Yes, the Great Depression: reloaded.
At first we thought it was curious, laughing at the big bossy western capitalist giants gasping for breath, whilst we took pride in our niche across the blue, where our dreams were afloat on the fathoms of black gold. But the ripple effects from the Wall Street Crash of September 2008 has caught up with the Middle East, taking the Kerala expatriates off guard.
As of date, in excess of 2.6 million Keralites live or work abroad, around 90% in the Middle East. The Emirates account for nearly 8 lakhs of the Kerala workforce, the Dubai magnet attracting the majority. It appeared for a while that nothing could hinder Dubai's unprecedented growth to shape up into a new-world financial centre, but the hard-hitting reality has rocked the foundations of the wannabe star-wars city.
For decades Kerala has survived by producing people and exporting them. This policy reaped dividends throughout, allowing our households, society and politicians to be cozy under the shade of the Gulf. The construction sector took advantage of the expats' over-indulgence with real estate, and apartment culture spread out to even the remotest of towns. Keralites took pride in their 'investments' and the impressive skylines exhibiting the pomp and glory of the upbeat Kerala economy (what??)
As a result of this the critical economical and related social issues were swept under the carpet and were never dealt with seriousness. Whatever trickle of investments coming into the state were ruined, diverted or stalled by the inefficient bureaucrats, militant trade unions, apathetic politicians and the blood-thirsty media.
Kerala is at last going to pay for all this...
As many as 2-5 lakh Keralaites have booked their one-way ticket back home staring at a bleak and frightening future. The figure could touch a staggering 1 million by the break of next year, with the worldwide crisis not hoped to be resolved for the next couple of years. Thats another significant number to add on to the 4.1 million job seekers we have now.
Add on to it the thousands who will be losing their livelihood by the eminent collapse of the already dwindling state construction sector... Also the traditional industries and tourism sectors are forecasting rough weather ahead, number of job losses standing at 1.5 lakhs, for a start.
Also count in the professionals in Bangalore, Hyderabad and other tech-zones who are staring at the recession barrel.
Not to mention the dip in the salaries and perks churned out to the privately employed personnel inside the state, including the 30 thousand odd jobs in our IT Parks.
The NRI remittances, the lifeblood of millions of families in Kerala, have already registered shortcomings of 3 billion INR in the last quarter.
Don't the figures alarm you?
The construction sector in the state has shown negative growth for the first time in the past decade. Towering apartment blocks and expansive villas, palatial village houses, over-inflated land values, luxury cars were all byproducts of the Gulf boom. Now since the seemingly-eternal bubble has burst, the patrons of these assets are feeling the heat on their asses. The booming suburbs of Kakkanad, Aluva and Kazhakkuttam are old stories and the Gulf-dependent sector in towns like Kannur, Calicut and Thiruvalla have seen the sale figures plunge.
Interestingly, the State Govt took a big blind foot forward by 'laying the stone' for a couple of IT Parks in the hitherto unheard places like Ambalappuzha and Kundara. One year back, it would have been a laudable step, but when the whole IT sector is in doldrums and the rates of big IT hubs like Bangalore are now comparable to the likes of Trivandrum and Cochin, this has led many to giggle. Especially when you think that the sensible approach would have been to create more space in the established centres.
On the other side of the coin, what little hopes are remaining on the Smart City affair to kick start soon are dashed by the recent dung-slinging between the TECOM and V.S. Achutanandan. Smart City looks to be the only major initiative having a builder against its name, since the Technopark and Technocity projects failed to attract any bidders and the private developers are on the race out of the state.
The retail and hospitality sectors in the state has also suffered severe blows with almost two dozen each Five star projects and Mall projects stalled or on hold in Trivandrum and Cochin. The recession couldn't have come at a worst time, especially for Trivandrum, since it was on its way up (after 50 years) to become a notable new generation Indian city, gaining momentum from the IT and retail revolution it was starting to witness.
I believe its far too late for our administrators to bail out the state. The system is already feeling the pressure, with all those expatriates returning home. We've lost our lone lifeline, the emigration, and now its time to grow the turnips in our own garden.
We've hitchhiked all our life, and we are all at sea when left alone at the wheels.
Perhaps, this could be the lesson Kerala needed badly.