As the UDF government completes 20 months in office, Chief Minister Oommen Chandy gets candid with Vinod Mathew of The New Indian Express on development issues facing the state. Excerpts:
Are you satisfied with the way your government has fared till now? What would you list under the major achievements head? And the biggest shortfall?
We've succeeded in our effort over the last 20 months to send out a message to the world that Kerala has changed its investment ethos, that we've matured as a state and are no longer prone to strike work for whimsical reasons. The youth of Kerala have begun to think different and look beyond traditional jobs. I'll own up that we have completely failed to deliver effectively on the waste management front. We are working on a few models successful in places similar to Kerala but need to regain confidence of the people.
You had two back-to-back international meets hosted in Kochi—Emerging Kerala and Pravasi Bharatiya Divas. What are the tangible takeaways?
It is the changing outlook of Kerala's youth, reflected in the Student Entrepreneurship Programme that offers 20 per cent attendance and four per cent grace marks, and offers close-to-free land at KINFRA Park, Thrikkakara, in Kochi. We are keen on these kind of projects.
Have we got our act together on the Smart City project with the single SEZ? What is the timeline for the completion of the first phase?
The project parameters will get streamlined by January 31. We hope to cover up for the six months lost and come out with a time-frame for the completion of the project.
Sam Pitroda is mentor for only one state in India. What has he delivered for Kerala so far?
His 10-point agenda for the state’s development is coming to the implementation stage. Coastal transport leads the list with six out of 14 minor ports in the state ready to undergo infrastructure development under the PPP model. We are also planning a human resource grid in the state.
Kerala lags behind other states in power generation, hugely critical for investment, with the last big power project being put up almost 25 years ago. Will your government leverage the 590-km-long coastline to put up power plants based on imported coal or LNG, as in other states?
We need to generate much more power. But sensitive issues such as power plants need public consensus. We are unable to even draw transmission lines from the Koodamkulam power plant. Within these constraints, we are looking at solar energy so there are no extraneous issues to drag us down.
What is the roadmap for developing our highway and intra-city roads?
The government is proud about what has been achieved in the development and maintenance of roads in the state. But we are facing difficulties with the development of National Highways, both on land acquisition and toll collection.
What would be your top priorities for the next 20 months?
There could be more controversies in the next 20 months. Still, I would start with a 2030 vision statement to be ready by the end of this fiscal, as such a blueprint for the state’s long-term growth has so far been missing. An Emerging from Kerala action plan will be unveiled. If you were to look for time-bound programmes, I'll say our aim would be to achieve self-sufficiency in milk and vegetables, for which we now depend on neighbouring states.