THE HIGHWAYS BECKON
A new institution gets infra projects rolling in the state
When the Pinarayi Vijayan government first established the Kerala Infrastructure Investment Fund Board (KIIFB), an autonomous body, in June 2016, a number of public finance experts predicted it would be “yet another misadventure” considering Kerala’s economy was in the doldrums. But thumbing its nose at the doomsayers, KIIFB has made remarkable progress.
Finance minister Thomas Isaac says, “KIIFB is no wonder cure for our many ills. We introduced it as an experiment to tackle our various development handicaps... and the results have been encouraging.” Isaac says traditional means to source funds would have needed another 20 years to fill the gaps, hence “the special [purpose] vehicle (SPV) to raise funds and to secure future revenues” .
Despite meeting global standards in several social indices, what Kerala lacks is infrastructure. A traffic survey in 2016 revealed that the 550 km from Thiruvananthapuram to Kasargod took 17 hours to cover. This was because new road construction had been at a virtual standstill due to land acquisition issues. Successive governments had baulked at antagonising landowners and religious groups who held large holdings. Result: bottlenecks became the ‘norm’.
When he took charge in May 2016, CM Vijayan had declared that all national highways would be widened to 45 metres, and that he would yield to no pressure. A first step to this—amending the Kerala Infrastructure Investment Act 1999 and create the KIIFB. The government transferred 50 per cent of road tax collections and the fuel cess to it. Besides the Rs 4,270 crore accrued from vehicle tax and fuel cess, the state is also planning public ‘bonds’ to bring in money.
But there are hindrances. The land acquisition protests in Keezhattur and Malappuram have the support of opposition parties, and in some areas, the ruling CPI(M) too. But work goes on. KIIFB CEO K.M. Abraham (an exchief secretary), says he is focused on “implementing projects with transparency and in a time-bound manner”. An independent inspection authority has been set up to ensure quality. A boost for the KIIFB—two key projects, the Rs 86.3 crore Vytilla flyover in Kochi and a Rs 105.4 crore expansion of Technocity in Thiruvananthapuram— are on schedule.
ON THE ROAD CM Pinarayi Vijayan at Technocity, Thiruvananthapuram