KOCHI: I have been curiously watching the heated discussions on one particular topic by some of my expatriate relatives and friends on WhatsApp groups. It pertains to the disposal of their properties in Kerala as they find it pointless to return to the state after the deaths of their parents.
Some of my college mates and friends were among the first beneficiaries of the IT boom in the mid-90s which took them to the US, Canada, Germany and Australia, where they settled down later. Investing their savings in properties in Kerala was a natural option in the initial years despite having their ‘inherited’ share, mostly rubber plantations. But now, as their children get into jobs in the migrated countries, they are fast losing that sense of belonging. A Vienna-based friend of mine had bought properties in his native Chalakudy, but he now wants to retain only a house.
The 23.9 lakh expats in the Gulf are an exception (28.7 lakh Keralites live elsewhere in the world). As the GCC countries very sparingly give citizenship to foreigners, Keralites there will have to return. The recent trend is to send their children to the US, the UK or other European countries for higher studies and move along with them there, as the youngsters also find it easier to land jobs there.
The eventual impact of such a trend on Kerala’s real estate sector will be big. Large tracts of agricultural land will be up for sale which in turn could bring down its prices, too. A recent RBI circular forbids NRIs from purchasing agricultural land in Kerala which is no good news for the farming community. They are suffering already due to weak prices of plantation crops, from rubber to cardamom and pepper.
Rubber farmers are the most distressed. Dearth of tappers and a prolonging rainy weather — spreading almost nine months now — make things worse. A relative of mine said he could tap rubber only for just 40 days last year.
So, how will things play out? One possible scenario is that the huge migrant population in Kerala --- 32 lakh currently and 60 lakh projected by 2030 — could emerge as the biggest buyer of the state’s agricultural lands. They have always been ready to toil and also mix with the Kerala culture. Their children are excelling in studies under the state syllabus, including in Malayalam.
Remember, Keralites who had migrated to Germany in the early 70s and 80s had benefited from that country’s education and health system. On the contrary, the NRKs are finding it tough to teach their children Malayalam in the desired manner. In the coming years, children of migrants in Kerala are sure to take advantage of the state’s good healthcare system, relatively peaceful environment and competent government schools to emerge as professionals, be it in the medical or teaching field. Who knows, we could also have an MLA or a minister from the migrant community in another 10-20 years.