The last time Kerala offered a slice of itself by opening a window to the world was on June 10, 1999 when the Cochin International Airport opened shop. Now, when the Kannur International Airport Ltd throws open another window in the sky for those venturing to reach the northern parts of the state, it comes after an almost-two-decade gap. Given the huge expatriate population of Keralites in West Asia as also the US and many European countries, there is no doubt Kannur too would function more as a window to the world than to the rest of the country.
Try this for size: during the last fiscal, Kerala, through its three airports, accounted for approximately 17.5 million air passengers, and, of this, 10.35 million were international travellers. In other words, 60% of those travelling into and out of Kerala by air belong to the international category. Against this, the busiest airport in the country, Indira Gandhi International Airport, Delhi accounted for about 26% (65.7 million passengers, 17.4 million international) while the second busiest destination Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport, Mumbai fetched up at 28% (48.4 million passengers, 13.6 million international).
If some stray international traveller to Kochi from that first flight in 1999 were to return after 19 years and land in Kannur next month, he will find the alchemy of the state has completely changed.
The much-wonted greenery stands considerably diluted, the once celebrated villages with their landmark tea shops have disappeared, tolerance, not only in religious matters, but also at the societal level, is at an all-time low. Sadly, it would be no different if he were to fly into the Kozhikode, Kochi or Thiruvananthapuram.And the state’s economy is not exactly rocking. Kerala’s flagship tourism sector, for long battered by a series of events, lies in tatters. While overseas remittances continue to remain the leading income source, major infrastructure projects continue to drag their feet compared to the pace at which that is happening elsewhere.
Yes, operation ‘Rebuild Kerala’ can bring in the much hankered after impetus as injecting Rs 31,000 crore into the economy would have a multiplier effect. But the billion dollar question is where is the money going to come from? The oft heard refrain, “Money is the least of our problems” is no longer finding too many buyers as suddenly money is in short supply with almost all ‘sure-fire’ sources suddenly running dry.
But how do you explain away what can only be described as inertia on executing many critical projects? In most cases fund shortage was not the overriding reason for the traction. Do the math and what emerges is a not-so-pretty picture of key infrastructure projects adding up to around Rs 23,300 crore caught at various stages of flux.
And the Seaport-Airport road is in a state of neglect especially near the main installation points of the three PSU oil companies — BPCL, IOCL and HPCL — quite close to the Ernakulam district headquarters and the highly-populated InfoPark and Smart City. The busy zone from where over 1,000 oil tankers set off every day ferrying over 20,000 kilo litres of petrol and diesel to the nooks and crannies of the state makes it the most ‘unsafe’ road in Kerala. Each day the state government keeps turning a blind eye to this danger, it ticks like a bomb with a short fuse.
Surely, the low priority accorded by the state government on these multiple fronts would keep sending out smoke signals of despair to the wannabe investors in Destination Kerala. The impetus for the making of ‘Nava Keralam’ has to come from within and asking outside agencies to pump in money with so many dead horses in our stable well past the flogging stage simply cannot be the right calling card we keep flaunting to the outside world. And no new airport, international or domestic, will help change this stark ground reality. If anything, Kerala runs the risk of its multiple claims remaining a pie in the sky.
Resident Editor, Kerala