Projecting an industry-friendly face, Kerala Wednesday showcased untapped business opportunities at an investors summit, which the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said would help in building a favourable climate of entrepreneurship and unleash the latent potential of the state.
Flagging off the "Emerging Kerala 2012" investment meet, the prime minister said Kerala in many ways is unique among Indian states. Its social and human development indicators are at par with many developed countries. It has abundant natural resources. Its human resources are of a very high quality.
"These strengths, along with the chief minister's commitment to give a clean, transparent and effective administration to the people, should be leveraged and leveraged optimally to attract investment into the state. I am sure that initiatives like the present one would help in building a climate favourable to entrepreneurship in this process."
Economists and industrialists say the famed Kerala model of development with emphasis on social indicators is no longer sustainable without large investments. Union labour ministry data show that the state's unemployment rate of 9.9 percent is much higher than the national average of 3.8 percent.
The prime minister said his government would help in building an improved industrial infrastructure in the state and asked the state to pursue an inclusive and sustainable development.
"Labour-intensive light manufacturing has a strong comparative advantage in this state and all assistance needs to be given to the small and micro business enterprises. I would urge the state government to derive maximum possible benefit from initiatives of the central government especially the National Skill Development Mission. This would go a long way in tapping the energies of Kerala's educated manpower," he said.
The prime minister described the more than two million non-resident Keralites (NRKs) who contribute more than 22 per cent of the gross domestic product of the state as the backbone of the state's economy.
The government is expecting huge investments from the NRKs, who reportedly have parked Rs.484 billion as on March 31, 2012 in the state's banks alone. Chief Minister Oommen Chandy has promised to give priority to the projects proposed by the NRKs, who have huge exposure to global business and technology.
At the meet, the government will be showcasing more than 100 projects, including a dozen mega projects. Chandy said all the investment proposals emerging at the meet would be cleared in a transparent manner, without taking short-cuts on any critical issues such as the environment.
"I assure you that the government would support, hand hold and provide speedy clearances to all such proposals that are people-friendly, environment-friendly, which contribute to Kerala's growth and complies with the law of the land.
The chief minister was referring to the disconnect with the Left opposition which has been critical of the event. The leader of opposition, V.S. Achuthanandan, did not attend it after the Left Democratic Front (LDF) decided to boycott the event because many of the projects that were put up as proposals, it said, were not in tune with the interests of the state and were meant to benefit the investors only.
Defence Minister A.K. Antony said controversies should not come in the way of the state's economic development and even the opposition's "reasonable and logical" views would be taken into account to forward the development agenda.
"Nowadays, there seems to be an unending debate on all issues. At times, it (such debates) is good and at other times, it is harmful for the interests of the state... Debates and controversies should not come in the way of speedy economic development," said Antony, who was earlier the state's chief minister.
The inauguration of the meet also faced protests from environmental groups. "This 'Emerging Kerala' programme will spoil the environment, the rivers, seas and the land. The state would just end up losing its natural wealth," said Charles John, an activist.