Friday, November 24, 2006

India Must Do More to Promote Kerala

Indian authorities must do more to market their world-class tourist destinations like Kerala in a more aggressive manner in order to attract a large number of tourists, especially from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries.

This was stressed by Khaled Almaeena, editor in chief of Arab News, while inaugurating the Kerala Business Meet at Sheraton Hotel here on Thursday.

“Kerala as a tourist destination is not sold properly,” he told the conference attended by a number of Saudi and Indian businessmen and executives. “Many people in this part of the world are not aware of tourist resorts in the state. I have fallen in love with Kerala after my first visit and would like to visit again,” Almaeena said recalling his happy moments in Kerala when he visited the south Indian state last year.

“The state’s beauty, especially its marvelous backwaters and lush greenery, was enthralling. The state’s hospitable, courteous and friendly people also impressed me. They are well-educated, disciplined and organized.” Almaeena’s comments were met with applause from a large gathering of top Keralite executives.

He also urged authorities in Kerala to put in greater efforts to protect the state’s marvelous beauty and salubrious environment and spoke about the state’s high literacy rate (99 percent) and how it played a major role in promoting communal harmony, setting a good example for the whole of India.

“Education cleans the minds of people,” he said, referring to how illiteracy combined with the lack of opportunities can lead to dangerous forms of ignorance anywhere in the world.

He then urged Saudis to discover India and its vast tourist attractions, to help foster stronger local economies through the travel and leisure industry.

“After 9/11, the US and Europe enforced travel restrictions, and Saudis are increasingly looking for tourist destinations in Asia,” he said.

Almaeena also said that Saudi businessmen would be happy to invest in Kerala’s tourism and information technology industries.

In his welcome address, Abdullah Al-Saihati, chairman of Saihati Group and chief patron of Orion Sargam, expressed his confidence that the Indo-Saudi Tourism Mart would increase the flow of tourists between the two countries. He also expected tremendous cooperation between the Kerala Tourism Department and the Kingdom’s Supreme Commission of Tourism (SCT). “Orion Sargam will be in the forefront to facilitate and boost this cooperation,” he said.

Referring to the longstanding historic relations between Arabs and the Indians, Al-Saihati said that as part of the spice route that connected East with West, India and the Arabian Peninsula have shared historic links since time immemorial. The spread of Islam, especially during the Middle Ages, helped strengthen a bond that endures to this day. He said the visit of Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah to New Delhi in January this year has ushered a new era in Indo-Saudi relations.

He also spoke about the Saudi government’s efforts to promote domestic tourism, especially in the Eastern Province.

“King Abdullah is supporting tourism all over the Kingdom,” he added.

Rajeev Shahare, deputy chief of the mission at the Indian Embassy, emphasized Kerala’s tremendous tourism potentials and pledged the embassy’s full support to promote Kerala as a major tourist destination in India.

“Kerala is the best state for package tourism, and it has tremendous potentials for ecological and medical tourism,” he said and referred to the ayurvedic medical services that abound in the state. He welcomed Saudi tourists to India and said they would find it as their second home.

“When King Abdullah visited India, he said India is ‘my second home’ and I hope that all Saudi tourists visiting India would say the same,” Shahare said.

Khaled Saad Al-Nasser, chairman of the tourism committee at the Eastern Province Chamber of Commerce and Industry, spoke about his personal experiences when he visited India as part of the delegation that accompanied King Abdullah. He said the tourism mart had convinced him to place Kerala among his future tourist destinations.

“I am also impressed by Indian President Abdul Kalam, especially by his strategy of talking to young people,” he said. “Our leaders should also do the same to achieve progress.”

Al-Nasser spoke about his committee’s efforts to promote tourism in the region.

“We have a lot of natural and historical resources,” he said. “We have a lot to present to the world. We also encourage our own people to get acquainted with their Kingdom,” he said, citing one of the country’s most well known icons: The Rub Al-Khali, the Empty Quarter. But after he cited the sand dunes that comprise much of the southeastern portion of the country, he mentioned Saudi Arabia’s vast ecological diversity. (Few outsiders are aware, for example, that the lush, highland city of Abha in the southeast can receive a light dusting of snow in the winter months.)

Al-Nasser emphasized the need to liberalize the Kingdom’s regulations for promoting tourism. The Kingdom recently emphasized that general public photography is legal.

Al-Nasser said Saudi Arabia can model its tourism development efforts on others: “We are going to learn a lot from the Kerala tourism experience.”

Rafeek Younus, president of Orion Sargam, thanked Arab News for making the event a grand success. He described Almaeena as an ambassador for Kerala tourism. Younus emphasized his organization’s determination to hold similar programs in future with the support of Saudi authorities. In this regard, he noted the cooperation received from Prince Abdul Aziz ibn Fahd, chairman of the Eastern Province Tourism Organization.

Anita Pratap, a well-known journalist from Kerala (and the only woman to attend the meeting) gave a fantastic speech enumerating Kerala’s multifarious attractions that earned it the title: “God’s Own Country.”

Pratap said Saudis would love to see the state’s enchanting greeneries.

“I know how much Saudis love vegetation and greenery,” she said. “I have seen them spending a lot of money and efforts to establish farms and gardens in the desert. Kerala is the greenest state in India and is located just four hours flying time, compared to Ireland or other Western destinations.”

Pratap said everything a tourist wanted is available in Kerala.

“We have golden backwaters, splendid wildlife, mysterious mountains, enchanting coral reefs and wonderful art forms,” she said. She also spoke highly about Kerala’s healthy and nutritious cuisine.

“I could be accused of partiality, but after having tasted dishes from around the world, I am convinced that no cuisine is as nutritious and delicious as Kerala cuisine,” she said.

“Unlike north Indian food that is heavy in oil, cream and powdered masala (blend of mixed spices), Kerala food is light with minimum use of oil and garnished with plenty of natural herbs and spices such as garlic, ginger, onions, curry leaves, cardamom and a variety of seeds that provide essential nutrients to the body,” she said. “Our food is not only delicious, but also therapeutic.”

Pratap also highlighted Kerala’s medical tourism facilities and said Saudis would find world-class health facilities in the state at cheaper rates compared to Western countries. Kerala supplies some of the world’s best doctors and nurses, she said.

B. Suman, director general of Kerala Tourism, gave a presentation titled “Kerala, God’s Own Country Where Business Blooms” and narrated business and investment opportunities in the state. He said Kerala had won India’s Best Tourist State Award six times and is one of the 50-must-see tourist destinations in the world.

He said nearly 350,000 international tourists visited Kerala in 2005, spending an average of 16 days. Annual tourism growth in the state is estimated at 11.6 percent against 10.2 percent of Turkey.

He noted the Kerala government’s efforts to market tourism and carry out tourism projects in partnership with the private sector.

“We offer special incentives and packages for foreign direct investment, including electricity concession for five years,” Suman said.

At present there are 8,166 hotel rooms in Kerala, which are all booked during the high tourism season, she said.

“There are also prospects for high-quality specialist hospitals,” he added. “We have a plan to establish a holistic health care center where all types of health services including naturopathic, ayurvedic and allopathic treatment will be available under one roof. An international hospitality management institution in Alappuzha is another project we are promoting,” Suman said.

Other areas offered for investment are: Amusement parks, shopping complexes, transport services, houseboats, luxury boats and water sports.

The three-day tourism mart ended yesterday with an Indian food festival and Saudi-Indian cultural programs at the Prince Muhammad bin Fahd Park on Halfmoon Beach. A number of Saudi and Indian artists took part in the cultural programs, which included folklore dances and mimes.

Road Builder terminates RM112m Kerala project

Road Builder (M) Holdings Bhd has terminated the RM112.4 million contract for the Kerala State Transport Project, Phase One after the Kerala State Government failed to make payments.

The company said on Nov 24 the termination was due to the continued failure on the part of the Kerala government to make the payment. As at Oct 31, 2006, it had completed some 63% of the construction works.

It issued a notice of termination on Nov 22 and in accordance with the contract, the termination will take effect 14 days after the notice date.

Road Builder said it would be claiming for all damages and losses arising from the default of the payment.

In a separate statement, Road Builder's net profit for the first quarter ended Sept 30, 2006 rose 19% to RM22.64 million from RM19 million a year earlier, mainly due to the recognition of profit margin from on-going projects and those nearing completion, as well as gains from disposal of property.

However, the increase was partially offset by the higher finance cost incurred and the provision of staff cost in the quarter.

Its revenue declined 12% to RM241.4 million from RM273.9 million as the completion of several projects by its property and construction divisions resulted in lower revenue.

Earnings per share was 4.35 sen against 3.65 previously.

Revenue from its toll division increased 10% to RM28.3 million from RM25.7 million mainly due to higher traffic volumes. Operating profit before finance and tax increased by 14% to RM20.7 million from RM18.2 million.

Road Builder said that although revenue from its construction division fell 25% to RM104.5 million, its operating profit before finance cost and tax increased by 81% to RM20.2 million from RM11.2 million a year ago.

Operating profit before finance cost and tax for its port operations increased by 20% to RM9.4 million from RM7.8 million while revenue saw a 6% improvement to RM23.8 million from RM25.2 million during the period under review.

The property division’s operating profit before finance cost and tax increased by 9% to RM18.7 million from RM17.1 million despite a marginal fall in revenue to RM81.8 million from RM83.9 million.

Kerala govt moves court against colas

Two months after a state-wide ban on Coca-Cola and Pepsi was quashed by the Kerala High Court, authorities have filed cases against the soft drink giants alleging that some of their products contain traces of pesticides.

The petitions filed on Thursday in a court here by a food inspector of the state health department said laboratory tests of samples seized from distributors in this city had found that they contained pesticide elements.

The case was filed on the basis of tests of samples collected three months ago, shortly before the state government had banned the sale of soft drinks.

The petitions, filed under Section 20 of the Prevention of Food Adulteration Act, named authorities of Pepsico India Holding and Coca Cola as respondents.

The Left Democratic Front government in Kerala banned production and sale of Coca-Cola and Pepsi products in August but it was quashed by the High Court in September.

SC stays Kerala HC verdict setting aside P C Thomas' election

The Supreme Court today stayed the Kerala High Court verdict setting aside the election of former Union Minister P C Thomas to the Lok Sabha and allowed him to take part in the proceedings of the House.

However, a Bench comprising Chief Justice Y K Sabharwal, Justice C K Thakker and Justice R V Ravindran said Thomas, elected from Muvattupuzha constituency, will neither take part in the voting nor claim emoluments.

"The appellant (Thomas) is only permitted to take part in the proceedings and he cannot take part in voting or claim emoluments," the Bench said while admitting his appeal against the High Court order of October 31.

The Ernakulam Bench of the Kerala High Court had declared his election as void on the charge that he used his religious background and indulged in corrupt practices to woo voters during the polls on May 10, 2004.

The High Court had declared Thomas' rival P M Ismail of the CPI(M) elected from the seat.

The High Court had held that Thomas had appealed to the electorate to vote on the ground of his community and religion through printing and circulation of notices and calenders and used vehicles to transport voters to the polling booths.

Senior advocate Fali S Nariman, appearing for Thomas, told the apex court that the findings of the High Court are inappropriate regarding his photograph with the Pope on the circulars.

However, Ismail's lawyer K K Venugopal said the election was declared void after taking into accounts of the witnesses.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Kerala high court told not to be superstitious

This is one controversy Kerala and its High Court could have done without. The state that prides itself on being the most literate in the country, apparently has as much superstition as the rest of the country.

In a pointer to its existence in the state, the Supreme Court has asked the Kerala High Court not to encourage superstition, taking note of the fact that the High Court building in Kochi has not assigned No 13 to any of its courtrooms.

A petitioner, Chandramohan, has alleged that it was due to superstitious beliefs that there was no courtroom No 13 in the building and that the room after No 12 was No 14.

In Kerala and many parts of India, No 13 is considered inauspicious. The petitioner has argued this may have played on the minds of the court authorities as well.

The new building of the Kerala High Court in Kochi was inaugurated in February this year.

Admitting the petition, the Supreme Court bench headed by Chief Justice Y.K. Sabharwal has asked the High Court not to encourage superstition. It is expected that it would now set right the anomaly.

It is pointed out that there was once a courtroom No 13 in the old High Court when it functioned at the Ram Mohan Palace, and that it was later changed to No 12-A.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Doha Bank plans mutual fund for Kerala expatriates

Doha Bank may soon collaborate with India’s Tata Asset Management to offer a mutual fund targeting Non-Resident Keralites (NRKs).

Doha Bank and Tata Asset Management are now in the design stage of the mutual fund.

"We intend to offer the product to investors after obtaining regulatory approvals," Doha Bank Deputy CEO R Seetharaman told Gulf Times yesterday.

"From our side the concept and design is over. We now have to formalise it at both the sides and take it across," he said, when asked for the mutual fund’s deployment timeframe.

Seetharaman said the proposed fund would be a good opportunity for NRKs to invest and gain returns.

"We intend to deploy a minimum 30% of the mutual fund in worthwhile projects in Kerala itself," he said.

"We hope to pick up some viable projects in Kerala in association with the Kerala State Industrial Development Corporation (KSIDC). Of late tourism and IT sectors offer promising opportunities in Kerala."

Seetharaman said that a proposal on the Doha Bank-Tata Asset Management mutual fund would be presented to Kerala Chief Minister V S Achuthanandan.

The chief minister is scheduled to inaugurate a conference on ‘GCC transformation and indo-GCC investment opportunities’ hosted by Doha Bank at the Le Meridien Convention Centre here tonight. Discussions will also be held with KSIDC chairman V J Kurien.

Seetharaman said the proposal for such a mutual fund product had in fact come from the Kerala authorities themselves.

"When we met Achuthanadan in Thiruvananthapuram last month, he had suggested that such an offering would go a long way in helping thousands of middle income NRKs working in the Gulf," he said.

An estimated 3mn NRKs live in the Gulf. About 60% of the Indians in the GCC countries are from Kerala.

On the size of the mutual fund, he said it was a bit premature now.

"We first need to look at various aspects including the tax incentives," Seetharaman said.

"What India requires now is foreign direct investments. Products such as the mutual fund in our drawing board may hopefully fit the bill," he said.

On the prospects of listing the proposed mutual fund at the Doha Securities Market (DSM), he said: "It is definitely an option. Qatari stocks should also be listed across. Cross indexing is useful."

Seetharaman said Doha Bank was eagerly awaiting the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) licence for expanding its operations to India.

"We have sought the licence for a full-fledged branch. Our application was submitted in August last year. We hope it will come through quickly," he said.

He said a high-level Kerala delegation led by Achuthanadan had confirmed participation at tonight’s event. Besides the chief minister, Kerala ministers Elamaram Karim (Industry) and S Sarma (Fisheries and Registration) and senior officials will attend it.

Doha Bank would be represented by its chairman Sheikh Fahad bin Mohamed bin Jabor al-Thani, Vice-Chairman Ahmed Abdulrahman Yousaf Obeidan and Managing Director and CEO Sheikh Abdulrahman bin Mohamed bin Jabor al-Thani.

Some prominent Qatari investors, besides Emke Group Chairman M K Yousef Ali, have also reached Kochi to attend the event.

Meanwhile, the Qatari delegation was hosted by two major institutions — Kochi Refineries and Infopark here yesterday. The Kochi Refineries executives sought Qatari participation in its ambitious expansion programmes.

Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), a major Infopark client, also made a presentation for the Qatari delegation at its facility here.

Kerala all-party meeting calls for new dam

Kerala should press for a new dam to solve the current tangle over the 111-year-old Mullaperiyar dam when the state holds talks with the neighbouring Tamil Nadu at the behest of the Union Government on November 29.

This was decided at an all-party meeting, held here yesterday to discuss the Mullaperiyar issue.

The meeting also resolved that the state should stand firm on maintaining status quo on Kerala's position of retaining storage level at 136 feet.


Kerala would try its best to convince the Supreme Court, the Union Government and Tamil Nadu on the safety aspects of the old dam if the level was raised to more than 136 feet, Chief Minister V.S. Achuthanandan said.

A demand for scrapping the Mullaperiyar agreement, entered into between Kerala and Tamil Nadu for 999 years, was also made at the meeting. Political parties expressed concern on the present storage level at the dam which stood above 138 feet.

Opposition leader Oommen Chandy, while extending support to the government, said the government failed to take any legal action under the Kerala Dam Safety Bill even after the water level rose above 136 feet.

An Iranian film in Kerala film festival

An Iranian film is to be represented in the 11th edition of the International Film Festival of Kerala, India. (Dec 8-15)

The film titled as "From Afar" by Ramin Mohseni is to be represented in the competitive "World Cinema" section of this film festival in the city of Thiruvananthapuram, India.

"From Afar" managed to win the best first film director award in the International Fajr festival last year in Iran. It has also previously been represented in the Vancouver and Chicago center film festivals.

The film depicts a modern Iranian youth in Tehran who makes an inward trip towards spirituality.

Monday, November 13, 2006

To become industrial powerhouse, Kerala eyes Chinese model

“But there is no reason why LSGIs should not explore possibilities of setting up such units, or of encouraging potential entrepreneurs, singly or in cooperatives, to set up such units whose ownership and risk-taking patterns can take diverse steps”.

The paper, while referring to industrial activities and self -employment, draws another parallel with China. It says the argument that Keralites lack entrepreneurial talent is “at best a tautology” and a “proposition for which there is no independent evidence other than the very conclusion drawn from it”. The paper then states: “Similar propositions used to be advanced about the Chinese until China started emerging as an industrial power”.

It argues that given the magnitude and spread of purchasing power in Kerala’s economy, thanks to the substantial remittance inflows, there is scope for self-employment projects and small-scale industry. For this, the government plans to rekindle the “entrepreneurial spirit” in many ways — “creating post-graduate programmes in areas like biotechnology and IT with a management accounting component needed for running a successful business”.

The paper then reasons that Kerala has to move forward along this path instead of following the “waiting-for-the-MNCs” path.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

International Film Festival of Kerala from Dec 8

The eleventh International Film Festival of Kerala (IFFK 2006) would be held here from December 8 to 15.

A total of 143 films from around the world will be screened at the IFFK, K R Mohanan, Chairman of Kerala State Chalachitra Akademi, said in a release here.

Fifteen films from Asia, Africa and Latin American countries have been selected for the prestigious competition section of IFFK, he said.

The films in the competition category included T V Chandran's `Aadum Koothu' (Dance of Life) in Tamil and M P Sukumaran Nair's `Drishtantham' (Vision) in Malayalam.

`The Violin' (Mexico), `Dry Season' (Chad), `Angel's Fall' (Turkey), `Road Under the Skies' (Uzbekistan) and `Full of Empty' (Iran) are among the other movies in the section.

The festival also has a Malayalam cinema section, in which eight films would be screened.

`Maati Maay' (Chitra Palekar), `Dosar' (Rituparno Ghosh), `Naayi Neralu' (Girish Kasaravalli), `Kya Tum Ho' (Anish Ahluwalia), `Shevri' (Gajendra Ahire) and `Vanaja' (Rajesh Domalpalli) are the films in the Indian cinema section.

The festival would be inaugurated by Kerala Chief Minister V S Achuthanandan on December 8 with Union Information and Broadcasting Minister Priyaranjan Dasmunsi and actress Sharmila Tagore being the chief guests.

Security tightened at airports in TN, Kerala following threat letter

An anonymous letter received at the Tiruchy airport warning of bomb threat by ‘Al Qaeda terrorists’ to airports in Tamil Nadu and Kerala has sent airport officials and state police into a tizzy with security being tightened at Chennai, Tiruchy, Madurai, Coimbatore and Thiruvananthapuram airports.

The hand written letter in Tamil, titled ‘Allah Osama,’ found by the CISF at the Tiruchy airport this morning warned that ‘Al Qaeda terrorists’ would set off modern explosive devices at airports in Chennai, Tiruchy, Madurai and Coimbatore and “some airports in Kerala,’’ said P Kandasamy, Tiruchy DIG.

In Chennai, a high-level meeting was convened by the state IG (Intelligence) Subramanyam and Chennai Airport Director Dinesh Kumar. “The meeting assessed the threat perception and decided to take extra security measures at all these airports,’’ Kumar said, adding that the threat letter “would be viewed seriously as safety of passengers and airport operations were of prime importance.’’

As the letter talked about “car bombs’’ as well, all vehicles entering the airport would also be screened, officials said, adding that “all standard security procedures would be invoked.’’

Mumbai's 'Kerala House' to be opened soon

The construction work of the Kerala House in the commercial capital of the country, will be completed by the first week of December.

The formal inaugural function of the 'Kerala House', located in the washi area of the metro, would be attended by prominent personalities from various walks of life.

However, it is expected that the Chief Minister V.S.Achuthanandan will be inaugurating the 'Kerala House', the realization a long cherished dream of the large Malayalee community here.

Kerala political parties slam Saddam verdict

In a state where there is a Saddam Beach, a Saddam Store and a Saddam Junction, outrage against the verdict handed out to the Iraqi leader was not unexpected, but the high decibel protests against Saddam Hussain's death sentence has surprised even observers in Kerala.

All major political parties in the state have condemned the verdict against Saddam as a sham.

Minutes after the verdict was flashed on television screens, protest marches were visible on the streets across the state, with many protesters shouting slogans praising Saddam and calling for the W. Bush. Many of the rallies culminated with burning Bush's effigies.

Interestingly, leaders of normally warring parties like the Congress and the Communist Party of India- Marxist have also demanded quashing the verdict against Saddam in one voice.

US firm tie up with Kerala IT group

VISaer Inc, a leader in aviation maintenance and engineering software solutions, Wednesday tied up with Technopark-based IBS Group for providing offshore software development services.

IBS will provide the US-headquartered VISaer with contracted development and technology assessment resources, said a statement issued here.

"We partner with our customers to help address their business needs using our unique extended software development facility (ESDF) methodology. IBS will set up an exclusive pool of resources that would operate as an extension of the VISaer's Systems Development team," said V.K Mathews, chairman and managing director of IBS Group.

IBS is a leading provider of new generation IT solutions to the travel, transportation and logistics industries.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

German industrialists visit Kerala

A ten-member team of industrialists and professionals from Germany visited the State to explore the investment prospects here. The group reviewed the management culture and industrial relations prevalent here. The team led by Wolfgang Holtgen, Managing Director of Holtgen IT projects of Germany, also held discussions with industrialists, company managers and management professionals.

A press release issued by FACT here on Monday said the team was particularly interested in gauging the scope of foreign investment in Kerala, safety of investments, extend of Government control, nature of trade unions and industrial relations here.

During their one-week sojourn in the State, the German team held discussions with the heads of various companies, representatives of Kerala Management Association and Vice Chancellor of the Cochin University of Science and Technology.

The German team made a detailed presentation of their culture, social life, child upbringing and educational set-up during their interaction with industrialists here. They also acknowledged the fact that many research scholars from Kerala went to Germany to refer ancient books available in German libraries and museums.

The press release said many entrepreneurs in Germany were eager to make investments in Kerala. The team will present their views on the industrial atmosphere in Kerala before various entrepreneurs in Germany.

Web-monitoring of Kerala jails soon

Web-based monitoring of Kerala prisons is on the cards with the High Court directing the government to take immediate steps, including online surveillance, to keep track of goings-on inside prisons in the State.

The directions in this regard were given yesterday by a Division Bench comprising Chief Justice, V K Bali and Justice P R Raman, while accepting the recommendations made by Amicus Curaie, lawyer P B Sahasranamam, appointed by the court.

Such a step, would help put a stop to abuse of prisoners belonging to a political party by those belonging to another outfit in connivance with jail authorities, the Bench held.

Directions were issued while disposing suo notu proceedings initiated on the basis of a complaint made by a Kannur central jail inmate that certain prisoners were allegedly being harmed by co-prisoners owing allegiance to another political party with the help of jail staff.

According to Sahasranamam,a surprise check was not possible inside the jails as entry to them was restricted. A continious monitoring of jails would help check the abuse, he said.

Using web cameras along with motion sensors and wireless technology was the best solution, he said. Such cameras, the size of a match box, can be installed in common places where surveillance is needed.

Stress on need for more investor education in State

The average Kerala investor is hardly moved by the buoyant stock market phase though the broking community is going gaga over the recent behaviour of the stocks. One reason may be the lack of confidence of the typical investor who prefers the relatively safer mutual funds and term deposits.

As per statistics available, Kerala has only three to four million equity investors which has the potential to go up by ten to twelve times. Naturally, after the series of scams investors are apprehensive of investing in equity market. But the fact is that the stock markets have emerged stronger and stable after the scandals. There is stricter monitoring by the regulatory authorities. Buoyed by the massive investment proposed by French major BNP Paribas in Geojit, managing director of Geojit Financial Services C.J. George is upbeat about the stock markets. He is an advocate of mid term course correction so that the average Keralite investor turns from unproductive investment to the equity market with some prudent planning and long term goals. He says that an intelligent assessment of how to invest is crucial if one is to succeed in the stock market. The stress should be on financial education so that the investor community would become more aware of the inherent risks in the equity market and the potential for market capitalisation.

Geojit has started tapping the hitherto neglected segments like head-load workers. The biggest chunk of investment comes from non-resident Keralites whose priorities sometimes get skewed because of a variety of reasons. Ninety-five per cent of the NRK remittances are small ones, naturally sent to the dependents back home for monthly household expenses. After fulfilling these commitments, the rest of the remittances find their way to banks in term deposits.
The boom in the retail sector and Kerala having emerged as a consumerist society has cast a shadow on the equity markets. Despite the unhealthy trend of conspicuous consumption, the State, of late has a better investment scenario though not keeping in line with the high physical quality of life index.

As per the latest Economic Review statistics, twenty-two per cent of Kerala's gross domestic product comes from the commercial sector, a major portion of which is the retail industry. Kerala tops the nation in per capita consumption. Real estate is another boom field where the annual business has crossed Rs.1000 crore. Much of the credit given by financial institutions like banks goes to the real estate sector.

Gold and textiles retail are the major segments where the retail has got itself well entrenched. As per estimates, there is twenty-five per cent increase annually in retail gold business and Kerala accounts for fifteen per cent of the 800 tonnes of gold traded in the country. Mr. George says that liquidity is the driving force behind any investment decision. Fixed deposits are popular since the investors believe that they are safer. But with falling interest rates, a large number of investors, especially senior citizens, are forced to look for better options including the stock markets.

It is in this context that experts are talking of a need for more financial literacy in Kerala. Knowledge about potential of avenues like Portfolio Management and Mutual Funds should be imparted to the investors.

Financial education should start early and untapped segments like women investors should be properly guided to strengthen the equity markets in the State.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

PMO asks for explanation on Kerala security lapse

The Prime Minister's Office has asked for an explanation from the Kerala government on the security breach that occurred when the convoy of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh came to a screeching halt after the pilot car took a wrong route.

The prime minister arrived at Thiruvananthpuram on Tuesday night at 9.35 pm and the security lapse took place while he was being driven to Raj Bhavan, the state governor's official residence.

The National Security Guards (NSG) director has also reportedly asked for an explanation from Kerala's Director General of Police Raman Srivastava.

Kerala Chief Minister VS Achuthanandan has demanded a report within 48 hours on the goof-up. Additional Director General of Police Jacob Punnoose has been asked by Srivastava to submit the inquiry report.

Police officials accompanying the prime minister jumped out of their cars when the vehicles, including that of Manmohan Singh, came to an abrupt halt, seeing the pilot vehicle take a totally different route.

The prime minister's journey resumed five minutes later.

Police sources said a tourist taxi driver and not a policeman was driving the pilot vehicle. However, a circle inspector of the Kerala police was sitting beside him.

Police detained the driver of the car for interrogation as soon as the convoy reached Raj Bhavan where Manmohan Singh stayed overnight. The circle inspector, who was also in car, has been suspended.

According to reports, the driver in question had committed similar errors on earlier trial runs.

Kerala Home Minister Kodiyeri Balakrishnan, who had left for New Delhi via Chennai on Tuesday night, cut short his visit and returned to the state capital to investigate the matter.

Time has come for Kerala to take bold steps: Manmohan

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today said the Centre would assist Kerala in its plans for developing airport connectivity and improving the agriculture and plantation economy of the state.

Speaking after inaugurating the construction work of the new international terminal complex at the airport and laying the foundation for Air India's maintenance base here, Singh said the Centre had decided to improve airport infrastructure considering the importance of connectivity at a time when tourism was registering growth.

Stating that the Centre was aware of the anxieties of the plantation sector, he said the Government would not do anything to hurt the interests of people in the state. He wanted investors in the plantation sector to diversify investment and to make better use of new market opportunities in India and abroad.

"We need to make effective use of modern science and technology to improve productivity of plantation sector. At the same time, we must also be prepared to face competition from countries like Vietnam and Sri Lanka with whom we have long historical and fraternal relations," he said.

Singh said the UPA Government was committed to improving the agriculture and plantation sectors in Kerala, especially in areas like Wayanad and Alappuzha to help farmers and agricultural labourers.

He said the setting up of National Fisheries Development Board would give a boost to development of fisheries sector.

The Centre was taking steps for the development of country's port infrastructure. Azhikkal port in Kannur had been included in the National Maritime Development Programme. The harbour at Vizhinjam would also be developed, he said.

Singh said though Kerala in the past 50 years had been a symbol of highly impressive human development investments in education and healthcare, the state lagged behind in developing modern industries and knowledge economy.

"The time has come for Kerala to take bold steps forward and emerge as one of our leading states in every facet of socio-economic development," Singh said.

He said Thiruvananthapuram and Kochi should take advantage of Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission to upgrade its infrastructure in both the cities. A mass rapid transit facility could be developed at Kochi, he said.

The state should also take the benefit of 'Bharat Nirman' programme to improve rural electrification and road connectivity, Singh said.