By A.K. Vijay

Kerala’s former Industries and Information Technology Minister P.K. Kunhalikutty was in Doha recently to attend a private reception organized by Kerala Muslim Cultural Centre and party functionaries to honour Doha-based Keralite businessman Parakkal Abdulla.

In a landmark victory, Abdulla was elected to the state’s legislative assembly from Nadapuram in May this year.

BQ managed a tete-a-tete with the former minister, for his views on the Kerala economy’s time-tested and close links with the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) region in terms of trade, investments and expatriate labour.

Following are the excerpts of the interview:

As a former industries minister, what according to you are the reasons for Kerala lagging in industrial growth, it is ranked 12th among 16 major states of India?

One of the main reasons, is the non-availability of land for setting up large-scale industrial plants. Also the industrial growth ranking is based on the number of large manufacturing units. Small-scale industries don’t carry much weightage in this.

In addition to the problem of non-availability of land, due to environmental concerns, large industrial units face resistance from those living in close proximity of such sites.

In the last decade some large projects like Smart City etc, received government sanction, despite some irritants, what are your views about this?

Kerala has done fairly well in terms of information technology growth. Because of the growth of IT literacy, projects and businesses that leverage IT literacy, have done well in the state. Similarly, in the small-scale industries sector too Kerala’s performance is far above the national average.

What are the initiatives undertaken by the government to rehabilitate former Gulf workers, who have returned to the state after losing their jobs?

During the tenure of the United Democratic Front government, many such initiatives were undertaken, taking into consideration the skills and experience of the Gulf returnees. This is being continued by the present government. However, as I explained earlier, though a conducive environment for entrepreneurship does exist, these Gulf returnees face the same problems as those already in the state, waiting to set up industrial establishments, such as land acquisition difficulties etc.

The present focus, however, is on self-employment opportunities for the Gulf returnees like helping them buy a vehicle or financing a small business etc. Incentives to Gulf returnees to set up large businesses is not happening as yet.

Successive governments in Kerala used to eye the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) countries as a major source of foreign direct investment (FDI) in the past, but now with most GCC countries having deficit budgets, what is going to be an alternative strategy?

There are going to be changes that are beyond our control and we have to be prepared to face these situations. Now coming to the issue of a fall in expatriate remittances from the Gulf. We don’t believe that there will even be a situation like no remittances from the Gulf countries.

The existing recessionary conditions, which are largely triggered by the drop in crude oil prices could get reversed in future. Who knows, the crude oil prices may go up in the future and things would be much better and the same goes for remittances from the Gulf. Let us wait and watch.

Are there many non-resident Keralite investors, from the Gulf countries, investing in Kerala?

Most of the private IT parks and supporting businesses offering IT and other related services are all started by NRKs. There has always been an industrialist community in Kerala, however, many small businesses are mushrooming in the state, thanks to the NRK businessmen and this is leading to an SMB growth in the state.

This article is from BQ magazine’s September-October 2016 issue – Volume 3: Issue 37. 

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