Thiruvanthapuram: Governor Arif Mohammed Khan on Friday delivered the customory policy address that marks the start of the annual Budget session in the Kerala Assembly.
Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and Speaker MB Rajesh received the Governor for delivering the policy address for the fourth session of the 15th Assembly.
The Governor, who is at loggerheads with both the ruling front and the opposition, was welcomed with vociferous 'go back' slogans and banners demanding the same by the Opposition. The UDF later boycotted the Governor's address in the Assembly.
What the policy address said
The Governor outlined the State's success in countering Covid-19 and commended the government's efforts to provide free vaccine to all.
The health infrastructure enabled the State to effectively manage the Covid-19 pandemic, he said.
K-Rail will bring about an eco-friendly mode of transportation for the public, the Governor said in the policy address.
The SilverLine Project will bring about more employment opportunities and establish a faster mode of transport.
Stating that the Union Budget has not accommodated any long-standing demands of Kerala, he said the state government expects an early approval from the Centre for its ambitious K-Rail rail corridor project, which found no mention in Nirmala Sitharaman's recent budget.
The Governor said that K-Rail project would provide a new environment-friendly transport mode compared to fossil fuel-based transportation and would be a green initiative that would catalyse employment and growth while enhancing the speed, joy and comfort of travel.
Ahead in development
Kerala is ahead of most states in a majority of development indicators. The State also leads in health sector.
Outlining the achievements of the LDF government, he said the state has been in the forefront of areas like sustainable development, health, general education and so on.
Kerala is leading India in the field of poverty eradication. Among all the Indian states, Kerala has the least poverty. The State provides special package for all families living Below Poverty Line. However, there has been no commensurate increase in the Central allocation in line with the rising expenditure.
Khan underlined the significance of "cooperative federalism" and said that in recent times, legislations by the Union government are taking place on subjects enumerated in the State and Concurrent Lists without effective consultation with the states.
"This goes against the grain of cooperative federalism. My government is of the opinion that this should not be a practice to be continued," he said.
There was speculation that Khan, who has been at loggerheads with the Pinarayi Vijayan administration on various matters, might skip portions of the policy document of the state government criticising the BJP-led NDA government at the Centre.
However, the Governor did not skip any such portion in his address.
Noting that the federal polity requires the Union and State governments to work together harmoniously to do justice to the people, Khan, in his address, said in these difficult times, all are committed to imbibe the principles of cooperative federalism and find areas of synergy and resolution.
Detailing the financial constraints faced by the state, he said besides the revenue loss due to COVID, Kerala has been facing severe cut in revenue from central transfers at present.
There has been a consistent decline in the State share provided from the divisible pool by successive Central Finance Commissions, he said.
"At the time of the 10th Finance Commission, the State share was 3.8 per cent of the divisible pool. By the 14th Finance Commission, this had come down to 2.5 per cent and now the 15th Finance Commission award only permits 1.92 per cent," he said.
The Revenue Deficit Grant is going to be reduced sharply in the coming Financial Year, he pointed out.
It has been the practice of the Union government to give exemption to the direct taxes which fall in the divisible pool and to raise significant amount of revenue through cess and surcharges, which are not in divisible pool, he said.
"This causes a huge fall in the share of resources due to the State. Hence, it is not just the reduction in state's own revenue which causes the deficit but mainly the change in policy at the level of Union Government in devolving resources to the states that pushes the state government to financial difficulties," he said.
Importantly, while the fiscal deficit of the Union government is around 6 per cent, the states' deficits are restricted to 3 per cent.
This is "unscientific" as the expenditure obligations of the State are much higher than the Union and the spending has increased manifold due to the COVID related packages and assistance from the part of the State government, he said.
Claiming that the climate of "economic distress" that currently prevails in the country was exposed by the recent farmers' agitation against the farm legislation, he said the stir was a reflection of acute deprivation among workers and farmers in rural and urban setting alike, which necessitates immediate drastic intervention.
The state government is effectively carrying out the vaccination drive to build herd immunity against Covid-19 in the society, he said.
Enabling the citizens of the State to avail quality infrastructure for basic services of water, electricity, telecommunications and transport continues to be an area in which the state government is focusing its attention and identifying innovative projects, he said.
Referring to the Mullaperiyar Dam issue, Khan said as Kerala is committed to providing water to Tamil Nadu while safeguarding the lives of its people, it has put forth the proposal to build a new dam in the place of the existing dam which is around a century and a quarter old.
The Governor also mentioned that the LDF government intends to revise the Housing Policy 2011 and would go ahead with the proposal of preparing a new curriculum based on the National Education Policy (NEP), 2020.
Opposition boycotts session
The protests and sloganeering by the Opposition irked the Governor and when the Opposition Leader, V D Satheesan, sought permission to speak, Khan expressed his strong displeasure.
"You will have the session to discuss these things, " he said.
"You are a responsible person, you are the opposition leader, " he said.
The Opposition's main charge is that there was an unholy nexus between the Governor and the Chief Minister.
"The Governor is abetting the government in all it's illegal activities, " Satheesan said. The Kannur vice chancellor appointment and the Lokayukta amendment ordinance were two examples he held up as proof.
Satheesan also said that the Governor was acting as the agent of thr BJP, and the government was playing along. He even threatened he would not give his assent for the policy address and the government succumbed to the pressure by transfering the general administration principal secretary.
Policy document signed after high drama
The corridors of power in Kerala witnessed high drama on the eve of the state Assembly session with the Governor refusing to sign the policy document of the CPI(M)-led LDF government, expressing strong displeasure over a letter written by it against the appointment of a senior journalist-turned politician in a key post in the Raj Bhavan.
The issue was resolved after the government, yielding to the Governor's pressure, replaced K R Jyothilal as principal secretary, General Administration Department (GAD) with a senior civil servant.
Sources said the Governor signed the document after receiving information from the government that senior IAS officer Jyothilal was replaced by top bureaucrat Sarada Muraleedharan as the principal secretary GAD.
The one-month-long budget session of the Kerala Assembly commenced on Friday with the customary policy address of the Governor.
Earlier in the day, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan visited the Raj Bhavan and met the Governor in a bid to pacify him.
During the meeting, the Governor is learnt to have expressed his strong displeasure over the manner in which the government treated his recommendation to appoint Kartha as his Additional Personal Assistant. Kartha is a former member of the BJP state committee. The BJP leadership said Kartha had quit active politics later.
The Chief Minister took the lead to resolve the crisis after top officials, including Chief Secretary V P Joy, failed to convince the Governor.