Tuesday, October 4, 2011

God’s own country going to dogs

S Rema Devi/Kochi

A few years ago, a North Indian investor went to Kerala’s industrial belt Kanjikode with an intention to buyout a glucose manufacturing plant. On the way, he saw many factories shut due to labour unrest. Employees of these firms were sitting on a stir, holding red flags, in makeshift sheds. The unit in question has been shut for more than one year due to labour problem. When the investor entered the gates of the company, about a dozen workers menacingly approached him and warned him against purchasing the firm. The management pleaded with the investor to buyout the plant but did not have an answer how to settle the labour dispute. Sensing trouble, the investor left the place never to return.

“Sadly for Kerala, the Marxists are the state's worst enemies. They have completely ruined the work culture, creating an environment where school children speak seriously of a samaram -- a strike or agitation -- as the solution to every problem. Why would any sensible industrialist bother to invest in such a state? Kerala, sadly, is one of the last places where 'productivity' is still a

“The truth is that the so-called 'Kerala Model' is an abject failure. It now turns out that the very phrase is rooted in misunderstanding. It was, supposedly, used by Nobel laureate Amartya Sen. Then it was picked up by the Marxist crew, who thought that the Master of Trinity supported their views. A burst of plain-speaking has left many Reds red-faced,” writes Shenoy.
Kerala was known for its superiority in education and health. But in these two fields, the state is facing problems. four-letter word,” says eminent journalist TVR Shenoy.
Much hyped ‘Kerala Model’ -- refers to the state's achievement of significant improvements in material conditions of living, reflected in indicators of social development that are comparable to that of many developed countries, even though the state's per capita income is low in comparison – is becoming unsustainable.


Although the state has made giant strides with regard to literacy, over the years there has been a steady decline in the quality of education. One of the major reasons is financial constraints faced by the sector. There has been a quantitative expansion of the sector but this has also added to its financial woes. This has hit the efforts on upgradation and modernisation of the sector. The state has not been able to properly take care of the existing infrastructure. Also there has been a dearth of ideas as to how to go about quantitative and qualitative expansion of the sector. The decline of the quality of education in government-run schools has resulted in the mushrooming of schools in the private sector. The State has around 13,000 schools of which 4,500 are Government schools while about 7,500 are private-aided and some 800 private-unaided schools.

"About 30 per cent of the chi

ldren who complete primary schools do not reach the necessary achievement levels in literacy and numeracy," say Dr K.K. George and Dr K.K. Krishnakumar of the Centre for Socio Economic and Environmental Studies (CSES).

According to media reports, the dropout rates in secondary schools are high. This is particularly true for SC/ST students.

“Only about 50 per cent of the students who appear for the examination get through in spite of liberal valuation and provision for grace marks. Only one-third of the children who join the first standard manage to pass th

e matriculation examination,” they said. There were reports in the media which showed how even 10th pass students were not able to spell their names correctly.

The large-scale drop-outs in the secondary schools as also the high percentage of failures at the matriculation level, the low average marks scored etc., are manifestations of the low-level of preparation of students and their consequent inability to cope with even the modest sifting procedures. But a recent study has brought out that the per-pupil expenditure on secondary education is very low compared to other States. The per-pupil expenditure on secondary education in Kerala is only Rs 4,659, as against the all-India average of Rs 5,668. In higher education also, the situation is not very encouraging. Kerala lags behind other States not only in qualitative terms but also in quantitative terms.


Two reasons are attribute

d to the return of many epidemics to Kerala, a state that had achieved developed-country status in all the major human development indices: erosion of the grassroots-level public healthcare system that once thrived on government support, and dysfunctional municipal systems that do not deal effectively with waste-disposal outbreaks of seasonal epidemics like dengue fever, chikunguniya and Weil’s disease in Kerala during the last few monsoons, which have affected millions of people across the state, have caused serious concern about a crisis in public health in Kerala. Politicians, policymakers and public health workers are now unanimous in their view that the famous public healthcare system that helped Kerala achieve developed-nation status in all the major human development indices like life expectancy, infant mortality, etc, is now being seriously challenged.

With the onset of the monsoon this year, which started in early June, came a chikunguniya epidemic that practically immobilised the entire state. Over 1 million people were treated at various hospitals across Kerala. The decline in the grassroots level healthcare system has been evident over the last few ye

ars and the recent National Family Health Survey 3 (NFHS3) is an eye-opener: It says that the proportion of children between one to two years who received all required immunisations was 81% in Tamil Nadu, but dropped to 75% in Kerala. The total fertility rate (average number of children per couple) is 1.8 in Tamil Nadu while it is 1.9 in Kerala. The infant mortality rate (IMR) in Kerala, which had reached a low of 10 per 1,000 in the mid-’90s now stands at 15, according to NFHS data. These are some recent statistical indicators – from government sources -- that illustrate the decline of Kerala’s health sector.

The decline has been attributed to the erosion of primary healthcare centres as the focus of the healthcare system. Now th

e focus has shifted to specialty hospitals and referral centres. Doctors serving the government sector, especially in rural areas, are leaving to join the mushrooming private hospitals. Added to this is the accumulation of wastes and the failure of the public systems to cope with it. The changed mood is visible to even a casual visitor. National highways now resemble public dumping grounds, and most of Kerala’s rivers and waterways are clogged with stinking bags full of chicken and other animal waste. In Kochi, the fastest-growing city in the state, the situation has, in fact, become unbearable. Because of the huge piles of garbage in the streets and a breakdown in the municipal system, schools in some areas were forced to declare a few days holiday in July.

Dr T Jacob John, former head of the virology division at the Vellore Medical College in Tamil Nadu and an acknowle

dged authority on virology in south India, is one of the people concerned about the fact that many epidemics are staging a comeback in Kerala. Epidemics that, he says, were weeded out in the early-’70s thanks to easy access to modern medicine through an effective public healthcare system. Experts say that in the mid-’80s there were regular outbreaks of dengue fever and chikunguniya. Also, new and virulent species of carriers like the Aedis Egypti mosquito whose spread has been aided by large rubber plantations that now proliferate even in the midlands. Along with them came the widespread use of plastic and its indiscriminate disposal, with no public action to put in place an effective recycling mechanism. Added to this was the breakdown in a once-efficient public healthcare system, with the decline in government support to public health and an increas

ing tendency towards privatisation of healthcare taking it beyond the reach of poorer sections of society.


Agriculture in the state is facing problems due to high input costs and shrinking individual land holdings. The average land holding is 0.60 acres. Successive governments have failed to cash in on spices trade for which Kerala had been famous from time immemorial. With land being a scare commodity in the state, Kerala should have concentrated on software industry to further its industrial development. But the state missed the IT bus also. Joblessness is rife due to the lack of a robust manufacturing base - more than 15% in urban areas, three times the national average. More than 30 million people live in the densely populated state, a third of which is covered by forests. More people here are taking their lives than anywhere else in India. Alcoholism is

a dire social problem - the state has India's highest per capita alcohol consumption. People migrate because there are no jobs at home.

"Having fulfilled all millennium development goals, the state has no money left for higher investments. The central government is busy tackling poverty and illiteracy in most states, so doesn't have time or money for Kerala. And successive governments in Kerala have not been able to take it forward," says Dr KK George, an economist. "The Kerala model is grinding to a halt because the social and political groups having fulfilled their original agenda now have no new agendas. Society has lost its capacity to set collective goals. There are no more big dreams," says Dr George.

Kerala micro-credit body to offer consultancy to Centre

The Union Rural Development Ministry has decided to rope in the micro-enterprises consultancy services of the Kerala-based women's micro-credit body Kudumbashree for its National Rural Livelihood Mission, an executive said. "We will soon be singing a memorandum of understanding with the National Rural Livelihood Mission (NRLM) of the Union Rural Development Ministry. Under this, we will be offering our micro-enterprise consulting services to the NRLM," Kudumbashree Executive Director Sarada Muraleedharan said. "Kudumbashree has been asked to function as a resource agency for scaling up the NRLM initiative, and an MoU is being entered into between NRLM and Kudumbashree shortly to take this programme to other states," Muraleedharan explained.

The micro-credit body is credited for marrying the principles of Gandhian economics with rural development wherein each village independently develops resources for its sustenance. Launched in 1998 as a joint programme of the Kerala Government and Nabard to eradicate absolute poverty through concerted community action under the leadership of local self-government bodies, Kudumbashree is one of the largest women-empowered projects in the country having 38 lakh members and covers over 50 percent of the households in the southern state by running 2.03 lakh neighbourhood groups (NGs). Each of these groups consists of 10-20 poor women members and on an average Rs 40 is collected from each of them. Total thrift collected by NGs stood at Rs 1,549.5 crore as of January 2011 and the internal loans generated stood at Rs 4,372 crore since inception, Muraleedharan said.

Currently, the products produced using Kudumbashree's MEC services range from non-chemical soaps to herbal products, indigenous food items to apparel, especially shirts, and under garments for men and women, to begin with. It also markets 40 brands in 12 categories, including ready mixes, pickles, jams, flours of different grains, honey, and cashew nuts. Kudumbashree markets these products under the HomeShop brand and holds exhibitions called Kudumbashree Community Brand Expos. "Currently, there are 42,000 micro-enterprises being run by 75,000 families, mostly from below the poverty line that are associated with these ventures and are the direct beneficiaries, thereby strengthening the local economy. So by supporting such ventures, we are supporting the economy of the state," Muraleedharan said.

"More than the figures, what is more significant is the successful pattern of this livelihood mission by which thousands of poor families in the state could earn a steady income through these self-employment ventures. This has proved an effective tool of economic empowerment," she said. By avoiding middlemen, the manufacturers get the maximum reward for their labour while fair price is ensured for consumers, without compromising on quality.

Last year, the micro-enterprise units in the Kudumbashree fold raked in around Rs 125 crore. Kudumbashree has been taking several steps to improve the marketing of products. One such effort is a consortium at the state-level for textile units under the brand 'Kadambari' for women and 'Napstar' for men. Kudumbashree is also looking to carve a niche for itself in open markets outside the traditional Kudumbashree fold and compete with big brands by highlighting its hallmarks, purity, quality and Kerala taste, Muraleedharan said.

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