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

Suspended from service for not being guilty Tuesday, Dec 11 2007 

Forests at Maruthuamala near PonmudiAll who stand for protection of environment and rule of law should condemn the suspension of Kerala Forest Officer Balakrishna Pillai from service.

The guilt of Mr. Pillai, who was divisional forest officer of Trivandrum Forest Division, is that he had reported that the land proposed to be given to Indian Space Research Organisation for developing the campus of the Indian Institute of Space Science and Technology is forest.

As about two dozen environmental activists and journalists, who visited the spot today, would confirm, the area is indeed forest. Mr. Pillai was only reporting the truth when he said that the area was forest with endemic trees such as chenkurinji (Gluta travancorica) and jewel orchid, though it might not have suited the machinations of those in power.

As a forest officer, Mr. Pillai is duty bound to report any event that would lead to destruction and alienation of forests.

Section 3B (Offences by the Authorities and Government Departments) of the Forest (Conservation) Act says that if any forest is assigned, diverted for non-forest purposes or otherwise destroyed officials in charge of shall be deemed guilty, proceeded and punished. The punishment specified is simple imprisonment for a period, which may extend to fifteen days.

Mr. Pillai acted in accordance with the law by reporting the situation to his superiors and avoided violation of the Act. He should have been punished if he had connived with higher ups in the State Government in their plan to clear the area and cut the trees, terming the area as revenue land for IIST campus.

Action is actually due against officials who issued orders diverting the forests for non-forestry purposes without clearance from the Central Government under the provisions of the Act.