A six-time legislator and serving his sixth term as a minister, Hon’ble Minister for Industries and Information Technology, Shri P K Kunhalikutty, knows Kerala like the back of his hand. During a candid chat with Kartik Sharma and Nayana Singh of ENN, he talks about the finer nuances of the state, its IT climate and roadmap for future development…
Kerala is often looked upon as a role model for its use of IT in industries and education. People’s standard of living is also much better than in other parts of the country. How do you observe the state’s development story?
It is true that over a period of time, Kerala has made substantial achievements in areas like education and health, lifting the overall standard of living. To some extent, we owe this to our expatriates’ community from the state, as no other state can be confident of overseas income like us. Besides, the state government has always been alert to the cause of people’s welfare. The future challenge is to further push the economic growth of the state and take per capita income of people to the next levels. However, it is no less important to sustain the developments achieved by us. Finding greater opportunities within the state is one of the biggest challenges, so now we are re-orienting our policies to that end. Kerala stands out among the states as far as development is concerned, and we will do our best sustain and take that development forward.
You hold two important portfolios IT and Industries. Please recount your key achievements in these areas?
On the industries front, Kerala faces some issues relating to environment issues and pricing. Although Kerala has its own problems with regard to industrial growth, it also has its own model to counter those challenges. In the past, my growth-targeted efforts under successive governments have created an environment conducive for reasonable growth of industry in the state. We created industrial zones and parks called KINFRA parks over the years. In 1991, we revived the policy of creating parks and zones, as those had been banned by previous governments. Same year, we introduced an industrial policy facilitating acquisition of certain acres of land and then developing those into industrial zones and parks. The parks provided for special incentives to certain priorities segments like processing units, small scale industries and other SMEs. As for my individual achievements, I would say that much of the infrastructure development in the state that has happened over the years is my contribution.
Growth has been reasonably good in the small scale sector. Traditionally, the primary area of employment in Kerala has been agriculture, but in recent times, the focus has shifted to the SME sector. It is no less than an achievement that we are above the national average industrial growth rate. In IT sector, the big achievement is connectivity. Barring some villages, the entire state now enjoys wired connectivity, which no other state of India can boast of. Even the remaining villages will be connected shortly. Majority of the people will now be using computers. In case they do not have computers, they can go to one of nearby kiosks. e-literacy is coming to the people of the state in totality, as they are using digital technology in all its forms. We are proud of it. Improved IT connectivity will further improve transport facilities, communications, industrial growth, etc. There is just no end to it. This will help in overall development of Kerala comparable with any developed country.
How do you think private sector investments in IT sector can be given a push in Kerala?
Private sector investment is destined to go up in Kerala, as there is no dearth of business opportunities in the state. Also, smart city projects with the help of the central government have already started taking shape here. So, inspired by the growth story of the state, we expect a large number of IT companies to come to Kerala. High digital literacy percentage and increased use of IT in the state will also work as drivers in this regard. We are geared up to provide them a conducive business environment and take good care of their requirements.
What about the education sector? Does it hold promise for prospective investors?
In the area of education, we offer top-class facilities. Not only from other states of the country, but students from even neighboring countries come to Kerala seeking admission in medical and engineering colleges of the state. This attracts investors to Kerala. We may have certain issues with regard to the manufacturing and chemical units, but it doesn’t apply to other sectors. We welcome any other industry to come to state and we will provide them whatever support they require on case-to-case basis.
PSUs play a crucial role in a state’s growth. What PSUs are operating in Kerala, and how do you plan to strengthen them?
Kerala is a state with a large number of PSUs. However, all the PSUs are not doing well. For example, textile sector public undertakings are facing challenges…but that is the story of textile industry in most parts of the country. Then, some industries are also facing problems due to poor market conditions. But industries like cement, titanium and others are doing well. Some of them, even are doing good business and making profits. In addition to business and profits, they also play an important social role by serving the poor. No matter whether they are doing good or bad, the government is supporting them and will keep supporting them in future as well.
“Our all policies should be attuned to the environment issues of Kerala. Any investment that we plan should be environment-friendly, because greenery and climate are core competencies of Kerala”
What policies do you have or you plan to adopt for generating employment through IT? Also, what is your strategy to generate employment opportunities in totality?
Yes, this is one of the top concerns…with increase in investments, there must be a proportionate increase in the opportunities of employment. We work with end in mind and that’s why we encourage investments in the state. Even today, IT is the largest job providing sector in the state after the government sector. Our Techno Park is the largest in India in terms of the number of people employed; it’s close to hitting one lakh figure. Apart from IT, tourism sector also holds great employment generation potential. Directly or indirectly, they are among the bulk employment providers.
You are a tall leader in Kerala today. What is your vision for the development of state in the coming years?
Our all policies should be attuned to the environment issues of Kerala. Any investment that we plan should be environmentfriendly, because greenery and climate are core competencies of Kerala. Today, we have everything in Kerala, and this is so because of the green environment. This is a big challenge for us to effect policy changes keeping environmental requirements in mind…thoughts of green must pervade all our activities like planning and construction. Like any other state, we also cannot ignore development and investments, but nothing at the cost of environment.
In comparison to other states of India, Kerala has seen greater inclusive growth over decades, and to sustain that development is my vision for the state.
What is your message for eIndia 2014 Summit – being held in association with the Kerala Goverment?
Wish that eINDIA 2014 turns out to be a good opportunity for the people to understand our state and the country better, and visualise the future roadmap for development and find opportunities of participation in it. The state looks forward to good outcomes from the event.