The flight of capital, talent and workforce

The flight that took industrialist Sabu M. Jacob from Kerala to a warm reception in Telangana is a microcosm of what is routinely and often silently happening in Kerala.

Capital, talent and workforce have been leaving Kerala over decades.  The best efforts to industrialise Kerala took place in the last few decades of Travancore Government. Subsequent democratic governments only saw the decline of traditional industries. The first major industry to move out of Kerala in a significant manner was the cashew industry. The coir industry declined, but remained in the State like the wood industries as it is not easy to shift the raw materials from Kerala.

Kerala has always lagged in manufacturing. Service industries dominated; but that needed money to come in from outside either in the form of remittances from Keralites working outside or tourists. What distinguishes Sabu Jacob’s Kitex Garments is that it is a rare (for Kerala) 100 per cent export-oriented manufacturing unit in the State.

A unit of Kitex group

One of the major constraints for manufacturing units in Kerala is environmental factors.  And the major allegations being raised against Kitex Garments and related companies is that it is polluting a river, and that it is not paying minimum wages.  But to a neutral observer, it is clear that Kitex is the least polluting of several major industrial units in Ernakulam district. Clearly, there is selective amnesia from the part of officials and politicians. It is not clear whether Kitex did not pay minimum wages to any particular section of the workers. But generally, the workers there are satisfied about their wages.

Militant trade unionism, which is fortunately on the decline now, and greedy full-time politicians have been the bane of all industrial enterprises in the State. There are signs that the latter too may face a decline in the future. In fact, the fight between Sabu Jacob and politicians from both the ruling and Opposition fronts is a political fight—a backlash, at least from a few entrepreneurs, to the exploitative tactics of politicians.

Twenty20
Sabu Jacob had floated his own political party Twenty20 to fight the situation. He captured control of several panchayats from regular politicians, and fielded candidates from eight constituencies in the last Assembly elections. His candidates failed to win in the Assembly elections because the entrepreneur failed to take certain things into consideration that makes a successful political campaign.

His selection of candidates was something similar to his company selecting it managers. The candidates were qualified but lacked popularity. If Twenty20 had fielded actor Sreenivasan or had roped in technocrat E. Sreedharan, the outcome might have been different.

Their campaign style too was defective. The candidates often started speeches with their biodata and there were not many local people accompanying them during house-to-house campaigns. Sabu Jacob’s speech showed feudal tendencies with him often reminding people of the services of his father and family. He also declared that it was in people’s interest to vote for Twenty20 (as they were benefiting from his hand-outs and good governance in the panchayats) and he would go his away if his party was defeated. This was when the biggest stake holder was Mr. Jacob himself. The party had no declared policy on most subjects or position on hot topics in the State.

But Mr. Jacob always stressed the need for creation of employment in the State and highlighted the flight of the youth from the State for jobs outside the State.

Migration of workforce
What the party was raising was something that should have been serious concern to the State for long. Early migration from Kerala started to Burma (now Myanmar) and Malaysia before independence.  After independence, small numbers of people were migrating to the United States, Canada and European countries. But it was the construction boom in the Gulf in the seventies and eighties that turned migrations into a flood. Now people also migrate to Australia and New Zealand.

According to government agency NORKA, about 40 lakh Keralites are now working abroad. While those in Gulf countries will return, almost all of those migrating to developed countries will never return.  Number of Keralites working in other States is given as 13.74 lakhs.

According to 2011 census, the total workforce in Kerala is about 116 lakhs which comes to 34.78 per cent of the population.  (This means that, on an average, one employed person supports two others). This is apparently against the resident population.  But as many as 63.74 lakh people work outside Kerala. This means that about a third of the State’s actual working population is forced to seek jobs outside the State. This is a serious situation which needs to be corrected urgently.

Tailpiece:
Whatever the political parties in the State are saying against Kitex Garments, the investors are supporting the company deciding to have investments in Telangana. The price of shares of Kitex Garments shot up by about 80 per cent in three days after Sabu Jacob left for Telangana. On July 13, there were no sellers for the share, indicating that the share price may go up further.
It is indeed a vote of confidence for Telangana and the negative vote for industrial climate in Kerala.

Additional information update
The company has filed a case against revision of minimum wages to the workers. The case is pending decision.

Congress MLA P. T. Thomas has told the media that the company has not installed reverse osmosis plant at its factory as agreed to a meeting called by K. Babu who was Minister in 2012. Why the UDF and LDF governments had not enforced the decision is a larger question.

It is alleged that there is discrimination against non-supporters of Twenty20 in the Kizhakkambalam panchayat and that the panchayat authorities do not attend certain meetings attended by local member of the Assembly.

Much ado about data privacy of voters list

Operation Twins

The CPI (M) has accused Opposition Leader Ramesh Chennithala of leaking data on voters and publishing them on a server located in Singapore. However, the accusation does not hold water in the face off facts.

Mr. Chennithala had published data on 4.34 lakh persons in the voters’ lists for the upcoming Kerala Assembly Elections, whose photos appear under different names in the same constituency or other constituencies or whose names appear more than once in the lists, on the site operationtwins.com. Voters’ lists are data in the public domain, so no leak has taken place.

Voters list is not sensitive data under the IT Act and Rules unlike health information which is defined as sensitive (recall the controversy over Springler).   Information Technology (Reasonable Security Practices and procedures and sensitive personal data or information) Rules, 2011 also has a proviso to Section 3 that says that “any information that is freely available or accessible in public domain or furnished under the Right to Information Act, 2005, or any other law for the time being in force  shall  not  be  regarded  as  sensitive  personal  data  or  information  for  the  purposes  of  these rules”.

It is true that the Web server is located in Singapore. However, that does not alter the legal position. Voters list is data officially published under the law and accessible in public domain.

The only thing that you can accuse the Opposition Leader is that there are some errors in his list of bogus voters. Besides, he was not honest enough to include some duplicate entries of Congress candidates and their relatives in the list. Possibly because of limitations of photo matching, the names of twins have been flagged as duplicate entries, with operation twins thus causing some heartburn to real twins. While a chunk of data point to fraud, other duplicate entries could be the result of failure of the officials to delete previous entries when voter requests change of address or corrections.  It is clear that sufficient diligence had not been shown by electoral officers.

Mr. Chennithala has chosen to register a domain with commercial extension for the site and keeping the registrant information private. He could have chosen extensions (top level domains) like .in or .org.in. But it is a matter that hinge on availability/personal choice/ignorance. The person who registered the site probably did not register the site in the name of Mr. Chennithala and wanted to keep his name private.

It may also be noted that the accusations against Mr. Chennithala comes when there is demand for publishing of more data relating to electoral process internationally by organisations like the Open Election Data Initiative. So, Mr. Chennithala’s initiative is setting up a site to expose electoral malpractices is laudatory.

In fact, Mr. Chennithala has been raising a number of allegations against the LDF government. If even a fraction of them are correct, that do not bode well for the State. If the LDF is re-elected to power, the government would be at the mercy of Central agencies. This can give rise to deals between the CPI (M) and the BJP or even instability of the government.

However, this may not be a problem for Chief Minister Pinarai Vijayan to manage for he has already taken a few leaves from Modi’s note book to retain power and pelf.

While opposing Athirappally project …

Athirappally water fall on the Chalakudy River of Kerala, India.

People opposing the Athirappally project in Kerala should be willing to pay a higher price for electricity and set apart some space on their roof tops for solar power.

The alternative to hydel power for the State, as of now, is thermal power which is costly. Thermal projects cause more pollution than hydel projects. (Hydel projects cause pollution during construction work and reservoir emits greenhouse gases.) Besides, thermal projects use up a finite fuel sources.

So, one has to prefer Athirappally over thermal power. However, environmentalists have several objections specific to Athirappally project in view of its proximity to forests and the impact on the river system. Apart from biodiversity of the forests at some distance from the project site and the issue of displacement of a small group of tribals, the other issues are either weak or amenable to mitigation. The ‘forests’ in the immediate vicinity of the project are forest plantations and riverine vegetation. The conservation potential of the riverine vegetation at the project site is limited because the adjoining flora is plantations. Otherwise, we should allow the plantations to revert to forests.

A run-of-the-river project (without much dammed storage) need not cause any shortage of water in the Chalakkudy River if flow of water is synchronised with release of water from dams upstream of the river and regulated to allow reasonable flow for the Athirappally water fall. This may, however, reduce cost-effectiveness of the project.

A better option will be to avoid construction of the dam with the ultimate objective of decommissioning all major dams in the State in future. For that, we have to avoid dependence on thermal power and go for renewable sources of energy. Currently, rooftop solar power is considerably costlier than the power supplied by Kerala State Electricity Board (KSEB). The Board now has schemes to set up rooftop solar power units, funded either by the home/building owner or the KSEB. One has to go for solar power and other renewable sources while saying no to Athirappally project.

KSEB is currently going slow viable small hydroelectric projects. The Board as well as the government has a responsible to plan for energy security of the State instead of playing cat and mouse games.

One India goes for a toss

Montage from twitter.

ONE INDIA—we hear about that often during these Covid-19 times. But the disease is proving that we are far from achieving unity. Look at the following reports.

Karnataka Closes Kerala Border, 7 Die Due to Delayed Medical Assistance
Telegana Stops Issuing Passes to Migrant Workers and Others Returning from Maharastra, Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh.
Karnataka Bans Entry of People from Gujarat, Maharastra and Tamil Nadu till May 31
Kerala Stops Malayalees Returning From Other States at Border
1000 Buses from Rajastran Dispatched from Alwar Stopped at UP Bharatpur Border by UP Cops
40 Haryana Buses from Gurgaon with Stranded Migrants Were Sent Back by UP Police

Indian States were stopping their own people from entering the State on the ground that they were coming from Covid-hit red zone, not to speak of people from neighbouring States. The BJP Government in UP not only refused entry for buses from Congress-ruled Rajasthan but also from BJP-ruled Haryana. So, the migrant drama played out in UP was more than a Congress-BJP tussle.

Centre fails to lead
The Central Government did not intervene or coordinate movement of people wanting to return home for nearly two months now. All it did finally was to send some trains here and there without waiting for clearance from the States.  However, this did not address even part of the problem. In fact, the States were acting as if they were different countries and returning workers were refugees coming to their States. This happened because the Centre did not take overall responsibility for Covid-19 control.

The Union Government, however, tried to achieve a form of paramountancy by dictating orders to the State governments on lock down. But, it failed to address critical issues like financing the fight against the disease and addressing inter-State issues such as that of the migrants, and even inter-State movement of patients. Much of the resources for the fight in terms of equipment, personnel et cetera had to be mobilised by the States. The Central agencies other than the ICMR played hardly any part.

Soon, the Centre lost the plot. By the end of the first phase, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who announced the lock down without consulting anyone, started consulting the Chief Ministers. By the time, he announced the fourth phase; the Centre had to concede more freedoms to the States.  This was despite the fact that the lock down measures hardly attracted any Opposition from the States.  The States were allowed additional borrowing from the market and they went into a ‘self-reliant’ mode as if they had embraced the Atma Nirbhar slogan of the Prime Minister.  The borders were made as impermeable as possible, often citing order of the Union Home Ministry.

The Kerala Example
Kerala had done well in containing the disease, but miscalculated on what the lock down will or will not achieve elsewhere in the country.  Its achievements were largely the result of early detection, isolation, contact tracing and better care. It also looked after the migrant workers. The lock down at the national level made it easy for it to enforce social distancing and adopt precautionary measures including closure of places of worship and other establishments.

In its bid to keep its record intact, it delayed steps to facilitate return of Malayalees outside the State and abroad. This was despite some States like UP bringing back students from Kota in Rajasthan. In fact, Kerala could have asked the Centre to facilitate return of Keralites to the State and migrants to their respective States, after the first phase.

Despite claims to the contrary, it was also not well-prepared for a large influx of Malayalees from outside. This caused crowding and other issues at the border check posts. The migrant workers became restless as their return was being delayed, often because other States were also trying to keep matters pending.  Hence, Kerala too had at least isolated cases of migrants trying to reach their homes on trucks and cycles. Even now, the mess is far from over. The State did not operate a single bus or Sramik train for Keralites from Bangalore, Hyderabad or Chennai till now. Keralites had to arrange their own vehicles for their return to their homes at high costs. Sramik trains from Delhi and other places are yet to reach Kerala.

There is still no national plan as to how to deal with Covid-19 other than extending lock downs. Full mobility may not be restored at least until July. Kerala has a total lock down on Sundays, the scientific reasoning of which is unclear other than delaying the infections by a day or two.  Lower business hours and total closures on Sundays could only increase the crowd. We still have no trajectory either at the national or State levels as to what is to be achieved even by July.

Lock down has failed in large parts of the country — open up now

Lock down has failed in large parts of the country. As the Central government projected, Covid-19 cases are not going to become zero by the middle of this month.  The cases are multiplying at a fast rate in several States. The exceptions are only some small States like Kerala and Chhattisgarh and the North Eastern States. Most of them, especially Kerala and Chhattisgarh achieved control, by early detection, contact tracing and proper care of the patients.

Almost all States could not shore up supplies and create infrastructure needed during then lock down. Several States could not prevent spiralling up of the cases and deaths. While the Centre claimed that curve could be flattened with the lock down and brought down to zero, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi had told the people that lock down could only be a pause. Even a pause could not be achieved in cases of several parts of the country during lock down.

State-wise list of Covid-19 cases as on 12-5-2020 morning. Death rate is highest in West Bengal followed by Gujarat. It is less than one per cent in Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Odisha and Bihar. Several States smaller States have zero death rates of which Chhattisgarh is notable.

Now, there is little option than opening up fast. The tragedy of migrant labourers is still unravelling. They as well as the rest of the population are increasingly becoming susceptible. While the lower class is facing hunger, the middle class is suffering from lack of exercise and exposure to sunlight (sunlight fortifies Vitamin D in your body). All this reduces immunity. The economy is collapsing and millions are facing unemployment.

There is confusion of policies at the government level both in dealing with the pandemic and economy. There is also a bias against the poorer and less influential sections of the society. Guidelines on dealing with the Covid-19 are changed frequently because arrangements to deal with the disease in the best way are still not in place. Now, there is only one way—to face the pandemic head on and pray for herd immunity, achievement of slower spreading by means of physical distancing and use of masks and faster development of vaccines or medicines.

The government has now resumed rail services in a limited way. But non-AC coaches may be safer than AC coaches. Similarly a few hours of travel by air will be safer than a few days travel by Rajadhani class train. So, flights should be resumed along with metro services with restrictions. All manufacturing units should be allowed to function with physical distancing norms. All services except cinemas, entertainment programmes, sports events, meetings, religious gatherings and festivals should be permitted.

Performance of Members of Parliament 2014 – 2019

P. K. Biju meeting voters

Did you know that CPI (M) member P. K. Biju (Alathur) was among the top ten performers of the outgoing Lok Sabha in terms of participation in debates, but the topper beats him by a score more than six times higher?

Congress member K. V. Thomas, who did not get a seat this time, and actor Innocent (CPI-M independent), who is contesting again from Chalakudy, were the poorest performers among members who served the full term from Kerala.

Topper Bhairon Prasad Mishra (BJP) from Uttar Pradesh attended all sittings of the House and participated in 2095 debates.  You may even wonder whether the Sabha had so many debates, considering the poor participation by many of our elected representatives. The average participation was about 67 debates nationally and 142.5 for members from Kerala.

Biju participated in 326 debates followed by RSP’s N. K. Premachandran (300) and Independent Joice George (290).  On the other hand, Thomas and Innocent participated only in 42 debates each. P. K. Kunhalikutty (Muslim League) has the lowest score of nine from Kerala. It may be noted here that he was in the House only for about two years, having been elected in a by-election from Malappuram in April 2017. If we extrapolate his performance for five years, it is still the lowest from Kerala.

The outgoing Lok Sabaha has as many as 32 members who did not participate in any of the debates. They included post graduates and doctorate degree holders. They also included former Chief Ministers Shibu Soren (Jharkhand) and Kamal Nath (Madhya Pradesh) besides actor Shatrughan Sinha.

The oldest member in Lok Sabha, L. K. Advani of BJP, participated in only one debate in  a span of five years. So was the youngest member Pravin Kumar Nishad of Samajwadi Party from Uttar Pradesh who incidentally is a professional graduate.

Supriya Sule of Nationalist Congress Party from Maharastra topped in terms of the questions she had asked the government in the House.  She had asked as many as 1181 questions during the five-year term.  Nishikant Dubey of BJP from Jharkhand presented the highest number of private members’ bills in the House— 48 against average of 2.3 bills nationally.

The following MPs had 100 per cent attendance in the House, besides Bhairon Prasad Mishra.

Kulamani Samal Odisha Jagatsinghpur Biju Janata Dal Professional Graduate 100%
Ramesh Chander Kaushik Haryana Sonipat Bharatiya
Janata Party
Professional Graduate 100%
Bhairon Prasad Mishra Uttar Pradesh Banda Bharatiya
Janata Party
Inter/ Higher Secondary 100%
Gopal Chinayya Shetty Maharashtra Mumbai-North Bharatiya Janata Party Under Matric 100%

Attendance is not marked for Ministers. Niranjan Jyoti from Uttar Pradesh had 100 per cent attendance till she became a Minister in August 2014.

Full set of sortable data at
http://www.keralaassembly.org/lok/sabha/2019/performance_2019.php4

Save Kurinji Campaign enters new phase

kurinji-bloom in bloom

kurinji in bloom at Kurinjimala Sanctuary, Kerala, India

The Save Kurinji Campaign was started by a group of youngsters in the eighties against destruction of the shola grasslands of Munnar and Palani Hills and its flagship species neelakurinji (Strobilanthuskunthiana) which flowers once in 12 years.

The first of its campaign march from Kodaikanal in Tamil Nadu to Munnar in Kerala was inaugurated by none other than Zafar Rashid Futehally (1920 – 2013), Indian naturalist and conservationist best known for his work as the secretary of the Bombay Natural History Society in 1989.

The campaigners marched from Kodaikanal to highlight the loss of sholas to plantations of eucalyptus, wattle and pine. Besides the Save Kurinji Campaign Council, those associated with the campaign included the Palani Hills Conservation Council and High Range Wildlife Preservation Association. This led to increased awareness about the importance of sholas and their flora and fauna. Campaign marches and other programmes were organised in the subsequent decades also.

At that time there was few studies about sholas. But soon there were several, including a book on shola forest published by the Kerala Forest Research Institute.The studies and campaigns led to stoppage of eucalyptus plantations in Kerala and Tamil Nadu though those planted already continued to affect the ecosystem.

In 2006, the campaign met with its major success with the LDF government declaring 3200 hectares of kurinji habitat near Munnar as Kurinjimala sanctuary for protection of kurinji and its habitat. The then Forest Minister Benoy Viswam took special interest in conserving the habitat. Before that, the UDF government led by OommenChandy had cleared the area of ganja cultivators and set up a forest station at Kadavari. The Palani (Kodaikanal ) wildlife sanctuary was formed in 2013 by Tamil Nadu government.

The Eravikulam National Park in Kerala was already a protected area for conservation of shola grasslands. The Year 2006 was a year of flowering of kurinji in several areas including the Park. The Forest Department paid special attention to keeping the Park free of fires in summer. Protective measures were also extended to the newly formed Kurinjimala sanctuary. This helped in maturing of the seeds of kurinji and its propagation. The results are expected to be seen this year when the kurinji plants in these areas are due for their next cycle of flowering (between July and October).

As phase of the next phase of the campaign, those who participated in earlier save kurinji marches and younger nature lovers will be gathering in Kodaikanal on June 1 to 3 to relive the memories and chart out campaign for consolidation of the gains. As done in 1989, they will be going around the Kodai Lake to mark the beginning of next phase of campaign.

Cattle trade ban: another disruptive action by Centre

Beef fest organised by DYFI in protest against ban on sale of cattle in markets

Beef fest organised by DYFI in protest against ban on sale of cattle in markets

The order of the Central government banning sale of cattle in public markets for slaughter is another disruptive measure of Modi government after demonetisation. It will strengthen the organised sector to the detriment of the unorganised sector.

Of course, it has political objectives as the decision will please the Sangh Parivar outfits. The decision will be hitting a large number of people, including middlemen, who are engaged in trading of cattle and meat. A large section of them are Muslims. This will provide political capital for the BJP to go for its larger objectives.

The ban has been brought in a devious manner under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act as the Centre did not have powers to regulate trade in meat directly. That power rests with the State governments.  Reasons being offered by various quarters for banning trade in cattle for slaughter through markets such as Supreme Court order, need to prevent cruelty against animals and ensuring of the source of meat (traceability) are bogus or devious.

The Supreme Court order did not say that trade through markets should be banned. It will not ensure benign treatment of animals. Traceability of meat reaching slaughter houses could have been ensured through the market mechanism itself. (Note that the farmers are now required to produce several documents to trade in cattle). Ensuring traceability of both agricultural and meat products is a positive measure towards consumer protection and food safety. However, it is wrong to argue that traceability could be ensured by bypassing the market.

The BJP government do plan to ensure traceability and that is the larger story. As the meat business moves into big hands, their sourcing would become traceable. They will do it for their own interest and enforcement of regulation in this respect is easy.

However, small traders, their workmen and farmers who have to sell cattle for slaughter will be the victims. Like demonetisation, the results are not entirely predictable. Middlemen will find new ways to carry on their trade. A new network may emerge for purchase of cattle for slaughter from homesteads. However, the shift will hit those in the business of meat trade on a small scale and farmers at least in the short term. Farmers will not get remunerative prices until a mechanism that could fetch them competitive prices emerge. Prices of even the draught cattle sold though markets may come down as prices in markets are determined, to a great extent, by the value of meat.

However, meat prices are not going to come down. In fact, it is likely to go up in States such as Kerala, which is dependent on inter-State movement of cattle for slaughter, owing to shortages. These movements could be stalled because of restrictions imposed by the Centre.

The requirement of documentation will dissuade farmers from selling even draught animals through market. Eventually, cattle markets, as we know today, may die out with mechanisation of farm sector, and the trade will pass on to organised sector.

The net effect of all these is that meat production will move into the hands of meat production and marketing companies. The positive and negative effect of this shift is another issue. The point is that the measure will cause disruption affecting thousands of ordinary folk. The Centre had done it without even consulting the State or arriving at a consensus.

Beef fest organised by Youth Congress in protest against the ban

Beef fest organised by Youth Congress in protest against the ban

Opposition parties in the State are protesting against the measure on the ground that it hurts people’s food choices. This is not very true as sale of meat has not been banned, though Kerala may face some shortages of meat on a short-term.

It is high time that the politicians cared to study the larger objectives and implications of the Central government’s policy before reacting to this. In a country like India, a quick shift of meat from unorganised to organised sector is not desirable. The farmers are already committing suicides owning to wrong policies followed by governments. Similar thing is going to happen to small traders though we can expect that they would be resourceful enough to survive.

As to the farmers who find it difficult to market their cattle for slaughter at remunerative prices, formation of cooperatives on the model of Amul may be an option. Kerala government will be better advised to develop such a cooperative set up instead of going for a legal battle with the Central government. This is not to say that the government should not oppose the Central government’s policy.

Mullaperiyar: What is Pinarai Vijayan up to?

Pinarayi-Vijayan

Chief Minister Pinarai Vijayan

The new Chief Minister of Kerala Pinarai Vijayan has willingly courted controversy in the first week of assuming office itself over Mullaperiyar and other issues.

The essence of his statement on Mullaperiyar was that Kerala will have to take into account the finding of the empowered committee appointed by the Supreme Court that the dam was safe and future negotiations would have to be over the report of the committee and its reliability. Secondly, he said that a new dam at Mullaperiyar, which Kerala had proposed as a means to ensure safety of people of five districts in the State, was not possible without cooperation from Tamil Nadu.

Faced with strong opposition to the change in the State’s stand over Mullaperiyar, Mr. Vijayan clarified that the government was still for new dam. What he had said was that it was not possible to build a dam without cooperation from the Centre and Tamil Nadu.

There was no compulsion for Mr. Vijayan to come up with an early policy statement on Mullaperiyar as no decision was pending on the issue that needed immediate attention. He also made a statement in favour of revival of the Athirappally hydroelectric project which is strongly opposed by environmental activists and leaders of the CPI which is a constituent of the ruling coalition, the Left Democratic Front. He could have delayed taking a stand on both the issues if he wanted.

However, he apparently had political and administrative reasons for making statements on Mullaperiyar and Athirappally even at the risk of losing some goodwill. On the face of it, the statements hook his bite noire in the party V. S. Achuthanandan who had adopted stands in favour of new dam and against Athirappally project in the past. There has been a truce between Mr. Achuthanandan and Mr. Vijayan before the elections, and Mr. Achuthanandan, as Leader of the Opposition, led the campaign of the Opposition Front. However, the CPI (M) chose Mr. Vijayan as the Chief Minister.

Mr. Vijayan’s statements come at a time when the party is considering an advisory position with Cabinet rank for Mr. Achuthanandan in the Government. Mr. Vijayan’s camp has already raised the criticism that this would give rise to duel power centres. If Mr. Achuthandnan loudly opposed the policy pronouncements by Mr. Vijayan, that would be proof to support the argument. Being a seasoned politician, Mr. Achuthanandan’s reaction was measured. Yet, there is no certainty that he would get the position he desired.

In a raising a controversy, Mr. Vijayan’s political costs are limited. His party does not have much support in any of the areas that will be directly impacted by failure of Mullaperiyar dam. The sufferer is the CPI which has won seats in areas that would be hit by a failure of the Mullaperiyar dam and impacted by the Athirappally project. CPI had done a sterling performance in this election winning 70 per cent of the seats it contested. The CPI (M) knows that it would have to concede more ground to CPI as CPI comes out of political stagnation in Kerala. So, any damage done to CPI is to its advantage.

There is also speculation that the CPI (M) would like to come closer to AIADMK considering CPI (M)’s diminishing importance at the national level. It is also notable that in Devikulam constituency in Kerala, where there is a Tamil population; AIADMK secured over 11600 votes which was more than twice the margin of victory of the CPI (M) candidate in the constituency.

Apart from political objectives, Mr. Vijayan’s statement is clearly aimed at laying the path for new initiatives. Kerala has nearly exhausted its legal options on Mullaperiyar at least for the time being. The way it conducted the cases before the Supreme Court left a lot to be desired. For example, the Supreme Court made an erroneous observation in its 2006 judgement that the waters would be contained in the Idukki dam downstream in case of failure of Mullaperiyar dam. However, Kerala failed to produce the Dam Break Analysis showing that towns and villages and a large population would be washed away, in subsequent litigation in the Court. The previous government then tried to hide reports of the Analysis, which it had commissioned, and other documents relating to the litigation from public by issuing an executive order against releasing documents on Mullaperiyar under Right to Information Act.

Now, Mr. Vijayan needs an opening to drive new policy and this could not be done without admitting the status quo following the Supreme Court orders and the impossibility of building a new dam in the near future. He has to open dialogue with Tamil Nadu. Acknowledging that there is a finding that the dam is safe is first step towards that.
Water for Tamil Nadu and safety for Kerala is slogan raised by the previous government. However, with Tamil Nadu seeking legal options and rejecting the proposal for a new dam, it had only campaign value. Mr. Vijayan has not specified what policy options he would pursue now. He probably has to reconstitute the Mullaperiyar Cell, which failed in its objective, and hold discussions with experts and lawyers before proceeding.

Even before Mr. Vijayan deprecated the proposal for new dam, there was a section of those agitating against the raising of water level in the old dam who argued that the dam should be decommissioned in a phased manner. The decommissioning should be over 50 years or so allowing Tamil Nadu the opportunity to shift its agriculture practices to modern techniques that need less water for irrigation.

Water policy expert Ramaswamy R. Iyer, who was Union Secretary for Water Resources, stated as back as in 2011 that Kerala would be repeating a folly committed more than 100 years ago by building a new dam.

Opinion is growing around the world against large dams and inter-basin diversion of river waters. The Mullaperiyar dam totally cut off flow through the river. International covenants now recognise lower riparian rights and the need to allow flow needed to maintain ecosystems and activities downstream.

Moreover, Kerala’s stand on impact on the Periyar Tiger Reserve is contradictory. On one side, it argued that the raising of the water level would harm the Reserve. On the other side, it proposed a major construction activity and impounding of water within the protected area.

It is expected that Mr. Vijayan would look into all this and come up with a new approach to the issue.

Tragedies and failure to fix responsibility

Police at Puttingal temple near Paravoor following the fireworks accident on April 10, 2016

Police at Puttingal temple near Paravoor following the fireworks accident on April 10, 2016

Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy has announced that rules relating to fireworks in places of worship and elsewhere would be made more stringent while announcing judicial probe into the fireworks tragedy at Paravoor.

The announcement was made without waiting for the finding of the enquiry commission or its recommendations on what are the changes needed in the laws. Instead, the Additional Chief Secretary (Home) was immediately tasked with the job of proposing changes to the rules and stipulations.

This is part of an attempt the divert attention from the fact that it was not lack of laws but failure to enforce them that had caused the tragedy. The tragedy would not have occurred if the ban order issued by the Additional District Magistrate was carried out.

This is not the first time that governments resort to such gimmicks. Whenever enforcement fails, governments talk of inadequacy of laws. Instances are several such as rape laws and the Goonda Act. The so called strengthening of the legislation often results only in increasing the bribes and political patronage that goes behind violation of the laws. Besides, those without influence get punishments disproportionate to their crimes.

The announcement of enquiry commissions is used by politicians as a ruse to escape from public ire. Inquiries of by judicial commission often drag for years at huge public expenditure and its recommendations are not often carried out. The time taken could help matters to cool down and delay or avoid fixing of responsibility. In fact, failure to fix responsibility is a major factor behind repetition of tragedies in Kerala.

The Paravoor tragedy may claim a toll higher than that of Perumon tragedy which had claimed 106 lives. The enquiry commission failed to dig at the real reason for the accident and blamed it on ‘tornado’ without any basis. When 45 tourists died at Thekkady following boat capsize in 2009, the attempt was to blame it on the driver though the boat was defective. Following enquiry by a judicial commission, changes were brought to inland vessel rules. However, even the stipulation that life jackets should be issued and worn by the tourists is still being ignored at several places.  There are many similar cases like the Kumarakom boat tragedy and enquiry commission report on that.

Now, it will not be a surprise if those who failed to enforce the additional district magistrate ban order against the fireworks display at Peravoor are not taken to task. Poor fireworks contractors who are minor spokes in the giant wheel that drives festivals like that at Paravoor will be punished.