Governor Arif Mohammed Khan did skip some portions towards the latter half of his policy address on Friday but those were only to save time and to ease some burden on his body. Speaker P Sreeramakrishnan, too, had urged the Governor to skip some portions as he was standing for too long, for over two hours.
But the portions in the policy address Khan was expected to either give the miss or qualify with his own line of disagreement - especially on the three farmers' bills and the misuse of central investigating agencies - he read with least drama, without straying even from a word in the prepared text before him.
This was a bit of a surprise given what he did to the paragraph that criticised the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) in the last Governor's address.
Mohammed Khan read out the paragraph but only after making his disagreement stand out, like a teacher's correction in red ink on a school notebook: "Now I come to para 18 (which speaks about the Assembly resolution that called for the abrogation of the CAA and the suit the government had filed in the Supreme Court). I have been corresponding with the honourable Chief Minister for the last few days. I have my reservations. But I am going to read this para because the honourable Chief Minister wants me to read this."
Since this year's Governor's address comes just a week after the government made Khan toe its line on the special Assembly session to discuss the farmers' bills, there was a justifiable anticipation that the maverick Khan would do his bit to embarrass the Pinarayi Vijayan government.
Khan had initially ridiculed the special session to pass a resolution on the three farmers' bills saying the Kerala Government had no jurisdiction to settle the grievances of farmers but later, when the government insisted, had to concede.
Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, during the special session on December 31 last year, had put the Governor in place. He told the Assembly how the Governor had to be reminded of various Supreme Court verdicts to make him fall in line. This was widely seen as a public chastisement of the Governor, even if done in a dignified manner.
All of these happenings, it was felt, could culminate in the Governor using his moment, the annual Governor's address, to get even with the LDF government. But this was not to happen. The Governor did his constitutional duty of reading out the speech prepared from him by the government in as straight a manner as possible.
Khan demonised the three new farmers' bills, lamented the dilution of federal principles and feared that the Centre was demoralising honest state officials. "These agrarian laws will undermine regulated markets, result in eventual demise of the minimum support price and tilt the balance definitively in favour of corporate middlemen," he said.
His speech saw these new laws, along with the "controversial labour code", as the Centre's attempt to abridge state's rights.
He also parroted the LDF's line on central investigating agencies. "Actions of certain Central Government agencies have overstepped the constitutional contours and are impeding the development activities and flagship programmes undertaken by the State. This has had a demoralising effect on honest and hard working officers. In such a situation cooperative federalism will lose its content and remain only in form," he said
The policy address took the Centre to task for "systematically increasing the additional/special excise duty of petroleum products so as to harness the entire potential surplus created by declining international oil prices".
The Governor also hinted that the NDA government at the Centre was concerned openly about the health of oil companies. "Now that crude oil prices are firming up, the Central Government is now enhancing the additional/special excise duty so that the oil companies are raising the retail prices for maintaining their margin."
The last session of the current Kerala Legislative Assembly commenced on Friday morning with the Governor's address.
On Friday, the Opposition United Democratic Front (UDF) boycotted the Governor's speech after staging a boisterous protest inside the Assembly.
The UDF legislators had come armed with banners and placards that were especially critical of Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and Speaker P Sreeramakrishnan.
Finding that Governor Arif Mohammed Khan, in traditional Kerala attire, was determined not to be distracted, the UDF legislators even trooped to the well of the House shouting slogans against the Pinarayi Vijayan government which they termed the most corrupt ever.
The Governor, however, went on reading from his address unruffled, and in between, in a schoolmasterly tone, kept reminding the sloganeering UDF legislators to allow him to carry out his constitutional duty. "I am doing my constitutional duty. No obstruction should be created while the Governor is performing his constitutional duty," the Governor said.
Even when the UDF legislators shouted at the Governor to get his attention, Khan responded like a teacher who was least bothered about the unruly members of his class. "You have already made your point. You have made it known. Let me now do my constitutional duty," he asked Congress MLA V T Balram. Balram was the closest to the Governor, right below the Speaker's podium from where the Governor was delivering his address. "This is unfair, sir," he was heard saying.
Just when it looked that the UDF legislators would step up their protest, invite strong censure from the Governor and then play the victim card, senior Congress MLA P T Thomas asked the members in the well of the House to return. And then, the opposition members trooped out of the House.
The Governor carried on untroubled. He gave a glimpse of the fiscal crisis Kerala has found itself in after the COVID-19 pandemic. He said the state is staring at a loss of Rs 80,000 crore owing to the year-long crisis.
He said Kerala would suffer a double whammy on account of a dip in own revenue collection and a reduction in central devolution, both as a result of the withering effects of the pandemic.
The Governor then extolled the LDF government on the way it dealt with the pandemic. "My government has taken up this challenge squarely and promised that no one will go hungry during the lockdown," the Governor said.
Detailing various pro-people measures taken by the Vijayan government, the Governor said the state started community kitchens for the needy to ensure that none went hungry during the lockdown, ensured that treatment for COVID- 19 is being given free, and kits are being distributed to all ration card holders.
Kerala was also the first state to announce a pandemic relief package of Rs 20,000 crore. The southern state also declared floor price of 16 vegetables produced in the state, he said.
Almost 9 per cent of the state's population is living abroad and with nearly six lakh immigrants returning due to the impact of COVID-19, it will hamper the flow of remittances, causing a severe impact on the state's economy, he said.
The session began with strict adherence to COVID-19 protocols. All the members were undergone antigen test as early as 7 am. Tests will also take place on January 11 and 18.
The members, who were provided with N-95 masks and gloves, also undergone thermal scanning before entering the House.
Last week, the Assembly had met for a one-day special session on December 31 and passed a unanimous resolution seeking scrapping of the three contentious farm laws passed by the centre.
The session will conclude on January 28.
Budget on Jan 15
The last budget of the CPI(M)-led LDF government, which would be vote on account, will be presented by Finance Minister Thomas Isaac on January 15.
The LDF government, which is hoping to break the jinx and ride back to power for a second term, is expected to line up new proposals and projects for the state's development, launch people-friendly schemes, besides announcing sops for various sections with an eye on the assembly elections due by April-May this year.