Thiruvananthapuram: Kerala chief minister Oommen Chandy was in his office, in the midst of people from across the state who were there to find solutions to their various problems. Between addressing their issues and attending to his cabinet colleagues and bureaucrats, Chandy spoke with Mint about his plans for development, transparency, dealing with politically sensitive issues such as admissions to self-financing colleges, the state’s views on the goods and services tax and the treasure trove found in the Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple. Edited excerpts:
What is the road map for your 100-days development plan?
The main focus is increasing transparency. In fact, this office is online. People have the right to know everything without them asking for it. Good governance with transparency is the focus. Transparency will be insisted at all levels. The Attempt is to give no room for corruption...
Then, land takeover is a serious issue. I am not favouring forceful eviction (and), there will be new guidelines. Then, there are definite plans for each sector... Time-bound completion of projects in development and social welfare schemes has been mapped. I will personally oversee the implementation of it.
100-day plan: Chandy says his government will carry forward the good concepts of the last government .Photo Vivek Nair/Mint
What are you views on introducing the goods and services tax (GST)? Are you supporting the constitutional amendment in this regard?
Introduction of GST will increase the revenue of the state government. But there are other aspects which need to be studied thoroughly and the state finance minister is doing it. So I cannot say the position of the state in this matter.
How do you plan to deal with the treasure trove in the Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple?
My government has taken a strong stand on this particular issue. The temple is the pride of Kerala; treasures were surrendered to the deity and they belong to the temple. We should appreciate the fact that the treasures were safe there for centuries. The state will bear the cost for security and the security arrangements will be made in consultation with the Supreme Court, the head of (the erstwhile) royal family, and the chief priest of the temple, in accordance with the rituals and traditions.
Now that the Kerala government has secured a verdict making it compulsory for self-financing colleges to admit 50% of their students on the basis of merit, what steps will you take from here?
We cannot have an environment where only the rich can study. There has to be social justice. The state cannot afford it otherwise. So we will implement a 50:50 scheme; half of the seats will be filled from the state merit list and half will be left for the managements... All political parties have agreed to it.
Your government has decided to give up its share on the hiked petroleum product prices. Have you identified an alternative source of revenue?
The government has only decided to give up its share on the additional profit generated from the increase in the petroleum prices. While the people are fighting inflation, the government cannot ignore it and continue to increase its coffer.
The crisis in West Asia has resulted in non-resident Keralites returning to the state. Since they contribute substantially to the state’s economy, what are your plans to supplement the loss? And what are your rehabilitation plans for them?
I do not think that it will affect the economy of Kerala because Malayalis are there in other parts of the world as well and they are doing well. And for those expatriates (returning from West Asia), the Kerala government will introduce special packages by way of financial assistance and soft loans to find self-employment.
The recent statistical survey shows employment generation is declining. Do you have a plan to augment employment generation and investment in Kerala?
Kerala faces a curious problem. There is shortage of workers in the manual labour sector. It is with the help of immigrants from other states that we are able to complete infrastructure and construction projects. Likewise, there is a shortage of people venturing into agriculture and related sectors. So the government is in the process of identifying ways to make these sectors more attractive.
Also, several big projects such as the Smart City and Metro rail projects in Kochi, Vizhinjam port and other projects, which have been delayed during the last government’s tenure, will be implemented soon. This will generate enormous employment opportunities in all sectors. In the 100- days programme, there is a plan for setting up an industrial promotion council, which will facilitate investments... Kerala will witness huge investment over the next few years.
The Left Front claims Kerala’s economy grew at 9.8% during its rule. What are your views? Do you have a plan to increase growth?
I do not think that it is true. In fact, the double-digit growth was achieved during the last UDF (United Democratic Front led by Chandy’s Congress party) government. As I said earlier, the government has a clear vision about rejuvenating the economy. Some good concepts of the last government like Islamic banking will be taken forward and (we) will also implement those projects delayed by the previous government.
When you were the opposition leader, you often blamed the Left Front government for not using central funds and delaying centrally-sponsored projects. But when the Union government wrote to the state government offering rice and wheat under the open market sale scheme at subsidized rates, your government did not avail it.
See, the state government thinks that it (rice and wheat) should be given at the PDS (public distribution system) rate. Although it (prices under the open market scheme) is at a lower rate than the market rate, it will affect the overall price mechanism. The state is looking at the option of accepting the Centre’s offer. We are closely working with the central government, ministers from our state are very helpful and we will fulfil our commitments on an emergency basis for central projects.
The state government seems to be withdrawing from the health sector and healthcare is increasingly becoming inaccessible for the poor. How do you plan to deal with it?
My government will increase investment in the health sector and will ensure healthcare is affordable for the poor, especially the marginalized sections like senior citizens and the backward community.
How difficult is it to run a government with a fringe majority?
In democracy, what matters is the majority and not the numbers. When you have a small majority you have to be more cautious...that may delay the pace, but I am very confident that governance will not be affected by the fringe majority.