Friday, September 12, 2008

The Downside of "Kerala Model"

I've often wondered why the much vaunted "Kerala Model" of development is mocked by the people of Kerala themselves.

"You call this development?", they ask, "We get our foodgrains from Andhra Pradesh, vegetables from Tamil Nadu, our shops are stocked with goods made elsewhere and our politicians flail helplessly, taking the state from one financial crisis to another".

It turns out that the one of the biggest achievements of the Kerala Model - land reforms - is exactly what led to a steady decline in food production in the state. Land reforms had been implemented as a means to redistribute land, not to raise productivity. Instead of leasing out land to prospective tillers, the people who received the land, the erstwhile tenants, were not required to cultivate the land given to them. These tenants were merely the intermediaries between the landlords and the laborers.

Since there was no economy of scale in tilling small plots of land, they merely treated it as a piece of real estate that was quickly sold off when Gulf-jobs beckoned in the mid 1970s.

"Imagining an Economy of Plenty in Kerala" - Pullapre Balakrishnan, EPW, 17 May 2008
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