Thomas Issac: the man after ideas Friday, Mar 5 2010 

Finance Minister Dr. T. M. Thomas Issac

Kerala Finance Minister Dr. T. M. Thomas Issac

Kerala’s Finance Minister Dr. T. M. Thomas Issac is an economist who is bold enough to embrace ideas. His latest Budget (for 2010-11) is an example for that. However, the problem is that he lacks an efficient government capable of turning his Budget proposals into reality.

The ideas in the Budget are not new. The campaign for environmental conservation was there for at least three decades now. The difference Dr. Issac makes is that he has shown willingness to promote the idea in a big way. The major proposal is to have a Rs. 10000 million green fund. (The onus of raising this fund largely falls on the next government. Current year’s allocation is just Rs. 1000 million). There are a slew of measures proposed including assistance to private individuals and organizations for conservation. The Finance Minister has put environmental conservation the agenda of the government in a big way.

There are also multi-pronged efforts to promote energy efficiency. This is an idea that was in the air for more than a decade— saving energy could be equivalent to building additional generation capacity. The State Electricity Board and the government had been late in embracing this by a decade. (This was the case with small hydel projects also.  The Board woke up to the idea almost a decade late.) Better late than never, and Dr. Issac is making the plunge.

However, the LDF government is a non-functioning government.  Mafias flourish and governance drifts. Dr. Issac alone could not put governance back on the rails. It should be admitted that he had been able to push certain things as far as his department is concerned and check tax evasion. (But gold merchants continue to evade tax. The compounding scheme brought by him helped to realise only Rs. 132 crores in taxes against target of Rs. 180 crores.). He has also been able to push Water Resources Minister N. K. Premachandran a bit. But that was that.

His plans to revise lease rent last year did not take off.  Now, he is talking of legislation. The process may lag on as has happened with many a Bills proposed by the Law Reforms Commission.  Several proposals in the current year’s budget for additional resources mobilization such as desilting of dam and collection of fines for reclamation of paddy fields did not yield results during the year.  The Minister is now hoping that he would be able to do that this year. One time settlement for evaded stamp duty too would continue this year. The realization last year was just two per cent of the anticipated revenue.  Naturally, the proposed infrastructure projects did not materialise as fast as hoped for. This time also, there are projects galore.  However, most of them are unlikely to become a reality during the administration (or lack of it) of the present government.

Related: Subsidising Energy Efficiency

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Last minute efforts to stall delays Sunday, Jan 17 2010 

Vizhinjam projects

A common factor of the the wave energy project and the latest transshipment termimal project at Vizhinjam was delay and cost escalation

The Kerala government is looking for ways to avoid delays in implementation of its programmes and projects. It has been proposing many things for the past three and a half years. But it is no where near completing implementation of most of them. All it has done is to delay projects like the Kerala Transport Project and City Improvement Project started by the previous government.

It is learned that Finance Minister Thomas Isaac has asked former Chief Secretary V. Ramachandran to submit a report on avoiding delays. However, no miracles could be expected in the fourth year of LDF government as a result of the report. Mr. Ramachandran can take credit for many things but he don’t have a reputation for doing anything spectacular to avoid delays when he was the Chief Secretary and Vice Chairman of the State Planning Board. What he could not do when he had executive power is not going to be achieved through his desk work.

Moreover, his experience is with the civil service. The major chunk of the problem lies with the politicians and not the civil service. Civil service can be improved upon only if the politicians show the will to do so. First of all, accountability should be ensured. The current level of protection guilty officials get should be removed by changing rules regarding suspensions and dismissals. A fast track and independent system (devoid of political interference) should established in government to enquire into charges against officials and take disciplinary action.

Currently, the administration is being managed by private staff of the Ministers and party men in Secretariat associations. This situation should change. Department heads and other officials should be given functional freedoms while maintaining accountability. Ministers and their staff should not interfere in day to day functioning of officials but set policies and see to it that they are implemented.

Governance today is complex and it needs dedicated work. Ministers should remain in offices and do their work instead of going around the State for most days of the week. Several Ministers and officials now push only the projects in which they have monetary (read corruption) or political interest. Other projects remain unattended. This problem can only be addressed by voters who should elect representatives who have a commitment to the State’s development.

The Opposition should form shadow cabinets and do detailed preparatory work for assuming office, if they are elected to power. The should have their plans ready the very day them assume office.

Infrastructure projects fail to take off Wednesday, Jul 8 2009 

Trivandrum City Roads Project

Trivandrum City Roads Improvement Programme

Important infrastructure projects in Kerala are failing to take off owing to politicking. The Vizhinjam International Transshipment Terminal Project and Smart City Project were undermined by inner party rivalries in the CPI (M).

When Chief Minister V. S. Achuthanandan pushed forward the Smart City Project, the Industries Minister Elamaram Kareem tried to promote other projects for formation of Special Economic Zones. Competitive politics delayed decisions. In the case of Vizhijam project, the two groups in the party tried to push the cause of competitive bidders for the project. The result of continuing litigation which has stalled the project for an indefinite period.

The Kerala Transport Project and Thiruvananthapuram City Improvement Scheme were project taken up by the previous UDF Government and the Left suspected corruption in the contract. For the very reason, Finance Minister Thomas Isaac took on the contractors, but ended up giving the contract back to the very same contractors at a higher rate. These projects are now struggling for completion.

The only silver line is initiatives for the Kochi Metro Rail project. The Centre would also be completing the Vallarpadam project as the State Government has completed land acquisition after much delay. However, proposed  railway coach factory and wagon factory are still in paper.

The renovation of Sabarigiri project is progressing only slowly. The Ramackalmedu wind power projects too is stalled.

Suresh Kumar can seek whistle blower protection Tuesday, Dec 9 2008 

Remains of Cloud Nine Resort demolished by Government

Remains of Cloud Nine Resort demolished by Government

Kerala Chief Secretary P. J. Thomas has issued show cause notice to former Additional Secretary to the Chief Minister K. Suresh Kumar for his remarks against the personal staff of the Chief Minister and functioning of the Chief Minister’s Office.

Chief Minister V. S. Achuthanandan has once again demonstrated his weakness by succumbing to the demand for Mr. Kumar’s blood. Mr. Kumar was obviously speaking in defence of the Chief Minister also in attacking the personal staff who had criticised the Chief Minister in the CPI (M) State Committee, though it can be asked how far it served the purpose.

In any case, Mr. Kumar was speaking the plain truth. He was not speaking against any policy of the government. He was rather speaking in support of them. He is pointing out that the Chief Minister’s Office had failed to carry out government policies and even undermined them. So, he can seek whistle blower protection for disclosing the truth about a key office of the government. It had been dysfunctional because of multiple afflictions—political partisanship, inexperience and ineptness.

A larger question is whether a Chief Minister elected to the Office with popular support is not entitled to choose his personal staff. Mr. Achuthanandan needed qualified, capable and effective staff because his own knowledge and experience in administration was extremely limited. However, in a bid to take control of the Office, the party posted people who were inexperienced or inefficient. The result was for all to see. The Chief Minister could never insist on having an Office he needed for carrying out his direct and implied promises to the electorate.

This is not to say that Mr. Kumar was faultless. He often appeared to be impulsive. There was no justification for his mowing down the tea plants of Tata Tea on the roadsides from the environmental or tactical point. The uprooting of the plants during monsoon caused soil erosion. Tactically, he could have persuaded the Tatas to surrender the land without the use of force if the government had the necessary determination. He should also have not tried to demolish the windows of a resort on the very day the case relating to the resort was before the High Court.

The Chief Minister needed a wise, diplomatic person with cold determination to carry out the Munnar mission instead of mavericks. It appears that the Chief Minister under-estimated the complexity and sensitiveness of the task and difficulties in fulfilling the objectives. In several cases, the government could have taken over the buildings instead of demolishing them. He also seems to have miscalculated the political opposition he would face even from his own camp in Idukki district. For strategic reasons, he should also have not alienated the CPI. There was no need for VS to try an image building exercise in Munnar as he already had the image gained as the Opposition Leader. He could have allowed the CPI ministers to carry on with their image building exercises, and in the process, trapped them into carrying out his vision (or mission).

Update (11/12/08): As an IAS Officer, Mr. Suresh Kumar can approach the Central Administrative Tribunal challenging his suspension from service (orders were served on Thursday.) However, it seems that he cannot approach the Central Vigilance Commission for whistle blower protection as the Commission has no jurisdiction over private individuals and State Governments. Kerala government has no law or resolution for whistile blower protection.

Related Posts:
Munnar: Mission statements
Chief Minister Achuthanandan’s challenge
Munnar Mission takes path of least resistance
Politics is the art of the possible

India burning Sunday, Aug 31 2008 

Collapse of governance and administration in parts of India

Several parts of India are becoming unmanageable. The politicians are mismanaging several issues while celebrating economic progress of the country. This could ultimately neutralise progress and push the country into anarchy.

Jammu and Kashmir flared up over a minor issue, which would have been amicably resolved. Orissa is aflame in another communal flare up. Naxalites are getting rooted in several parts of the country. Their actions had also triggered the communal flare up in Orissa. Even after a week, the government has failed to restore order in Orissa.

What happened in Gujarat about five years ago cannot be forgotten. It was State-sponsored terrorism. Now, terrorists are retaliating with bombs.

The county’s IT capital is witnessing not only bomb attacks but also violence of parochial issues. Mumbai also saw bomb blasts. Security agencies are far from being able to prevent such attacks. Insurgency is ranging in North Eastern States for years.

In Kerala, ruling party supporters are releasing their men from police stations by force (report about latest incident). The police are inactive against underground operations of extremists in the State.

Perhaps the worst is happening in Bihar. Criminals are not even sparing the victims of a devastating flood.

India is not shining. The country’s glorious culture is fading.

Related:

A time for cold realism

Crises at Sabarimala Sunday, Dec 30 2007 

PilgrimsThe problems at Sabarimala temple are the best example of ineptness of administration. The Travancore Devaswom Board is just incapable of handling the influx of pilgrims. The Government has to intervene strongly every year to make sufficient facilities available to the pilgrims without much success. Every year, the Board and the Governments promise that the pucca arrangements would be made before the season. But the arrangements in variably fall short of requirement. Unexpected increase in number of tourists is just an excuse being made by administrators incapable of planning for the pilgrimage.

So, it is high time that a body independent of the Board is created to handle the pilgrimage in a professional manner. Those at the helm of affairs should not be politicians as recommended by the Paripoornan Commission, but people capable of professional management. In this regard, one can take a leaf from the manner in which some of the institutions under the Matha Amrithanandamayi are being run.
There is no need for Sabarimala to remain the milch cow of Travancore Devaswom Board, which has many temples to manage.

Munnar: Mission statements Tuesday, Nov 6 2007 

Kerala Chief Minister V. S. AchuthanandanRepeated statements by the Kerala Chief Minister V. S. Achuthanandan that the Munnar mission is on course do not appear convincing. (The mission was all about evicting encroachers and demolishing unauthorised constructions).

Even if the Chief Minister is sincere, he is not going to the official cooperation required to carry out the task. Officials who took bold stand against the mafia had been ditched.

Many had participated in mission Munnar reluctantly as they have to act also against their colleagues who had aided the encroachers. Now, they would try not to antagonise corrupt officials in their own departments and politicians outside.

They have burned their fingers while the Chief Minister has lost his image. He also seems to be losing his support within the party. Officials would not fail to notice that.

Related blog:

Munnar muddle

ISRO and high attitudes Monday, Oct 22 2007 

ponmudi.jpg

The Indian Space Research Organisation is reportedly insisting that the Indian Institute of Space Science and Technology should be in the Merchiston estate area near Ponmudi in Kerala.

If the IAS officers are trained at Mussorie, space scientists too should be trained at a high altitude location. Then, they should have a clear view of skies as astronomy is going to be one of the subjects of study. It has already declared that the Government land at the top of Ponmudi and the old helipad there are unsuitable for the purpose.

V. S. Achuthanandan at PonmudiThey claim that IIST is going to be the third Space Institute to be in the world. This does not appear to be true. (Here is a list of space institutes of the world.) Several of them have campuses in the cities and the plains. Though institutes such as Caltec have facilities on mountaintops for astronomical observations, their campuses are elsewhere. Why can’t the ISRO be satisfied with an observatory at a high altitude location and a campus on the plains?

The ISRO authorities have persuaded Achuthanandan to visit Ponmudi. The Chief Minister understood that it was any way going to work to his advantage. If the Government were to agree to their demand, he would be doing so after an on-the-spot study. If not, it would be another crusade against corruption and environmental degradation.

One of the points that the ISRO authorities was keen to point out to the visiting delegation was that the area cleared for the helipad was in the middle of the tea estate. They were silent about the fact that the estates at Ponmudi are surrounded by evergreen forests.

The Cabinet knows all about that and much more. Hence, the delay in taking a decision. While the Chief Minister is inclined to award the land to ISRO so that the Institute could be retained in Kerala, Forest Minister Binoy Viswam is a cat that fell into the hot water before.