#Kochi | As the curtain falls on Keralayeem, a gala festival of the Kerala Government squandering of roughly Rs 30 crore, especially when the State is passing through the worst-ever financial crisis, struggling to meet even the pressing needs of its people, the administration’s apathy towards public welfare becomes only glaringly evident.
The stark reality of a colossal backlog of welfare pension to over 55 lakh persons in the State, mirroring the challenges faced by endosulfan victims, non-allocation of funds for mid-day meals in schools, the much trumpeted half-built Life Mission houses, the list goes long, highlighting a troubling situation. Yet, leaders of ruling CPM have their own chimerical theories which only go to rationalize this stunning indifference.
To top it all, the government delivered a massive blow to its people as part of the State’s 67th birthday, with a shocking rise in electric tariff and a cut in subsidies for the underprivileged, all in an effort to rescue the electricity board. If this is juxtaposed with the Centre hiking fuel prices to help oil companies, the official theory is that the public should refuse to draw similarities since the Kerala move is supposedly in the best interests of the State’s ‘welfare’ and future ‘growth’.
Parallely, in clear signs of desperation that has grappled the ruling CPM and attempts to divert public attention, it has taken a strategic political decision to garner and express solidarity with the challenges face by the people in Palestine. It brings to mind Charlie Chaplin’s famous quote; “Despair is a narcotic. It lulls the mind into indifference,” only emphasizing the party efforts to redirect public focus and create a sense of solidarity with global issues while grappling with local concerns.
But local political considerations cannot be discounted, as the CPM has been making concerted efforts to court the Muslim League with an eye on securing the Muslim vote bank. This comes in the wake of the mounting public discontent and the impending Lok Sabha elections are round the corner. The CPM is compelled to take action to reverse its 1-19 significant defeat in the previous election.
CPM has been making notable efforts to engage with the Muslim League, and has now extended an invite to the Palestine solidarity meeting it has proposed. This is also aimed at creating fissures within the Opposition UDF, where the League is the second largest partner. However, it appears that, at least for now, has declined to get entangled in these political overtures and has chosen not to participate in the CPM-sponsored seminar. Even an offer to Congress leader Aryadan Shoukath, who organized a pro-Palestine rally in Malappuram against his party directive, has been rebuffed. Nevertheless, CPM seems to anticipate potential long-term gains from such political manoeuvering, reminiscent of the expression of support for Saddam Hussein during the Kuwait war, which proved advantageous during the subsequent local body polls then.
Besides, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and his daughter, have found themselves embroiled in a controversy, as the quasi-judicial Income-Tax Settlement Board has revealed their receipt of undue payments. Ironically, it is CPM that has been grappling with the challenge of shielding the two from public spotlight with a defence that is literally unraveling.
Even when the political landscape has not only been marred by the CPM’s overt moves to play the communal card but also plagued by a concerning economic predicament. Irresponsible fiscal management over recent years has pushed the State to the precipice of perpetual debt. The establishment of the Kerala Infrastructure Investment Fund Board, designed to circumvent budgetary restrictions, has drawn criticism from the CAG, and appears to be emblematic of this issue.
Moreover, the State has now reached the limit for public borrowings during this fiscal, compounding its fiscal challenges. With no financial resources even for public welfare and essential services, the government embarked on a cultural extravaganza like Keraleeyam. Grapevine says various departments were required to contribute from their plan funds for the splash and government staff were purportedly pressured to attend the week-long event to ensure public engagement.
Kerala has been grappling with a revenue income and expenditure imbalance since 1982-84, and this fiscal mismanagement worsened since 2015-16, particularly after the implementation of Goods and Services Tax (GST). The then State Finance Minister, contrary to the opinion of experts, claimed that the new tax regime would benefit the State, which ultimately proved disastrous.
Even as the State continues the refrain of blaming the Centre for the financial crisis, it refuses to acknowledge that when GST was introduced, there was a five-year period when the Centre would support States to overcome the deficit. This was ample time to find ways to surmount the challenges. Regrettably the State did nothing to boost its revenues.
In a lead-up to the Assembly elections, the government went in for a government staff pay revision. This resulted in a significant increase in expense, with the outlay rising to Rs 71523.97 crore from Rs 46751.71 crore. Incidentally, this additional burden of Rs 24770.26 was aimed at catering to 4 per cent of the population, who despite being a minority, consumes a substantial 61.32 per cent of the State revenue.
After extensively borrowing from all available sources and accumulating a substantial debt, the State goes to town fervently blaming the Centre, alleging it had not received any revenue deficit grant.
In quick succession, Kerala witnessed a hike in water bills, followed now by a shocking increase in electricity tariffs, with the ominous suggestion of annual increments. Despite advising the public to conserve energy, the government contradicts this as seen through the illuminated streets and buildings in the State capital for Keraleeyam.
When those in power choose to remain inactive, display indifference and silence the voices that advocate change, it is an ominous indication of the triumph of deceit.