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Subject : Kerala

Looking for and enjoying beauty is a way to nourish the soul. The universe is in the habit of making beauty. There are flowers and songs, snowflakes and smiles, acts of great courage, laughter between friends, a job well done, the smell of fresh-baked bread. Beauty is everywhere.

-Matthew Fox Yes, Kerala is one such land. There is beauty and happiness almost everywhere .Known as the god’s own country, it has lived up to its name, enchanting people with its scenic beauty, its wide and variant culture , vibrant tradition, natural beauty , favorable weather conditions ,etc .

A 3rd-century-BC Asokan rock inscription mentioning a "Keralaputra" is the earliest surviving attestation to Kerala.It was elevated to statehood by the State Reorganization Act of November 1, 1956. A small state located in the southernmost tip of India, it ranks twelfth among the Indian states in terms of population. And first in terms of literacy rates.

But there is another beautiful and lesser known aspect of kerala which is more popular amongst the economic circle – “The Kerala Model of Development”. Kerala’s achievements and development experience have attracted worldwide attention. This is mainly because it has attained a better quality of life combined with high literacy rate without a significant increase in investment, production and agricultural or industrial growth.

'Kerala model of development', thus, refers to the apparent paradox of high Human Development Index and low economic development, which mainly arises from Kerala’s strong service sector. In other words ,it generally refers to the high achievements of Kerala’s people on statistical indicators of development despite its continuing low income.

For many an economists Kerala’s development performance remains a little intriguing and paradoxical .This development pattern was not achieved in a day nor had it evolved due to some government intervention. It was actually the result of some favourable factors, in the course of history ,that helped Kerala gain its present popularity.

Speaking about the factors that helped kerala evolve to its present status, the first thing that comes to fore is its high literacy rate and well developed education sector. Kerala now tops the list with an overall literacy rate of 90.92% compared to the all India rate of 65.38%.. Another interesting fact is that Kerala also claims high rate of readership of newspapers and magazines.

Kerala’s health care system is another area that has gained international acclaim with the UNICEF and WHO designating kerala with the world’s first “baby friendly state” .In terms of birth rate, death rate etc its position is not less than any developed countries .What makes it even more enviable is that it has attained this status despite its continuing low income, low growth rate and high rate of unemployment.Kerala’s unique female to male ratio (1058\\1000) also distinguishes it from the rest of India.

Kerala’s progress in the matter of transportation and communication is also commendable.All the villages in the state are well connected by all weather roads which are easily accessible throughout the year.Increase in the number of telephones and number of public telephone call offices per lakh of population is also remarkable and one of the highest in India.

Another unique feature of kerala that any Keralite can be proud of, is that it is one of the least corrupt states in the country. It is often said that every good things are accompanied by some bad ones. It is true for the state of kerala as well. Kerala’s unemployment and suicide rates are high by Indian standards. It stands first in the number of suicides for the last seven consecutive years. As per the Economic Survey 2003, it is 31 per lakh every year which is 3 times the national rate of suicides ,ie,11 per lakh.

'Kerala model of development', in spite of its unique features, contains many paradoxical elements. The most glaring one amongst it is the presence of low percapita income with high percapita consumption.

The percapita income of Kerala worked out to Rs594 in 1970-71 as against Rs 718 for the rest of India. In 1985-86 this worked out to Rs 635 for Kerala and Rs798 for the rest of India .In fact, there has been a steady decline in the percapita income growth which fell from 0.53 % during the quinquennum 1970-71 to 1975-76 to 0.42% during the period 1975-76 through 1986-87.

On the other hand , percapita consumption tells a different story. In 1965-66 the all India percapita consumer expenditure was 34% above that of Kerala with an absolute difference of Rs93 but by 1983-84 Kerala’s percapita consumption (Rs1837) was about 20% above the all India average (Rs1537).It is estimated that though Kerala accounts for only 3.7% of India’s population its share in the total consumption of India is placed in the range of 10% to 15%. Based on this the value of consumer goods flowing into the state may be placed anywhere around Rs 5000 to Rs 6000 crores per annum.

It is a matter of irony that with high Physical Quality Of Life Index( a composite that run on a scale of 0-100which combines the basic indicators of decent human life ,namely life expectancy at age one, infant mortality & basic literacy) there exist high unemployment and poverty in the state .Kerala’s score of 88 in 1989 far exceeded that of all India score of 60.However the two most crucial problems facing any developing country - unemployment and poverty, is all the more acute in Kerala owing to its high density of population, high percentage of literate and educated people, low level of industrialization and low percapita income. According to the survey of Rural Development there are nearly 17.23lakh families below poverty line in the state.

An essay on 'Kerala Model' is incomplete without giving due consideration to the impact of gulf money in its economy.A serious question now arises as to whether this high inflow of money is a leakage or a linkage. Currently, this foreign remittances contribute to about 20% of GDP, however studies shows that about 48% of this is spent on construction of residential buildings. It also brings forth a shocking revelation that most of the benefits of this inflow, like generation of employment opportunities etc are gained by the neighbouring states because Kerala has a traditional industrial base and low level of industrial development to support such huge investment.

The economy of Kerala faces many challenges,a notable one amongst it is the brain drain scenario, the creation of which, to some extent, can be attributed to the success of the model. With globalization and cut throat competition, more and more Keralites are striving hard for attractive white collar jobs outside the state as well as in the country.

Low industrial development in the state is another major concern that is to be addressed as early as possible .The “psychological fear” of the investors resulting from excessive strikes and lockouts is said to be one of the reason for such a situation.

Kerala, like most places on earth, currently faces an environmental crisis of large proportion.Kerala’s environmental damage directly threatens the quality of life and directly and indirectly reduces the economic potential that must be tapped to sustain the main elements of the model.

Besides all these, the model contains in itself certain defects that makes it partial and to some extent ineffective .The model has failed to give due consideration to the traditional industries such as coir ,cashew, handloom etc which are now in a tailspin owing to competition from other states and escalation of prices of raw materials. On closer examination it can be noticed that the much talked about redistribution programs, that Kerala economy is famous for, is currently under a serious threat due to a series of fiscal crisis faced by the sate government. Exclusion of almost 15% of the population from the model makes it incomplete but the situation becomes complicated as extending the benefits of the model to these people becomes even more difficult while the other elements continue to worsen.

In spite of its limitations, the 'Kerala Model' seems to function in times of crisis. It is still valid and relevant as an alternative to “growth only development” strategies. So, now the question arises as to whether the 'Kerala Model' is sustainable or not. The answer to this question requires drawing up a balance sheet with Kerala’s internal shortcomings along with the world wide threat and against this one must weigh Kerala’s traditional and current resources. We can conclude that Kerala has all the weapons to build a new model appropriate to today’s circumstances, such as high material quality of life indicators, a literate, fairly healthy, motivated population with a sense of purpose, involvement, commitment to ideals and a generally optimistic orientation to the future who have the willingness to organize and carry out mass action. Thus, to summarize, it can be said that if sustainability becomes a conscious part of the new 'Kerala Model' and a conscious element of planning and thinking throughout the society, it might just have a chance of success. In a world needing every possible experiment in sustainability, everyone stand to benefit from this attempt.
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