Thursday 15 February 1996
KERALA is considered a puzzle in international development
debates as it reportedly shows economic stagnation with high
social development. Comparative longevity, declining fertility,
better infant survival rate and increasing literacy are some
development indicators usually projected. With the kind of
publicity received within the country and abroad, there are
frequent calls for replicating the Kerala Model everywhere.
But curiously, inflation in Kerala has made consumer
items, including food, scarce for the poor; unemployment
rates are steadily climbing an all time high; alcoholism and
suicides are increasing alarmingly, and poverty and malnutrition figures glare one in the face.
Areas under paddy - the staple foodcrop - shrunk from
875,000 ha in 1970-71 to 560,000 ha in 1990-91, and today
Kerala produces 10-86 lakh tonnes of paddy annually, barely
30 per cent of its requirement. Vegetables and cereals are all
being imported despite the state having rich soil conditions,
an annual rainfall rate of 3,000 to 4,000 mm and enough
It was estimated that poverty was highest in Kerala as early
as the '60s- rural poverty figure was 90.75per cent. With the
decline in foodcrop production and dearth of substantial
income in traditional industries like cashew, coir and tiles, the
situation has only worsened now.
Unemployment figures display disturbing dimensions,
with more than 40 lakh registrations in the government
employment exchanges - almost three times the national
average, with women constituting 52 per cent.
Women's condition in general is miserable. Although
highly literate, their share in leadership rules is negligible, and
the breakdown in women-centred traditional industries like
coir and cashew has adversely affected the already disadvantaged rural women.
Alcoholism and dependence on psychotropic drugs are
steadily on the rise in Kerala. Now Kerala leads India with a
per capita alcohol consumption of 8.1 hire? This is only a whiff
of the actual situation, as rampant illicit brewing and liquor
trading in the state determines the exact magnitude of the
Kerala students fall way behind in national competitions
and while advanced research stagnates, the government
machinery works overtime to project a haloed state of affairs
existing in the state's education. The increasing apathy
towards everything indigenous has seriously damaged native
vocations and art forms.
To look at purely economic developments, in 1993 alone,
the external remittances to Kerala banks totalled Rs 4,499
crore - mainly from migrants to the Middle East - which
the government has failed to channelise effectively for any
public utility. This led to the alienation of the land-dependant
poor on one hand) and absentee landlordism harming the
agricultural sector on the other.
In fact, between 1970-71 to 1986-87, large land holdings
increased from 7.2 per cent to 9.67 per cent. The share of agriculture in the state domestic product came down from 53.40
per cent in 1960-61 to 33.92 per cent in 1991-92, according to
one estimate. With the unprecedented rise in foreign exchange
remittances and their investment in land, the whole scenario
has indeed acquired very peculiar dimensions.
Tribals and the fisherfolk - the people dependant on the
commons of the state - present perhaps the most cruel face
of the Kerala Model. Ironically, the scheduled tribes, which
constitute only 1.10 per cent of the population, have been
declared totally 'literate' in July 1993. With depleting forests,
organised land encroachments and severe cultural alienation,
the Kerala tribals are at a loss. Of late, it is reported that
efforts are on to legalise encroachments, while a recent survey says
that already 9,646 tribal households from a total of 21,600
families in Wynad district are landless.
The most serious and perhaps irreparable damage has
been inflicted on the environment. Massive deforestation,
largescale conversions of paddy fields and wetlands, destruction of indigenous environmental safeguards like ponds and
sacred groves, are a part of the same destructive continuum.
The resultant effects, of course, are droughts, floods, landslides, drying rivers, drinking water shortages and erratic rainfall. No wonder that extensive laterisation of the soil, eutrophication of waterbodies and rising temperatures, according to
scientists, are sure to herald in desertification.
The Kerala Model of development, therefore, cannot be
complete without addressing this grave threat to our life-supporting systems. Ideally, the model should call for questioning
the fundamental assumptions about the priorities, methodology and interpretation, and dissuading the project on of specific developments are alienated from historical and agro-climatic factors for short-term political gains.