KOCHI: Critics may argue he is responsible for Kerala’s current financial mess, but through innovative concepts and welfare programmes, KM Mani’s imprint on the state’s economy will remain for many more years to come, and the beneficiaries were farmers and the underprivileged. “In the 1980s, he gave an interesting explanation to deficit budget thus making it to a surplus budget. He maintained those views later too creating opportunities for the academic community to ponder on his insights on the budget making and the very definition of expenditures,” said D Dhanuraj, chairman of Kochi-based think tank Centre for Public Policy and Research.
“Perhaps, he knew better than the Communist leaders about the problems of the working class and farmers,” he said. Said Jose Sebastian, associate professor, Gulati Institute of Finance and Taxation: “Mani, as Finance Minister, was responsible for bringing down the tax on agriculture income to near zero. We may have differences of opinion on the consequence of the policy on the fiscal, but he has always taken care of the interest of the farmers and the working class through welfare policies.”
Dhanuraj said as Finance Minister Mani always ensured farmers and the middle-class - his main constituency - are well taken care of. Sebastian said Mani will be known for some key concepts such as ‘Velicha Viplavam’ (Light Revolution) and ‘Revenue Towers’ when he handled the Electricity and the Revenue portfolios. “He was an astute politician, and he always ensured he got the Finance portfolio whenever he had the bargaining strength. Finance encompasses all the portfolios, which gave him greater power in policy making,” Sebastian said.
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Perhaps, his biggest contribution to the welfare politics is the introduction of Karunya Benevolent Fund in his 2011-12 budget. The scheme brought solace to thousands of poor patients in the state. The project used the profit earned through the sale of Karunya lottery tickets to support poor patients seeking treatment for cancer, heart diseases, kidney ailments and other diseases. The scheme is claimed to have provided financial assistance of Rs 1,400 crore for nearly 1.50 lakh poor patients. Dhanuraj said Mani’s 13 budgets can be a topics for research students on how his policies evolved over several decades in tune with the changing global and national economic scenario.