The Kerala Model

Kerala is a great example of how successful development policies can be implemented without environmental degradation and exploitation.

One of the fallacies of development economics that the sustainable thesis still retains is the belief that, by maximising economic growth, poverty can be eliminated. And, doing that in an ‘environmentally prudent’ way would supposedly give us sustainable development. As Herman Daly persuasively argues,  ‘it is precisely the nonsustainability of growth that gives urgency to the concept of sustainable development’. The Kerala story tells just the opposite. Achieving growth should not be deemed as an end in itself, as Kerala shows. At most, achieving growth ought to be taken as a means to a social goal of increasing (or providing equal opportunity to the means of) the wealth of every citizen in society. Paying attention to the means is more important than aiming for the end (growth) in itself in achieving sustainable development.

In comparison to other India states such as the Punjab, Kerala is ‘poor’ when measured in income-per-capita terms. If we take a look at more meaningful measures of development however, such as the Human Development Index or Physical Quality of Life Index, the population of Kerala enjoys a much higher standard of living.

The success of Kerala has been attributed to the following factors:

  • meaningful land reforms
  • ‘food for all’ schemes through fair-price shops and feeding programmes for school children, infants and mothers
  • providing easy access to primary and preventative healthcare
  • promoting high literacy, particularly among women, through free and universal primary and secondary education
  • high mandated agricultural and farm wages
  • cost-effective transportation facilities
  • rural electrification
  • engaging the poor and working people in democratic processes, such as in labour and civic organizations
  • fostering public dialogue on environmental conservation issues
  • developing social movements through the establishment of a civil society to promote environmental conservation and other grass-root projects.

For more on this, read Govindan Parayil’s article ‘The Kerala Model of development: development and sustainability in the Third World’ in Volume 17 (5) of Third World Quarterly.