It’s been only 10 days since P Rajeeve has taken charge as the new Kerala industries minister. But, he has settled down in his job and chalked out a strategy for Kerala’s industrial sector and its PSUs. Excerpts from an interview taken at his office in his assembly constituency of Kalamassery.
As the industries minister, what’s your strategy for the state PSUs?
During the last five years under LDF, several PSUs have turned around and started to make profits. Now, as you know, the general business environment across sectors is not good (due to Covid).
After I took over, I held a meeting of top officers in the ministry, and then we held a meeting of CMDs (of state PSUs). We met on May 25 and decided to categorise companies into seven traditional sectors like chemical, electrical, electronics etc.
In addition, we are also planning to rank companies as ‘diamond’, ‘gold’ etc based on their performances. Some initial steps were taken during the last ministry, which we are now trying to take forward. Earlier, we used to have ‘A’, ‘B’, ‘C’ ‘D’ categories, which were formulated in 2007.
What’s the idea behind this?
Each sector will have its problems and issues. So, it’s not advisable to look at the performance of one PSU versus the other. On June 25, we will have meetings of sector-wise officials. Each industry will have to submit a master plan that is specific to the sector.
The master plan will include modernisation, diversification, marketing, short-term goals, long-term perspectives, among others. Based on the master plan, there should be a change in budget allocation. Normally, if we identify Rs 10 crore for a company, we used to provide Rs 1 crore each every year.
The new plan is to give the amount at one go, based on which they will have to perform as mentioned in the master plan. From our side, we will tell them what the ministry expects from them. The master plan should also contain the views of the stakeholders. There will also be a self-appraisal form to be filled by the CMDs.
How will you track their progress?
For this, we are planning to set up a digital platform for PSUs. So, the minister will know what’s the target for, say KMML, for today as per the master plan, what went wrong etc. The performance of all PSUs can be assessed through this platform — by the minister to the officers concerned — on this platform.
What are the other steps planned for the revival of PSUs?
Another important decision is related to the appointment of CMDs. It will be based on merit. Right now, the appointments are done through six-seven ways. Some CMDs come on deputation while some get appointed but they will be asked to join another company soon. This will be changed, and we will decide on the qualification for each of the companies. For example, the qualification for the Bamboo Corporation CMD is not what is required for KMML and KMML’s qualification is not what’s suited for Keltron. The department will fix the qualification.
Another key theme that is getting your attention is the linkage between industries and educational institutions.
This is not getting the importance it requires in our country. When we needed a (Covid) vaccine, we asked Oxford University. The R&D in our companies is very weak. Cochin University, technological university etc can accept projects from the companies.
Kerala’s ease of doing business ranking stands at 28. What’s your strategy to improve this?
Right now, we stand 28. The attempt is to bring it to 10th place in a year. And within five-six years, our objective is to attain the top ranking.
With the outbreak of the pandemic, the priorities of people have changed. What is the expected change in Kerala’s industrial sector?
We must focus on the health industries. The pharmaceutical companies will have to play a key role in the post-pandemic world. Likewise, the traditional industries including electronics and hardware should also be promoted.
The flagship projects like the Kochi-Bengaluru Industrial Corridor and the proposed GIFT City in Ernakulam are likely to bring in more employment opportunities. Moreover, this time, plantation is added as a separate portfolio under the minister of industries.
We will soon meet the officers/experts from the plantation sector and chalk out a proper plan for its development. Likewise, coir has also been added to my portfolio.
The key aim will be to generate more employment opportunities in the coir sector through modernisation without hurting the traditional workers and their employment opportunities.