Loka Kerala Sabha (LKS), the Kerala government’s prestigious initiative aiming to provide democratic space for non-resident Keralites (NRKs), has already drawn sharp criticisms for its extravagant expenditure. The Pinarayi Vijayan government first introduced Loka Kerala Sabha in 2018 to connect Keralites worldwide with their home state.
When the state was reeling under acute financial crisis, the second edition of LKS, held on January 12 and 13, 2020, revealed a very different story. According to the details that have come out, a whopping Rs 60 lakh alone was overspent for food provided for the delegates. The second edition of the LKS was attended by NRKs from 47 countries and 21 Indian states. A total of 282 out of 351 delegates participated in the summit, excluding 69 from the UDF party as they kept themselves away. However, funds have been allocated for lunch and dinner served to 700 and 600 people, respectively.
Moreover, the expense statement reveals a shocking figure that a common man can never dream of. It showed breakfast served for guests was around Rs 550, lunch cost Rs 1,900 and dinner Rs 1,700, respectively. The private hotel at Kovalam, which supplied the food, charged Rs 59.8 lakhs for their service. The guests were also accommodated in seven lavish hotels, including Hilton Garden Inn, Mascot Hotel, SP Grand Days, and many more. Thus, the accommodation bill of delegates was just Rs 23 lakhs.
On the other hand, to host the first LKS, the Shankaran Narayanan Thambi hall inside the Legislative complex was renovated. The work was given to Uralungal Labour Contract Co-operative Society (ULCCS) at Rs 1.84 crores. However, following the conclusion of the two-day meeting, the temporary structures were demolished. Again, in 2020, the hall was revamped at Rs 16.65 crores expense. The work was once again given to ULCCS. When controversy relating to this extravagance gained attention, Speaker P Sreeramakrishnan had assured that the expense would be reduced to half. However, it is not clear on what ground Rs 12 crore was distributed recently to ULCCS. These renovation works raise many questions relating to the integrity and clarity of works that the government undertakes.
Opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala had already pointed out the corruption that the Pinarayi government was doing in the name of LKS. The money lavishly spent on LKS was being taken from the loan given by the World Bank for the Rebuild Kerala project. When thousands of 2018 flood-hit people in Kerala are suffering, nothing is being done to support their survival. To organize such an extravaganza requires a stone heart. And alleging the inefficiency of LKS, Chennithala has already resigned from the post of Vice-chairman. He said, “What’s the use of all this exercise? The decision taken in the first Kerala Sabha has not been implemented to date. No businessmen will benefit from this profligacy.”
Earlier, an RTI query sought how much money the government spent on the airfare to bring in members for the diaspora. The reply given by Non-Resident Keralites Affairs (NORKA) was that no airfare was given to the delegates, but following a request from them, return air tickets were issued. Later, NORKA’s reply to an RTI query on the total cost of the event was that the final figures are not yet available.
In short, the LKS has tumbled out Pinarayi government’s corruption and extravaganza. Other expenses of the event, which include airfare, is still a big question. Whatever it is, the Pinarayi government is reluctant to disclose the total amount spent, and it is evident that the summit was luxurious in the time of belt-tightening. When a majority of Indian immigrants are living in misery, LKS was an indulgence. Even when the developmental activities are delayed, there is no dearth of luxury. LKS is nothing more than an elite NRI’s conference with free food and travel.