A slew of strikes in the last several days have brought many big projects in Kerala to a standstill. The disruptions at the Rs 7,524 crore Vizhinjam construction site, the Rs 3,263 crore Gail pipeline project at Kozhikode and the Rs 2,200-crore IOC LPG terminal-cum-pipeline site at Puthuvype near Kochi come at a time when the state is going all out to lure big investments and remove its notorious ‘investor-unfriendly’ destination tag.
The net effect of the series of protests and hartals is reflected in the ‘ease of doing business’ rankings. From 15th in 2015, Kerala’s rankings slipped to 20 in 2016, and further to 27 this year, making the state one of the worst places to do business.
According to a survey by Niti Aayog, Kerala fares poorly in approvals, clearances and sorting out legal hassles. It takes approximately 63 days to set up a business in Tamil Nadu and 67 in Andhra Pradesh, while in Kerala it is 214 days, above only Assam, where it takes 248 days.
The CPM-led Left should take a major share of the blame, especially for going soft on Nokkukooli, a euphemism for extortion by organised trade unions. The Congress-led UDF, which was voted out of power in the May 2016 Assembly elections, cannot wash off its hands either, as it is now playing the same game, opposing those very projects that it had backed when it was in power.
The short-sighted approach by the two leading political fronts has driven away investments worth thousands of crores of rupees and lakhs of jobs. The BJP, too, is falling into the same trap. Out of 27 hartals called in the January-April period, 12 have been called by the BJP, the most by any political party.
To be sure, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has been saying the right things about not abandoning development projects by succumbing to threats from the ‘anti-development’ forces. But will such rhetoric alone transform the state’s image? Unlikely. A genie has been let out of the bottle, and only a miracle can bring it back.