Our attempts to shore up Kerala from the devastation of a massive flood and virtually rebuild the state have only just begun.
The figures of the loss and destruction have not been obtained fully and in detail. Only when that is received, will the adequacy or otherwise of the Rs 20,000 crore that is now being estimated, can be specifically evaluated. At the same time, other than positive hope, practical suggestions and steps are yet to be found about how to collect that Rs 20, 000 crore. A state government that functions with due diligence and the people who stand by the government despite all kinds of differences, are the major consoling factors now. Alongside, the Prime Minister's reassuring words that Kerala is not alone and that the entire nation stands shoulder to shoulder with the state, and the assurance of the central Ministers that the aid of Rs 600 crore announced so far is only the first installment and that more assistance can be expected according to the official availability of the actual estimate of the loss, , raise optimism. The people of Kerala also hope that the technical hindrances in receiving the promises of help from the friendly nations would also clear out without being swept away in the controversies. The report by the representative team of the World Bank who are visiting the state to fully understand the adversities of the flood should be deemed to pave way for loans with generous reduction in the interest rates.
It is indeed encouraging that Chief Minister Pinarayi Minister's call to all Keralites across the world to donate a month's salary towards the rehabilitation fund, has been receiving an overwhelming response. At the same time, we know that even half of the Keralites neither have a satisfying job nor get an income beyond their basic necessities. A large section are either poor, daily wage labourers or contract workers. Even the middle class are left shocked before rising inflation and life expenses. The fuel prices that go up every day and the uncontrollable rise in prices of essential commodities break the back of all sections of the society. On the other hand, the expat brethren who seek livelihood in Gulf countries await an unexpected job loss and spend their lives as the prisoners of an uncertain future. In such a situation, one cannot lose existing constraints, however widely the Chief Minister's call is welcomed. It is in this backdrop that the LDF government must deliberate over the implementation of the long-standing agenda of cutting down expenses and prioritize it before all others. It can start from the 20-member cabinet itself. For a not so big state like Kerala, there is no real need for 20 Ministers including the Chief Minister. The portfolios of many are nominal. Nothing will happen if at the least, ministers are reduced by three. It is the same Kerala which was ruled by E K Nayanar with 17 ministers earlier.
Another immediate step to take is a drastic reduction in personal staff of each minister. And then it is time to ponder over the post of Chief Whip and what benefit it gives and to whom other than its occupant. Regardless of whether the report that the decision to give that post was to placate the CPI – which had asked for one more ministerial post – is right or wrong, in the changed circumstances the second largest party of LDF owes it to all to show a goodwill to forgo it. Another immediate need to address is to save Kerala from the flood of boards and corporations. It is estimated that there are 35 commissions and 31 welfare boards in the state. Apart from being places to accommodate political haven-seekers and close followers - with government transport and office rent - the people at large do not enjoy any benefit from them. The damage to the treasury by bodies like the Administrative Reforms Commission, Film Development Corporation and Forward Classes Development Board is no small. When the related ministries have ample number of secretaries and officials, there will be no harm even if bodies these boards and corporations are abolished.
In 2016-17 the state's total tax revenue was Rs 43,177 crores when salary and pension expenditure claimed Rs 43,650 crores, as stated in the CAG report presented in the Assembly by Finance Minister Thomas Isaac. This means, all the revenue collected will not suffice to meet even the salary and pension bill, let alone development. The report also mentions that the main reason for this imbalance is pay revisions. It is almost certain that even if the whole of Kerala sinks in flood, employees are not going to stop clamouring for pay hikes. Since three fourths of the 117 public sector undertakings are treasury-suckers, an urgent decision has to be taken about their closure. If no move or contemplation is going to take place along these lines, we should fear that the assertion Kerala will overcome, will end up meaningless.