The Kerala Budget 2017 is the second budget of the LDF government. The state, which largely is a 'money order economy,' borrows even to meet primary expenditure. We cannot expect the machinery to perform a miracle. The miracle but should come in the form of a strong political will for better and optimal resource mobilization.
Kerala’s per capita borrowing has been ballooning and further borrowing will devastate the state in the long run. For historic reasons, job-creating investments from abroad has not been forthcoming. Populist vote bank profligacy has also affected financial health.
From being an annual balancing of accounts exercise, the budget should establish a long-term perspective plan for the state of Kerala by diligently gauging the strengths and weaknesses.
The state is facing an unprecedented drought condition which is expected to become more acute in the months to come, and going by the deficient monsoons in the past two years, the prophets of doom seem to be correct. Forest cover of the Western Ghats has been ruthlessly destroyed thereby causing irreversible ecological damage. The Western Ghats is also the place where many rivers originate. The inflow into the rivers has also reduced drastically due to loss of forests and reduced rain.
Top priority should be accorded to long- and short-term drought mitigation projects. Allocations for check dams and water transport infrastructure will only help deal with the issue in the short term. The budget should keep in mind the revival and sustenance of water resources.
The budget should fund the revival of old water bodies and canals that are now in disrepair.
Revival of greening
Massive allocation is made for agriculture in the budget. But agriculture is almost extinct in Kerala. The state government has initiated a Green Kerala Project. Massive amounts were allocated for campaigns, advertisements and propaganda but nothing much is being done on the ground. The project should be implemented with the same vigor with which the state took up the total literacy project a couple of decades ago.
It should encompass total development and greening of Kerala should become the mission of every Keralite. Farm allocation should be guided by projects which would make agriculture profitable for the small farmer. It should once again be a real vocation.
Better land use
Kerala is land scarce and proper land utilization plans should be in place. All fallow and unused land should be put to good use. This apart, land should also be used for housing schemes and the ambitious 'land for landless' scheme. The stipulated forest cover should be religiously maintained.
We have a long coastline and allocation should be made to set up desalination plants. This can meet the drinking water need of the state.
Deficient monsoons and slim rivers have affected power generation. This is again alarming as buying power from outside will impose a huge burden on the state. So, allocation should be made to tap new, renewable and clean energy sources.
Garbage disposal should not be neglected. We should set the benchmarks adopted by developed countries and make the most of the waste we generate. Waste can be made a source of energy. The essential technology is available in the country itself and the help of IITs or other such institutes should be enlisted for the same.
IT and tourism
Information technology and tourism are potential sources of income for the state. But many tourist areas are far from clean and tourist–friendly. The budget should make allocations to keep tourist areas clean and green. Or else, we are not very far from losing the 'God's own country' tag.
Affordable healthcare, devoid of the pharma-hospital nexus, should also be a priority as high life expectancy has resulted in a huge population of those aged above 60. There is no harm in the state adopting a welfare approach to health.
Easy and affordable transportation between districts' headquarters and development of waterways for transport are areas that should receive attention.
(The author is a retired additional director-general of Doordarshan. The views expressed are personal. Reach the author at: firstname.lastname@example.org)