Thiruvananthapuram: The continuity in power, as mandated by the people, brings with it several benefits to the second Pinarayi Vijayan-led Left Democratic Front government.
For starters, the new government in Kerala need not formulate a new vision or make fresh policy decisions. It need not relook the decisions of the previous government, nor revamp the bureaucracy.
The government can take off from where the previous cabinet had left. People, too, are awaiting the sweeping positive changes 10 years’ of continuous governance by the same party could usher in.
Lack of experience could be the major challenge before the second Pinarayi cabinet, which has 17 new faces out of the 21 ministers. The chief minister dared to allot major portfolios to first-time ministers, possibly due to Kerala’s existing strong administrative foundation.
The new team will have to take up and continue the projects, already initiated or in the pipeline, rolled out by the previous government. It should also overcome the COVID-19 situation.
General Administration, Home and IT
While withdrawing the controversial Kerala Police Act (Amendment) Ordinance, the chief minister had stated that it would be introduced as a Bill in the Assembly. The challenge is to implement the Act, once ratified by the Assembly, without breaching the right to freedom of speech and expression.
The government should also keep its promise of appointing PSC rank-holders in the police force.
The government will have to re-chart the future of office spaces created for the IT sector, since the vertical has shifted to a work-from-home culture. It should also implement the Knowledge Economy envisaged in the Budget. The government will have to overcome a High Court order to keep its promise of appointing contract workers in permanent posts.
Though the project to distribute laptops to school students was launched, it has not met the desired end. Neither did the K-Phone plan.
The financial challenges are going to be the biggest of all for the new Kerala government. The lockdown has adversely hit revenues from GST, fuel tax, motor vehicle tax, stamp duty and tax on liquor.
On the other hand, the government is duty-bound to meet liabilities arising from the revision of salary, distribution of pensions and the creation of additional posts. But where are the funds?
The Kerala Infrastructure Investment Fund Board (KIIFB), till this month, has spent Rs 12,556 crore. Funds should be found for the Rs 60,000 crore projects, which have been either started or announced.
The new finance minister has the challenge of overcoming the financial crisis without it affecting the welfare projects.
Former Minister K K Shailaja has created a positive image for the health department. The new minister will have to maintain that image. A comprehensive study on post-COVID health issues and solutions is inevitable.
Funds should be found for the distribution of vaccines. The State could administer the first dose to only 85 lakh people, and the second dose to less than 20 lakh of the population.
A significant share of the budgetary allocation to the health department will have to be utilized for procuring the vaccines.
The minister will have to keep the health sector, working round-the-clock without break for the past 1.5 years, running, besides boosting the morale of the health workers.
It’s the time for Plus-One admissions, but the evaluation of SSLC students is yet to commence. Plus-One exams, too, have to be held. Another challenge is to conduct the entrance exam.
The trend of students opting for higher education outside the state may end soon. The student community should be ensured education facilities and courses. The number of students seeking admission to government-run schools may swell.
Major development projects
The Vizhinjan Port project has started, but others, Sabari rail, airport at Sabarimala, Light Metro, Silverline (semi high-speed rail corridor between Thiruvananthapuram and Kasaragod), etc., are yet to commence. Acquisition of land for the rail corridor will be the major challenge, with local residents already coming out in protest.
The Centre’s approval has to be sought for the Light Metro projects in Thiruvananthapuram and Kozhikode. Land has to be acquired for the development of Cherthala-Kazhakkoottam National Highway. The inland waterway between Thrissur and Kasaragod needs completion.
Though prone to controversies and allegations, the department did not take fire during the past five years.
Though a digital facility was created for re-survey, its implementation has not yet been completed. This will be the major mission of the new minister.
The online facility to remit land tax has not been extended to all regions. About three-fourth village offices are yet to become ‘smart’ or e-enabled. Digitalization has to be completed to expedite several activities, including the conversion of land.
Additionally, the Department of Revenue is responsible for acquiring land for major projects.
Though expected during the previous government’s regime, the Farmers’ Welfare Fund Board has not started functioning, and it need to be looked at on a priority basis. Fair price should be ensured for farm produces.
Paddy fields should be freed from land mafia. Online facilities should be provided for submitting applications for the department’s projects and subsidies.
The outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic has left the sector in debt. The MSME package, envisaged to encourage investors, have not been properly implemented. Projects should be planned and rolled out to rehabilitate employees of establishments that had closed down.
Devaswom, Backward Classes Welfare Department
The Department of Devaswom had courted controversy over its stand on allowing women of all ages to visit the Sabarimala temple. The issue, currently, is under the consideration of the Supreme Court.
The LDF, which had implemented the Supreme Court’s September 2018 order allowing women of all ages to enter the Sabarimala, suffered a major setback in Lok Sabha polls due its stand on the issue.
The stand the government may adopt after the Supreme Court’s pending order will be crucial. The Devaswom Minister in the first Pinarayi-cabinet, Kadakampally Surendran, had changed his stand on the issue. The new cabinet’s optics on the issue is yet to be known.
The government should expedite the funds expenditure on the construction of houses for the scheduled communities.
Local Self-Government, Excise
The government should make steps to lighten the additional financial burden on self-government bodies active in the battle against COVID-19. The implementation of projects, adversely hit by the pandemic and election, should be brought back on track.
Since the southwest monsoon is just round the corner, waste management will be the first challenge before the new minister.
The previous government had mulled selling liquor online and to allow breweries, but retracted fearing controversies. The new government might decide to implement the plans.
Tourism, Public Works
The outbreak of COVID-19 had adversely impacted the tourism sector. The sector tried reviving itself following a lull in the spread of pandemic, but the COVID-19 second wave knocked it down again.
The Rs 45,000 crore sector may take some time to find its feet again. Several qualified people have left the tourism sector.
Though the government had announced a Rs 400 crore loan package for investors, many of the banks have been unwilling to sanction the loan. The challenge now is to save the sector that employs 15 lakh people.
The Rebuild Kerala plan is stuck midway, even three years after the floods. Though special arrangements have been made for implementing the plan, the responsibility of completing most of the construction works rests with the Public Works Department.
Food, Civil Supplies
The department had often been mired in controversies over the purchase of food items and kickbacks. The challenge is to make the department free of corruption.
The issues at the server-end of the EPoS, which often face network outages, should be addressed. The food kit distribution should continue despite the financial crisis.
Power, Water Resources
Rainwater harvesting and artificial groundwater recharging should be extended all over the State. The Jal Jeevan Mission should be strengthened to provide more water connections in rural areas. Time-bound campaigns are required to keep rivers and other sources of water free of waste.
The rehabilitation of tribespeople is not yet completed. Effective measures should continue to avoid man-wild animal conflicts. Encroachment of forests need to be completely stopped.
The carbon neutrality project launched in Wayanad should be extended statewide. The project is for eco-restoration and mitigating climate change.
LDF suffered a setback in Kundara after the controversy over a memorandum of understanding on deep-sea fishing. The government should exercise much caution on new projects in the sector.
Rehabilitation of people living in areas prone to storm surge, completion of coastal road project are the major challenges. Alternatives for the ineffective seawalls should be found and implemented.
The cinema industry is one of the worst COVID-hit sectors. It needs a helping hand to revive.
Non-Resident Keralites’ affairs
Rehabilitation of those returning after losing overseas employment will be the major challenge. Kerala Loka Sabha should continue with a sense of purpose.