Kerala yet to warm up to Christmas

December 10th, 2008 - 11:50 am ICT by IANS  

Thiruvananthapuram, Dec 10 (IANS) A merry Christmas? People in Kerala are not so sure this time. Global recession, the Mumbai terror attack and even the weather are playing spoilsport, they say.”The one thing that really signals the arrival of the Christmas season is the winter that begins in the first week of December. This time my grandchildren are asking me why the morning nip is not there,” said Pappachen in Kottayam.

“If the weather is going to be like this, then I wasted a lot of my time gathering dry leaves. As things stand I don’t think there will be any need for bonfires to keep the kids warm,” said Pappachen.

The weather is certainly not the only dampener, especially for the state’s Christians who constitute 22 percent of its 32 million population.

Economic meltdown seems to have impacted the state’s small rubber growers who just cannot believe that prices of their product have seen a free fall in the past month.

“Last year, at this time the price was hovering around the Rs.100 per kg mark and now it has been falling dramatically and is dropping to around Rs.50 per kg. This is really depressing,” said Mathukutty in Pathanamthitta who is solely dependent on income from rubber cultivation.

In the predominantly Christian-dominated central Kerala districts of Kottayam, Ernakulam and Thrissur, there are a large number of small rubber farmers. Kerala accounts for 83 percent of the total rubber production in India.

The tourism sector is also feeling the pinch, particularly after the Nov 26 Mumbai terror attack. There have been a spate of cancellations.

“Consequent to the economic slowdown there was a 20 percent drop in bookings and after the Mumbai terror strike, the figure is expected to touch 30 percent,” E.M. Najeeb, president of the Confederation of Tourism Industry in Kerala. Told IANS.

Kerala’s peak tourism season is from November to February-March.

“Last year the total revenue generated from tourism in the state was Rs.120 billion, and there will be a proportionate fall in revenue this year,” he said.

On the flip side, the two sectors that appear to be fully geared for the festive season are the Kerala State Beverages Corporation (KSBC) - the lone wholesale outlet for beer and Indian made foreign liquor (IMFL) - and the various bakeries.

After all, irrespective of caste, creed or religion, few households in Kerala can do without a bottle of liquor and cakes at Christmas time.

“Even though our target has been fixed at 17 percent more than the last year, we have maintained a growth of 30 percent every month. However, in November, it fell to 22.23 percent,” said a KSBC official who did not wish to be named.

“But we have no doubt that during Dec 24 and 25, we will do 25 percent more business than what we did last year (Rs.250 million).”

Likewise, a leading baker in the capital city said bakers were confident despite a weak economy as people could not resist cakes.

“I speak on the basis of advance bookings that we have been receiving for delivery of cakes to be made during the Christmas season,” said a baker.

S. Irudayarajan, a faculty member at the Centre for Development Studies here who has done a lot of research on the impact of migration, told IANS that so far the remittances from the Middle East had not posed a problem and the state could well manage to hold on.

“A weak dollar means more rupees and that is good news for those who send monthly remittances to their families here. Barring remittances, other sectors are not having a good time,” he said.

“This year on account of the weak dollar, remittances would be Rs.250 billion, Rs.50 billion more than last year,” said Irudayarajan who is part of the team studying the impact of the meltdown for the Kerala government.

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