the two-day Global Investors Meet (gim) in Kochi on January 18 has sparked the development debate afresh in Kerala. gim was the first ever attempt by the state government to attract investors from the world for "project specific, one-to-one negotiations". Though it succeeded in evolving a consensus on the need for fresh investments, there was no unanimity on how to achieve it.
With the meet, Kerala seems set to shrug off its investor-unfriendly image. Though Kerala made a headstart in the race for development decades ago, it slowed down midway.
The projects showcased at gim included a 550-kilometre, six-track, access-controlled express highway project, an offshore sea sand mining scheme at five locations, ecotourism plans in forest areas, super speciality hospitals and schools in cities, public-private partnership projects for port development and an e-city in Kochi.
But , opinion remained sharply divided on the way the state went about gathering consent for the mega show. "The main thrust of gim was on selling off public properties, natural resources and the service sector of the state," alleges C R Neelakandan Namboodiri, a critic of the development paradigm.
Another issue was how much and from whom gim had mobilised investments. While the Kerala State Industrial Development Corporation (ksidc) says that the industry made firm commitments for investments worth Rs 26,000 crore, others refute this claim. They peg the amount at just Rs 6,000 crore -- a far cry from the Rs 50,000 crore initially projected by P K Kunhalikutty, state minister for industries.
Jiji Thomson, managing director, ksidc, dismisses such criticism: "The meet should not be judged on the basis of deals clinched. The setting of a new development agenda for the state underscores its significance." The ksidc says that memorandums of understanding were signed for 95 projects.
"As of now not even the commercial viability of the projects paraded at gim has been proved, let alone their environmental viability," points out K K George, chairperson, Centre for Socio-economic and Environmental Studies, Kochi.