Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and General Education Minister V. Sivankutty will leave for a European tour late Saturday.
Mr. Vijayan will share a stage with Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M. K. Stalin at the Communist Party of India (CPI) State conference at Thiruvananthapuram at 4 p.m. before leaving for New Delhi to catch the connecting flight to Europe.
The government said Mr. Vijayan and Mr. Sivankutty were travelling to Finland, Norway and Britain at the invitation of the respective governments. Chief Secretary V. P. Joy and Principal Secretary, General Education, A. P. M. Muhammad Haneesh, are also part of the CM's delegation.
Finland and Norway
The ministerial team hopes to study the country's famed school education system in Finland. Finland Education Minister Li Andersson visited Kerala and invited Mr. Vijayan and Mr. Sivankutty to explore the country's public education sector. Moreover, Mr. Andersson is a left-wing politician.
The ministerial delegation will also attempt to woo Finnish investment in Kerala's IT and industrial sectors. It will try to market Kerala tourism, including Ayurveda, in Finland.
Meanwhile, Kerala hopes to enlist Norway's expertise and investment in the maritime sector. Industries Minister P. Rajeev and Fisheries Minister V. Abdurahman will join Mr. Vijayan in Norway. The delegation will also seek Norway's counsel in creating climate change-resistant infrastructure, focusing on mitigating landslip risk during monsoon.
Loka Kerala Sabha and Graphene park
From Norway, the delegation will fly to Wales in the United Kingdom. Health Minister Veena George will join the team in the UK. The Ministers will attend the Loka Kerala Sabha regional conference, an expatriate Keralites platform in London. As many as 150 delegates will participate in the meeting.
Further, the ministers will visit universities in England as the precursor to setting up a Graphene Innovation Centre in Kerala, a joint venture of the Digital University of Kerala, Centre for Materials for Electronics Technology (C-MET) and Tata Steel Limited.
The graphene park is integral to Kerala's effort to transform itself into a knowledge-based economy. The Central government is funding half of the ₹86.41 crore project, with Kerala providing the land and allied infrastructure.
Scientists reckon graphene will substitute silicon in manufacturing photovoltaic cells and LED lights.
Video team to record visit
The government has hired professional videographers to document the visits. Moreover, the Chief Minister's Office will communicate the outcomes of the visit to the media.
Tourism Minister Mohammad Riyas is also scheduled to travel to Paris to attend an international travel mart. He hopes to use the visit to spotlight Kerala as an international tourist destination. Meanwhile, Cooperation Minister V. N. Vasavan is reportedly travelling to Bahrain for official purposes.
The foreign tour of ministers had drawn flak from the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) opposition.
KPCC president K. Sudhakaran had slammed Mr. Vijayan and his cabinet colleagues for "junketing off to luxurious foreign destinations" when the State's financial situation was shaky.
He said Kerala's monthly expenditure pegged at Rs 14,500 crores had exceeded Rs 15,000 crore post-Onam. The State's spending had grossly exceeded its revenue, and that Kerala might slip into overdraft. However, the Left Democratic Front (LDF) government appeared to care less.
Mr. Sudhakaran said Mr. Vijayan's earlier trip to Europe ostensibly to study river management had yielded Kerala no tangible benefit.
CM defends tour
Mr. Vijayan had defended the foreign tour by saying it would benefit Kerala incrementally. He pointed out that Technopark in Thiruvananthapuram was the result of a visit by late Chief Minister E. K. Nayanar and late Industries Minister K. R. Gowri to Europe in the 1990s.
Finance Minister K. N. Balagopal supported the foreign tours saying it was essential for Kerala's development. He added that the State is a Rs 10 lakh crore economy and booming market, and that Kerala bought more Mercedes Benz cars than Oman.
Communist Party of India (Marxist) [CPI(M)] State secretary M. Govindan also defended the tours. He said they were imperative for Kerala's progress and development. He said official tours made no dent in the State's public finances. Indeed, they opened avenues to increase revenue by ushering in fast-paced development.
Social media trolls
The foreign tours have also triggered a public debate. Social media was awash with memes trolling the politicians.