‘Kerala Model’ is a term used to describe the economic policy underpinning the State’s recent growth and development history.
Positives of this model:
It is characterized by achievements in social indicators such as education, healthcare, high life expectancy, low infant mortality and low birth rate, by the creation of productive social infrastructure rather than materialistic infrastructure. Kerala has achieved material conditions of living, reflected in indicators of social development comparable to those of developed countries, even though the state’s per capita income is moderate. These achievements along with the factors responsible for such achievements have been considered characteristic results of the Kerala model.
More precisely, the Kerala model has been defined as:
A set of high material quality-of-life indicators coinciding with moderate per-capita incomes, both distributed across nearly the entire population of Kerala.
A set of wealth and resource redistribution programmes that have largely brought about the high material quality-of-life indicators.
High levels of political participation and activism among ordinary people along with substantial numbers of dedicated leaders at all levels. Kerala’s mass activism and committed cadre were able to function within a largely democratic structure, which their activism has served to reinforce.
In 2018 Kerala was overwhelmed by an unprecedented natural event. Flooding combined with landslides caused many deaths. Floods were not new to Kerala, which receives high rainfall. What was new compared to the times of equally high rainfall in the early part of the last century was the flooding due to inept dam management and the vulnerability of the terrain induced by the pattern of land use. In 2019 we have seen some of this repeated. This year it is the landslides that have caused most deaths. They are a relatively recent phenomenon, pointing to the role of uncontrolled economic expansion.
Failures of the model:
Criticism of the Kerala Model has been based on its several failures:
The foremost is the inability to meet the employment aspirations of the people, pushing them to live under authoritarian regimes overseas.
Second, the laudable public provision of health and education has been financed by borrowing. Kerala has the highest per capita public debt among States, implying that we are passing on the bill for our own maintenance to future generations.
Finally, Kerala has not done so well when viewed through the lens of gender justice. High levels of female education have not led to an equally high participation of women in the labour force or in governance, even though they participate equally in elections.
Two consecutive years of a natural calamity exacerbated by human action are a revelation that the Kerala Model has run its course. The extraordinary events that we have witnessed this year range from fountains sprouting out of the earth due to the hitherto unknown ‘water piping’ to constructed structures shifting, physical phenomena not yet widely understood.
There has been overbuilding in Kerala, with absentee owners having invested in luxury houses they do not always occupy. As a result poorer households are crowded out of safe locations on the plains to precarious ones on the hills.
Public policy has failed miserably to regulate land use including rampant quarrying, which destabilises the earth’s surface.
The rice paddies had both produced food and served as gargantuan sinks for rainwater.
To come out of this morass the people of Kerala would have to rely on themselves. They need to acknowledge that their consumption pattern must change as it has adversely impacted the natural environment, the consequences of which have begun to hurt them. In this task they are unlikely to be guided by the State’s politicians and intellectuals who led them into this cul-de-sac in the first place.