After GIM, Kerala Is Set For B2B Meet

Thiruvananthapuram: | Updated: Nov 10 2003, 05:30am hrs
Contrary to its GIM (global investor meet) approach, it is with starched political correctness that Kerala has started gearing up for its small units B2B meet. Left-led or Congress-ruled, the state has always nursed a kingsize obsession for the small, even to the point of frowning at any big investment coming its way.

The B2B meet is not another global, the state administration insists. Yes, several delegates from the Netherlands, Germany, South Korea and the United States have confirmed participation, but there is nothing global or big about it, pleads industry minister PK Kunjalikutty.

A poser that now needs candid introspection is whether Keralas love for small units has stood in the way for the growth of industrial infrastructure in the private sector. Not crossing the threshold (Rs 3 crore) of small scale unit is more attractive to a Kerala businessman than majoring into a big investor through expansion. If there are surpluses, a seasoned entrepreneur points out, one could always start another small scale unit.

A conservative school of thought among economists has fanned the blanket rejection of big industries pointing out the states short supply of land. If decision-makers fought shy of giant projects with multiple spin-offs to economy, too often it was because they thought big was bad and corrupting.

When Rolls Royce found the land available at the Nedumbassery airport good enough to set up an Rs 8,000-crore aircraft maintenance hub for South Asia, all that they sought was the chief ministers good office in finding an anchor customer in the defence ministry. But chief minister AK Antony hurriedly looked the other way.

During 2001-02, the number of small scale industrial units (SSIs) grew by nearly 8 percent (over the previous year) in the state, when the corresponding national average was a paltry 2.6 percent. Kerala is the first to get going in the Planning Commissions cluster approach for small industries. This year its zeal has even defrost the historic ice on bank credit to SSIs. State Bank of Travancore alone targets Rs 260 crore small industries credit during this fiscal. But what is striking amidst the focus on SSIs is that the aggregate government assistance to medium and large units in the state has remained below Rs 3,858.4 crore.

The much-publicised GIM could generate only a string of isolated small investments. Fireworks erupted whenever a giant project in mineral, power or transport sector was voiced.

Reverse snobbery has grown so big that the 500-delegate meet in February, with global participation, has to be dressed up as small. Time has come, perhaps, for Keralas cash-flush expatriate investors to address the fear of mega projects embedded in its public psyche. People who earn their dinars building palaces on deserts cannot but know that a vibrant economy needs its fair mix of express highways and skybuses with its small, buzzing coir-retts. When the political machinery is silent, bold concerted moves have to come from the faraway rein-holders of the economy.