Pinarayi Vijayan, Chief Minister of Kerala Image Credit: Gulf News Archives

Last year’s Onam was washed out by the devastating floods that hit Kerala, which claimed more than 450 lives and caused damage worth Rs310 billion (Dh15.8 billion). This year, Keralites are celebrating the harvest festival against a backdrop of deluge and destruction that struck the state last month. Initial government assessments put the cost of reconstruction for the August floods, which killed more than 100 people, at Rs140 billion. With heavy monsoons battering the state in a row for two years, the Rebuild Kerala Initiative, set up by the state government after the 2018 floods, has its work cut out.

In an email interview with GN Focus, the Chief Minister of Kerala, Pinarayi Vijayan talks about how the initiative is dealing with new challenges and what benefits the state government has in store for Kerala expats.

How's the Rebuild Kerala Initiative progressing?

The Rebuild Kerala Initiative is progressing well. Apart from rebuilding the infrastructure we lost during last year's floods, we have been able to bring agencies and donors together at the Development Partners Conclave, to fine-tune the way ahead, in terms of realising a nava Keralam (new Kerala). It is the creation of a society that has sustainable livelihoods for its inhabitants and a land with modern infrastructure that cannot be undone by natural disasters.

The houses that have been reconstructed thus far point to the direction that we are taking in this regard. I am sure you have seen images of how flood resilient homes built under the Care Home scheme of the Cooperative Sector, have remained unaffected by the rising waters this time around.

We will see if special lessons can be learnt from this year, which can be incorporated in the ongoing Rebuild Kerala Initiative.

How successful has been the Development Partners Conclave held in July?

The Development Partners Conclave was a grand success. Various international organisations such as the World Bank, Asian Development Bank (ADB), KFW Bankengruppe (KFW), Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), Department for International Development (DFID), French Development Agency (AFD), United Nations Development Programme, German Corporation for International Cooperation (GIZ), Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), New Development Bank and several domestic organisations also participated in it.

Discussions were conducted on what are the areas in which these organisations can collaborate in rebuilding Kerala. A detailed action plan is being worked out, which will also include details on their financial commitments. To begin with, we have got the first instalment of help from the World Bank of Rs17 billion. KFW has also made a commitment regarding their first instalment of assistance.

The Red Crescent from the UAE, which had agreed to assist in rebuilding houses during my visit to the Gulf last year in the aftermath of the floods, has made its first instalment of Rs200 million available to Kerala.

- Pinarayi Vijayan, Chief Minister of Kerala

Separately, the Red Crescent from the UAE, which had agreed to assist in rebuilding houses during my visit to the Gulf last year in the aftermath of the floods, has made its first instalment of Rs200 million available to Kerala.

What are the new initiatives that have come about as a result of the first regional Loka Kerala Sabha (LKS), the government’s global platform for Kerala expats, in Dubai this February?

We have taken special interest in the matters of our expat brothers and sisters. Pravasi Chitty has been introduced as a means to utilise their resources in the infrastructural development of the state. Norka Business Facilitation Centres are being set up to help them to decide how and where to make their investments.

LKS is a landmark initiative that has enabled our pravasis (expatriates) to have their say in the development process of the state. In its first session, various issues that have a direct bearing on the life of our migrant population were discussed. Subsequently, seven Standing Committees were formed to look into them. Based on their assessments certain recommendations are being taken up for implementation, which have been categorised into four areas such as investment, welfare, skill and culture, by the LKS Secretariat.

NRI Investment Company, NRI Cooperative Society, NRI Construction Company, health insurance for returning expats, women's cell in Norka Roots, migration facilitation centres and pre-embarkment centres to prevent harassment and exploitation of migrants, international migration centre to encourage studies on migration, a journal to feature migrants' literary works and so on are a few of the initiatives that are coming up accordingly.

Non-resident Keralites in the Gulf hope to return home one day and as such they want to have an easier and bigger say in the electoral process. What’s the possibility of NRKs getting the right to proxy vote in the next elections?

This is not a matter that falls within the domain of the Government of Kerala. It is for the Government of India to take a decision on this.

Which tourism destinations in Kerala would you recommend to UAE residents?

We don’t want to focus on any specific locality; our focus is on promoting the entire state as a tourist destination. We can provide varied experiences ranging from health and cultural tourism to ecotourism to our visitors. The beaches, lagoons, valleys, mountains and monuments, which are found in abundance across the state, make the whole of Kerala a hot destination that can provide tourists with the experience of a lifetime.

Finally, as Malayalis across the world celebrate Onam, what message do you want to give Kerala expatriates in the UAE?

Onam, the festival of Kerala, is an occasion to share the values of equality and brotherhood. It reminds us of the need for a society that loves and cares for one another.

The festival is the imagination that there was a time in the past without lies and malice, filled with goodness and prosperity.

It is also a source of inspiration for all those who strive to create an egalitarian world devoid of malice.

I wish all the readers of Gulf News a very happy Onam.