On guard, Gods own country Kerala eyeing life after COVID-19

On guard, 'God's own country' Kerala eyeing life after COVID-19

Kerala being the state where the first coronavirus cases were reported in the country, and also the one that had the most number of cases a few weeks back, this is indeed a moment of celebration for the Malayali people. However, experts warn not to.

Kerala is on the threshold of success. May 4, 2020 was a remarkable day of relief for the state since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic as it was the second consecutive day the state reported zero new cases. Sixty one cases had turned out to be negative, pulling Kerala to the 19th position among states with regard to the total number of existing cases. It now has only 34 more positive COVID-19 cases.

Being the state where the first coronavirus cases were reported in the country, and also the one that had the most number of cases a few weeks back, this is indeed a moment of celebration for the Malayali people. However, experts warn not to.

“The Kerala cases seem to have burned out for now; of course there might be some undetected cases here and there, but being mild may peter out locally, but I think we should keep the celebrations on hold since the bigger challenge is yet to come when the expats return,” says Dr Aravindan, public health expert and a member of the state government’s expert committee for COVID-19 battle.

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Dr B Iqbal, another member of the expert committee and a member of the State Planning Board, tends to agree with Dr Aravindan. “Kerala alone will not be able to contain. A large number of NRIs and people from other states are waiting to come back,” he said.

A highly placed source in the government ratified the fears expressed by both the experts. “We will certainly have another surge of positive cases with the return of the expats. This may last for another five to six months,” the source said.

However, Kerala has started talking about the life after COVID-19 while most of the other states are still struggling to breathe. Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has announced a slew of initiatives to boost investments. Addressing the media, the chief minister said, “The COVID pandemic opens up new possibilities for Kerala. The extraordinary way in which we handled this outbreak has made the state one of the safest and secured industrial investment centers in the world. We are getting a lot of inquiries from investors and entrepreneurs from around the world who are interested in Kerala. Our strength is the manpower here and we have once again proved that our human resources are comparable to any developed nation in the world. Considering all these factors, the government is making some decisions to attract a large number of industrial investments to Kerala.”

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The chief minister has announced that all industrial licenses and permits will be issued within one week of application. Permission will be granted with certain conditions which the entrepreneur should complete within a year. Multimodal logistics centers will be established in Thiruvananthapuram, Ernakulam, Kozhikode and Kannur, connecting the airport, port, rail and road. This will make Kerala a major force in international trade and commerce. Logistics parks will be set up in different parts of the state to take advantage of export and import opportunities. An advisory committee will be formed to make Kerala a preferred investment destination. Investors, policymakers and industry leaders will be part of the CM’s Investment Advisory Committee.

“One of the areas where our potential lies is the pharmaceutical industry,” Dr Thomas Issac, the finance minister of Kerala, told The Federal. “As Kerala already has the infrastructure (medical and pharmaceutical parks), it would not be difficult for us to take the state to the level of a big player in the industry,” he said. Dr Issac thinks the brand value of Kerala’s healthcare could be tapped.

According to him, tourism is another niche area to be carved out. “We have a very good image even after the pandemic. We have given a message to the world that Kerala is safe and people coming to Kerala will be protected.” Dr Issac added that the state government is actively considering inviting investments in Information Technology sector from countries like China in the post-COVID-19 scenario. “We are confident that we can tap investment through Kerala Infrastructure Investment Fund Board (KIIFB),” said Dr Thomas Issac.

Related news: With NRKs waiting, ‘model state’ Kerala has long way to go in COVID fight

However, the future is not as green as it is being claimed by the government. The foreign remittance by the large population of expats has been the back bone of Kerala’s economy since 1980s. Migration becoming a story of the past and the massive reverse migration of expats is one of the worst scenarios predicted by economists since a decade. It seems that it is about to happen.

Five lakh expats in various countries have already registered with the department of Non Residents Keralites Affairs (NORKA) for return. A large chunk of these returnees have lost their jobs and are coming back in distress. When all states go through severe economic stress mainly because of revenue loss due to the halt in agriculture and industry, Kerala has to deal with multiple snags.

“Kerala’s revenue from GST in 2019 April was ₹1,700 crore (GST ₹829 crore and IGST ₹821 crore). In this April, it is only 161 crore. The revenue from Stamps and Registration was ₹655 crore in last April and this time it is just ₹12 crore. The state received ₹300 crore last year from motor vehicle tax. This year this month, the revenue from motor vehicle tax is just ₹4 crore.” Putting some bitter facts straight, M Gopakumar, additional private secretary to the state finance minister, told The Federal that it is better people know how staggering the economy is.

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