensive plywood companies, these Guest Laborers work as toddy tappers, at construction sites, hotels, eateries, and hairdressing salons. They live a frugal life and save reasonably. Ali, a resident from Lucknow who runs a hair-dressing saloon, makes at least Rs 10,000 per day and flies to his village twice a month. An average casual labourer saves Rs 1,200 per day by working from 8 am to 5 pm. But the Malayali comrades are reluctant to work like these migrant youths and they wile away their time gossiping and consuming liquor.
A disturbing trend that is visible in Kerala is students and youth flying away to countries like Germany, Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the US for studies and employment. Those who leave the shores of Kerala are unlikely to return as the above-mentioned countries offer vast scope in education, employment and career prospectus. Those who are left behind manage to get jobs as assistants to MLAs, MPs and chairmen of government corporations which make them eligible for State Government pension if they put up 30 months of service. The Public Service Commission has become a scarecrow as only those with the right connections in the right places would get jobs through this agency.
Persons like John Milton hailing from the Idukki district were intelligent enough to see the writing on the wall and “escaped” to neighbouring Tamil Nadu where the garment manufacturing unit started him making money by the hour. “I owe it to the comrades who made life difficult for me forcing me to set up a manufacturing unit at Tirupur. Had I not decided to leave Kerala, I would have ended up as a wreck,” said Milton. The same is the case with Shaji George, who returned from Britain to his hometown of Tiruvalla and opened a five-star clubhouse with all modern facilities like tennis and squash courts, a swimming pool and a convention centre meeting global standards. But the local leaders had other ideas. "Why people of Kerala require an establishment like this?” they asked and made the local body authorities deny Shaji the building numbers which alone would allow him to open the clubhouse. “They asked for a hefty sum as a bribe and I am not accustomed to paying speed money (as a bribe is known in Kerala),” said Shaji. Even God may not be able to save God’s Own Country!
(The writer is a special correspondent with The Pioneer, views are personal)