Having set off his political career with the Kerala Students Union, which he served as President from 1967 to 1969, Oommen Chandy is now a 10-time legislator and is currently serving his second term as the 21st chief minister of Kerala. Prior to being sworn in as the CM for the first time in 2004, he was also part of four different governments holding diverse portfolios and several constitutional positions.
In an informal conversation with Elets Technomedia CEO and Editor-in-Chief, Dr Ravi Gupta, and Nayana Singh of Elets News Network, the septuagenarian politician reflects on the strides Kerala has made vis-à-vis development, mistakes that previous governments made with regard to ignoring the power of IT and the measures initiated to offset losses from follies of the past
Tell us about the state of overall development in Kerala and the pace of infrastructure creation.
Our investment is very low and leads to unemployment and lots of development issues. This time round, we are putting thrust on social sectors like education and health to keep up the pace of development. We are also giving due importance to infrastructure development. The upcoming Kannur International Airport will be the fourth international airport in a small state like ours. Kochi Metro will be another feather in the cap of the state. We have acquired almost 55 per cent of the required land for the Metro project. Then, there is Millennium port – a dream project of Kerala, which will be getting final clearance in the days to come. We want to commence actual construction work early next year. We had also been planning Monorail for Thiruvananthapuram and Kozhikode, but some feasibility issues cropped up. So, we have shifted to light metro now. The Detailed Project Report (DPR) is ready and plan approved, and the Cabinet will clear the project for the two important cities soon. Coming to strengthening the national highway network in the state, the main problem is land acquisition. Land is very scarce and costly. Some people are not happy as they demand more, which is too costly for the state. So, we have worked out a different plan for acquiring land for the expansion of national highways. In short, we have commenced infrastructure development in Kerala in a big way.
Kerala has a large number of expatriates. Do you have any plan to retain the local talent?
In Kerala, youngsters have not been very keen entrepreneurs traditionally. They either go for degrees to get government jobs or seek visa to go abroad. But of late, we are witnessing a shift in the attitude of youngsters in the state. In September 2012, the Prime Minister unveiled the student-entrepreneurship policy and launched “Emerging Kerala” project. I also pushed the student-entrepreneurship policy with a view to turning them into job-creators instead of jobseekers. The response was very encouraging, especially in the second year of the policy. We convened a big summit on September 12, 2014, named “Young Entrepreneurship Summit” (YES) and it was a great success. It was attended by some 4,500 delegates as against our expectations of 2,500. A new trend is here, and we are encouraging the startups.
Can you tell us something about the IT parks in the state?
Thiruvananthapuram Techno Park is best not only in India but in whole of Asia. As this Techno Park is full, we are planning another techno park city here. An info park in Ernakulam and a cyber park in Kozhikode are already under way. A smart city is also coming up, and a Dubai company has been provided 256 acres of land. The first stage of smart city is to be inaugurated in March 2015. We are fully satisfied from changes taking place in the development arena.
What about healthcare facilities in the state?
Literacy in the state is cent-per-cent and there is no starvation. However, according to our assessment, healthcare is one of the most important issues in today’s Kerala, as a large number of people require government assistance in this area. Although world-class healthcare facilities are available in Kerala, owing to financial problems, those are not available to everyone. A large number of families are yet to get access to health services in the state. So, we are planning a host of healthcare programmes. When we came to power in 2011, there were only five government medical colleges. We have decided to set up 16 government medical colleges across the state. We intend to provide free healthcare services to the common people, including free medicines and other facilities.
“We top the literacy and education chart, but we are amongst the last in terms of introduction of IT in different sectors. That’s why, now we are keen to develop the IT sector.”
How do you think IT can help improve governance in Kerala?
We lost lot many opportunities to develop IT network in the state, as since the 1980s, CPM opposed computerisation. They said computer is enemy of the youth. And, it was the time when other states excelled in computerisation and IT sector. We top the literacy and education chart, but we are amongst the last in terms of introduction of IT in different sectors. That’s why, now we are keen to develop the IT sector. We lost our chances in the past, but we will make it up through expeditious implementation of e-governance in Kerala. The Government of India has decided to make 50 districts of India e-districts, and among those 50 are 14 districts of the state. We are giving adequate importance to e-governance to ensure better delivery of citizen services. Akshaya service, first started in Kerala, is a model to the country. People living in villages are also getting excellent services…we want to take it forward.
You are also directly looking after the Science & Technology department in the state. What are the notable interventions in these areas?
The Science & Technology department in Kerala was established in 1972. Over the last three years, the department has added four premier institutions. To strengthen education and research in Basic Sciences, a new institution, Srinivas Ramanuja Institure of Basic Sciences (SRIBS) has been established at Kottayam. This is modelled on the lines of Tata Institute of Fundamental Research. For felicitating technology transfer, in collaboration with Science & Technology department, Government of India, the State Centre Resource Institute of Partnerships in Technology (SCRIPT) started functioning in Trivandrum. To add value addition to the costly mineral sands of Kerala, a research & development institution, namely Critical Minerals Research Institute (KSCAT), was established for felicitating education, empowerment and employability of differently abled people, particularly the blind and visually challenged.