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'Kerala finances tight, but don't panic' (Kerala Newsletter)

By Sanu George, Thiruvananthapuram, Aug 31 : Thanks to the "proactive" electronic media, tongues started to wag that Kerala is broke after the nearly dozen TV channels chose to run as breaking news an otherwise routine exercise that state governments take to raise additional capital.


It wasn't just that Kerala was raising Rs.1,100 crore by issuing bonds. A friendly spat, nothing more than an ego clash between two veterans in the Oommen Chandy cabinet -- Finance Minister K.M. Mani and Electricity and Transport Minister Aryadan Mohammed -- became additional fodder for the electronic media, which went to town that all's not well as far as the state's finances are concerned.

Mohammed, while addressing a trade union meeting, played to the gallery when he said that at a time when the state's finances are tight unlike previous Left governments, the Congress governments have always been liberal when giving away freebies, especially during the festive season.

Thanks to the TV media's "pick and choose reporting", all that went on air was "the state's finances are tight" bit. This irked Mani, the only finance minister in the country who has presented 11 state budgets, and he hit back by saying that both the state-owned transport corporation and electricity board (the two departments Mohammed heads) were being inefficiently run.

Chandy, known for his diplomatic style of operations and one to douse any spark that arises while running a coalition that has a slender majority of just three seats in the 140-member Kerala assembly, stepped in to say that there was only a communication gap.

"The finances of the state are a bit tight, but there's no crisis at all. I would say what both Mohammed and Mani said is true. But despite being in a tight position, just look at what's happening in the state with huge major projects all going ahead in full steam," said Chandy, clearing the media's doubt about the state's finances.

With Onam (the harvest festival this time will be in the third week of September) round the corner and a celebration event in every household in the state, cutting across social and religious beliefs, the practice in the state is that government salaries are paid in advance.

This time, however, only half the salary for September will be paid in advance. Other payouts like festival advance, bonus and pension will take the outgo to around Rs.2,500 crore.

"Overall, the financial position is safe and there is no need for any concern at all. Every development activity is going ahead, and what more does one need?" asked veteran finance minister Mani, who has been a legislator for 46 years on the trot.

But Leader of Opposition V.S. Achuthanandan had rebutted Chandy's line on the state's finances.

"Chandy is taking the people for a ride by giving a clean chit to the contrasting opinions on the same topic by the two ministers. Chandy has done nothing to check the spiralling price rise and if one compares the market rates prevailing during the last Onam season, this time it has gone up as high as eight times. And we are told there is going to be another hike in diesel prices and if that takes place, then Kerala has had it," Achuthanandan contended.

Even so, for the time being at least it appears that with clarifications coming thick and fast, Kerala can certainly look forward to a bright Onam.

(Sanu George can be contacted at sanu.g@ians.in)

--IANS (Posted on 31-08-2013)

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