By Liz Mathew
New Delhi : Kerala Chief Minister V.S. Achuthanandan wants to put his state in order before travelling abroad to invite foreign investment. His immediate priorities are to make healthcare and higher education accessible to the poor and leverage the state's excellent riverine system to provide an alternative means of transportation.
In an exclusive interview with IANS here, the first after his Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) politburo suspended him from the apex decision-making body, the octogenarian leader said he was not planning any foreign trips to invite investments for the fund-starved state.
Putting a pre-condition that he would not discuss anything about CPI-M politics due to the suspensions handed to him and party rival Pinarayi Vijayan for their public spat, the veteran Marxist leader, however, spoke at length on a variety of other issues.
"Let me set my state in order first in two-three years so that people do not make fun of us when we go there. But our government does have plans for inviting investments from non-resident Keralites and for their welfare," said Achuthanandan, who has been lauded by the CPI-M for his government's performance in its first year.
Listing his priorities for the days ahead, he said: "I want to make facilities in health and higher education sectors available for the poor because both have become unaffordable and inaccessible for the poor.
"An alternative transportation facility through waterways from (northern) Mancheswaram to (southern tip) Parasala and Kovalam has to be completed during this government's time. We are planning to open Kollam-Kottapuram waterways before Onam (in September) because the road traffic has become too hectic and accident prone," he said adding that it would be "cheaper" too.
Achuthanandan said the LDF government was planning to provide land or house to at least 200,000 people.
The chief minister, whose popularity is at its zenith after he ordered the razing of illegal structures on encroached lands in Munnar, said his government had given specific instructions to the officials not to touch "small traders".
"Once the demolition drive began, the RDOs (Revenue Development Officials) collectors and other officials, who had so far not paid any heed to the government instructions, became over-enthusiastic and in the process some small players also got affected. I have given special directions not to hurt them," he said.
"The government is planning a committee to look into the reported encroachments in other parts of the state. There are some apprehensions and complaints that some of the moves in the other parts of the state would disparage the state government's brave moves in Munnar," the chief minister maintained.
He indicated that the buildings in the encroached lands elsewhere in the state would not be demolished but the trespassers would be given time to vacate.
Choosing to stay away from the ongoing controversy in the state over the entry of non-Hindus into temples, Achuthanandan, a staunch Marxist for more than six decades, said: "I am not interfering. Let the debate continue between faithful and those who do not have faith. And after some time let the people decide."
On the personal front, Achuthanandan addressed head-on the controversies involving his family members.
"When there is no ground for a personal attack on me or my government for its policies, they have turned against my family members.
"As they are capable of handling their issues on their own, I am not interfering in it," the chief minister maintained.
While his son Arun Kumar's doctoral degree was cancelled over allegations that he had secured admission in the Kerala University in violation of its, norms, his scientist daughter's appointment at the Rajiv Gandhi Centre for Biotechnology is said to have been at the cost of another candidate.