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Kerala model

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The Kerala model refers to the economic practices developed in India's province of Kerala, which are used to assist in disadvantaged areas.

For more than one reason Kerala is widely known as a special state in India and abroad. Quite often, its demographic characterstics and the achievements on the socio-economic front are highlighted as 'kerala model'[1] and is unique among developing countries.

Poor yet prosperous

Kerala is a small stretch of land tucked in the southern most part of India with a population of about 3.18 crore. It is a coastal land of 44 rivers and two rainy seasons that breeds greens; greens that conquer land, float over water and reach up to palm the skies. God has bestowed abundant natural beauty to this tiny piece of land. The name ‘Kerala’ means ‘the land of coconuts’ and the palm shade the entire stretch of Kerala from the tropical sun. It is simply a place to layback and enjoy.

But the real reason that caught the attention of people the world over is called the

Kerala model of development

It is an enigma in so far as the development is concerned. The research of the model is an intellectual adventure. It is a bizarre anomaly among the developing nations. People around the world talk of developing human resource and compare it with the levels of money. The more money one has the more development it could achieve. Therefore money was the general criteria that connected a society with development. All the developed countries of the world were very rich.

Now consider this: Kerala’s birth rate is 14 per 1000 females and falling faster, India's 25 and the US’ 16; Kerala’s infant mortality rate is 10 per 1000 births versus 70 for India’s and 7 for the US. Its adult literacy rate is 91 percent while India’s 65 and the US 96. Life expectancy at birth in Kerala is 73 years compare to 61 in India and 76 in the US. And the female life expectancy in Kerala exceeds that of the male, just as it does in the developed world.[2]It is arguably the only region in the entire developing world with a favorable sex ratio [1058 females to every 1000 males; India has only 933 females per 1000 males] which clearly speaks the fact that there has not been selective abortion of female fetus in Kerala. Also it is the only place in the world to be declared ‘baby friendly’ by the WHO and UNICEF.

Now comes the reason why the state of Kerala has gained a real distinction. It is poor even by the standards of India. The per capita income of Kerala is around Rs.13500 compared with India’s Rs.108000 and that of US a distant Rs.1575000. Yet the indicators of material well being in Kerala are far closer to US than those of the rest of India and the developing world. It is example which raises the view that money is not the only criteria for development. People being highly educated the region also represents one of the highest newspaper readerships in the world. This makes an average Malayalee highly aware of the entire environment around him. Just considering the shining numbers this highlights the stunning success of development. This is a model considered worth emulating in any developing country: the so called third world. Quite often, these demographic characteristics and the achievements on the socio-economic front are highlighted as the Kerala model of development

In the words of famous anthropologist Bill McKibben: “Though Kerala is mostly a land of paddy-covered plains, statistically Kerala stands out as the Mount Everest of social development; there's truly no place like it.” [2]

Demographically, in other words, Kerala mirrors the United States on about one-seventieth the cash. In countries of comparable income, including other states of India, life expectancy is 58 years, and only half the people (and perhaps a third of the women) can read and write; the birth rate hovers around 40 per thousand. Also Kerala is ranked 1st among the Human Development Index [India is ranked 127th overall]. It undercuts maxims about the world we consider almost intuitive: Rich people are healthier, rich people live longer, rich people have more opportunity for education, rich people have fewer children. We know all these things to be true--and yet here is a counter case, a demographic Himalaya suddenly rising on our mental atlas. It's as if someone demonstrated in a lab that flame didn't necessarily need oxygen, or that water could freeze at 60 degrees. It demands a new chemistry to explain it, a whole new science. What explains Kerala's success? The history is fascinating: Kerala was exposed to peaceful trade with the outside world long before the British arrived. Of all the subtle corrosives that broke down the old order and gave rise to the new Kerala, surely none is as important as the spread of education to an extent unprecedented and as yet unmatched in the Third World. As the British penetrated the economy and Christian missionaries began opening schools, ancient patterns of caste discrimination and autocratic power were eroded. Even the rulers of the Princely state of Thiruvithaamkoor were forefront in the spread of spreading education. A school for girls was established by the Maharaja in 1859, an unthinkable proposition during those times. Newly "proletarianized" peasants - whose Western educations, ironically, gave them access to Marxist ideas - began organizing and engaging in mass demonstrations that were highly successful in bringing about reform in land ownership, governance, and the distribution of wealth. In the colonial times, Kerala exhibited a relative paucity of mass defiance against the Raj. Yet most mass actions protested such social mores as untouchability and education for all. Popular protest as a tool for holding public officials accountable is a vital part of Keralan life. In the morning, every road in Kerala is lined with boys and girls walking to school. Though Christian missionaries and the British started the process, it took the militancy of the caste-reform groups and then of the budding left to spread education widely. The first great boom was in the 1920s and 1930s, particularly in southern Kerala, where the princes acceded to popular demands for ever more schools. When leftists dominated politics in the 1960s, they spread the educational programs into Malabar, the northern state that had been ruled directly by the British, and began granting scholarships to untouchables and tribal peoples. By 1981, the general literacy rate in Kerala was 70 percent- twice the all-India rate of 36 percent. Even more impressive, the rural literacy rate was essentially identical, and female literacy, at 66 percent, was not far behind. The government, particularly the leftists who governed for much of the late 1980s, continued to press the issue, aiming for "total literacy," usually defined as a population where about 95 percent can read and write. The pilot project began in the Ernakulam region, an area of 3 million people that includes the city of Cochin. In late 1988, 50,000 volunteers fanned out around the district, tracking down 175,000 illiterates between the ages of 5 and 60, two-thirds of them women. Within a year, it was hoped, the illiterates would read Malayalam at 30 words a minute, copy a text at 7 words a minute, count and write from 1 to 100, and add and subtract three-digit numbers. On February 4, 1990, 13 months after the initial canvass, Indian Prime Minister V.P. Singh marked the start of World Literacy Year with a trip to Ernakulam, declaring it the country's first totally literate district. Of the 175,000 students, 135,000 scored 80 percent or better on the final test, putting the region's official literacy rate above 96 percent.

Kerala's remarkable access to affordable health care has provided a similar double blessing. There's a dispensary every few kilometers where IUDs and other forms of birth control are freely available, and that helps. But the same clinic provides cheap health care for children, and that helps even more. 95% of all births in Kerala are assisted by trained personnel. The basis for the state’s impressive health standards is the state wide infrastructure of primary health centers. There are over 2700 government medical institutions in the state, with 160 beds per lakh population, the highest in the country. With virtually all mothers taught to breast-feed, and a state-supported nutrition program for pregnant and new mothers, infant mortality in 2001 was 14 per thousand, compared with 91 for low-income countries generally. In Kerala the birth rate is 40 percent below that of India as a whole and almost 60 percent below the rate for poor countries in general. In fact, a 1992 survey found that the birth rate had fallen to replacement level. That is to say, Kerala has solved one-third of the equation that drives environmental destruction the world over. And, defying conventional wisdom, it has done so without rapid economic growth-has done so without becoming a huge consumer of resources and thus destroying the environment in other ways. The credit for development in Kerala also goes to the Communist Government which first ruled the state. In 1956 Kerala elected a communist government headed by EMS Namboothiripad. In 1957 he introduced the revolutionary Land Reform Ordinance and Education Bill which caused his government to be dismissed by the Centre. However, this had changed the outlook of Kerala society dramatically and laid the foundation for what has become known as the Kerala Model. The reform had been to abolish tenancy, benefiting 1.5 million poor households. This achievement was the result of decades of struggle by Kerala's peasant associations. The reform act itself was initially passed by the 1957 Communist ministry, but that ministry was dismissed by the Indian central government - primarily to thwart the land reform. A second Communist ministry pushed for the reform again in the late 1960s, but it was a centrist ministry that finally implemented it in 1971, acting under heavy public pressure. The land reform initiative abolished tenancy and landlord exploitation; effective public food distribution that provides subsidized rice to low-income households; protective laws for agricultural workers; pensions for retired agricultural laborers; and a high rate of government employment for members of formerly low-caste communities. The communists may be called the true Gandhians of Kerala; they were the ones who were mostly interested in uplifting the poor people. Active grassroots organizations are the political key to Kerala's success. It is, for one thing, an intensely political region. Almost all the people are highly aware of the happenings around the world. Discussions in a tea shop could range from local development to America invading Iraq. This is the reason that made Kerala the most politically stable region in entire India. Though the model is highly appreciated the world over there is also a growing criticism. This model is not without its deficiencies. It has created an educated pool of men who can find no work in their home state. Kerala has a migrant population of about 10 million or a third of all the population of the state. Many are opposed to the industries because they think it could damage the environment. This is an argument that is heard only in the developed world. The Malayalee community is spread around the world, concentrated mainly in the Middle East. The oil boom of the seventies lured many Keralites to the Middle East. Unemployment is Kerala’s greatest bane. No industries worth the name exist in the state. The back bone of Kerala economy is the remittances paid by its large expatriated population which amounts to more than three time the budget of the state.However, this is a model worth emulating in any region short of money but aspire high living standards.


  1. "Kerala Model of development - Online Resources", chitram.
  2. a b "Kerala: A case study", Bill McKibben.


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