India: A Year In, India's Communist-Led Kerala Continues to Take Steps to Ensure Inclusivity
The achievements of the progressive government of Kerala have outstripped those of the rest of the country.
While India's "Hindutva" Prime Minister Narendra Modi is busy "forging ties" with other countries, paying lip service to the heinous mob lynchings of Muslims, showing no concern for the minorities' lives in India, Kerala — the state under the leadership of communists organizations — is making significant leaps to ensure that inclusive progress is being made unlike most other parts of the country.
On May 25, the progressive Left Democratic Front, a coalition of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), the Communist Party of India, and some other smaller organizations marked its first year in the office, during which time, it has made significant gains in the social welfare and labor rights for Keralites, including initiatives to revive public sector industries in agriculture, education and health care.
Those referred to as "Scheduled Caste," "Scheduled Tribes" and Dalits have a long history of suffering atrocities. Relegated to the lowest rungs of the Indian caste system, they are often denied basic civil rights. Over the years, the communities have seen significant budget cuts to the Special Component Plan at the national level.
Under the SCP, about US$400 million is supposed to go to the Scheduled Caste Sub-Plan and about US$116 billion is allocated for the Tribal Sub-Plan. These plans were initiated as intervention strategies during the 1970s to exclusively help the SC and ST, respectively.
The privileged upper caste communities have attacked this affirmative action and the reservations in education and other sectors for the SCs, STs and Dalits creating more friction for the marginalized communities. "The government has pledged to ensure that the funds allotted are utilized in the most efficient manner," A. K. Balan, the minister for Welfare of Scheduled Caste, Scheduled Tribe, and Backward Classes, told the New Press India. "The unfair practice of middlemen stealing away their lump sum amounts must be put to a stop through constant vigilance."
The Kerala government increased its budget by 50 percent for the education of tribal students. As a result, nearly 600,000 students are expected to gain from the allotment. Nearly 13,000 SC students studying in some 353 schools were provided with transportation facilities. The government is also set to open 10 model residential schools and a sports school. The existing hostel facilities in schools will also have better food and infrastructure.
As part of the SCP, the LIFE housing mission is building houses across the state for the underserved members of society. Nearly US$27 million has been allocated for the purchase of land and over double the amount for the construction of houses for SCs. Separate funds for the STs will also be implemented. Edamalakuddy, the only tribal village panchayat in Kerala, will also receive funds for the comprehensive development plan.
A monthly working fund for Nirbhaya homes for women who have endured domestic abuse will also be increased to about US$4,000 to improve the conditions of the shelters.
A 24/7 information and emergency helpline for women in the state has also been introduced that integrates all the existing women’s helplines to the service with an around-the-clock call center. Pink Patrol, a network of specially trained women police personnel has also been dedicated to the safety of women and children.
Also, 36,000 jobs were filled through the Public Service Commission, with over 6,000 new positions created. Nearly 5,200 small and medium enterprises helped create 51,500 jobs. And 15,500 new mini and micro industries also created 51,000 jobs.
To provide incentives for improved working conditions, a grading system for factories and workplaces will be introduced in the state.
About US$4 million will be allocated to fishing communities that lost their homes due to ocean floods. Kerala relies heavily on its cashew industry and is planning to link up with African nations to procure raw cashew production.
"Almost three lakh workers in Kerala depend on cashew processing for their livelihood. Most of these workers are women who belong to the most disadvantaged sections of the society. The biggest beneficiaries of this conclave are the cashew workers in Kerala and cashew farmers or producers in Africa," J Mercykutty Amma, fisheries and cashew industry minister, told Times of India.
"This agreement with African nations to procure raw cashew will ensure sufficient raw material and will help open the closed cashew factories. In the 100 days after coming to power, this state government has opened defunct cashew factories ensuring jobs for 8,000 workers," Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan told the Times of India.
"This agreement will help avoid intermediaries, to restore the value chain for Kerala buyers, processors, end products, and marketers. It will retain the demand and stability of prices," he explained.
Under the communist-led government, the Comprehensive Health Insurance Scheme of Kerala also widened the scope of health insurance available for informal workers.
Between 2006 and 2011, plans to ensure food and nutritional security for the tribals in the form of community kitchen; increased educational loans and expansion of health facilities; appointment of about 30 specialized doctors in Tribal Super Speciality hospitals; distribution of nutritious food through Anganawadis; rural mother and child care centers in India and much more add to the achievements of the left-led progressive government of Kerala.