Are Antonys Hang-Ups Taking A Toll On Keralas Investment Initiatives

Thiruvananthapuram: | Updated: Oct 28 2002, 05:30am hrs
Kerala chief minister AK Antony had every reason to celebrate the first pronounced shrink in the states revenue spending after a long spell of borrowing last week. But the chief minister missed his hour of glory as the United Democratic Front (UDF) high-power committees stocktaking session put a spanner in the works.

Revenue expenditure, which has been growing, for the first time showed negative growth at Rs 11,581.10 crore during 2001-2002 from Rs 11,877.91 crore during 2000-2001. When the net borrowing was tight-belted from Rs 39,997 crore to Rs 3,016 crore, the only mentionable reaction was that this was a commentary on how bad the states creditworthiness stood.

What distracted the UDF leadership from seeing the first ray of hope was a horde of development issues, from monsoon-crisis management and plan resource crunch to expenditure priorities in welfare and investment-hunting.

The old school, who had always been suspicious of the high-voltage Global Investment Meet (GIM) run, pointed out that welfare had been put on the backburner in the scramble for investment. While prioritising disbursement of Rs 250 crore to ailing traditional sector industries and farm sector, Mr Antony, once again, slid back from PSU reforms. The decision to put 11 PSUs on the reform table has been placed under review. The new economic wisdom is that employment generation is the t opposite of investment hunt.

As it is, Keralas private capital hunt does not measure up to that in Andhra Pradesh or Karnataka. At least two jumbo projects, the Rs 8,000-crore Rolls Royce maintenance facility and the Rs 500-crore holistic village are in wilderness merely for lack of the right direction from the head of the state. While many states go all out to lobby abroad to win investment, the very concept of lobbying seems to be giving Mr Antony the moral jitters.

Not that Mr Antony has been able to do any effective lobbying with regard to issues on which he has some conviction. Truant monsoons have left behind crop and revenue damages of over Rs 100 crore this season. From the monsoon damages of Rs 500 crore sought last year to the Rs 25 crore sought this year, Mr Antonys good relations with the NDA government at the Centre are yet to translate into funds for the states kitty.

But it has been quite the contrary of lobbying in the case of the long-pending first tranche of Asian Development Banks loan for Kerala. The chief minister has issued a stiff aide memoire signalling that the State might go for the prescribed reforms, but no promises.

Of the Rs 4,026-crore annual plan, Rs 969 crore is from external loans, including that of ADB and the Netherlands government. The plan realisation is, therefore, stuck at 11 per cent achievement. Poor lobbying for monsoon damage support and Plan doldrums came under flak at the UDF stocktaking meet.

The barrage of criticism has brought out the worst of the chief ministers inhibitions regarding lobbying.

The GIM, targeting Rs 50,000 crore investment in five years, is to be held in January. The only hope for officials is that Mr Antonys investment blues do not last that long.