Kerala model : No cities, no virus

At the outset, let me say this is not an attempt to disparage the government nor the people of Kerala. Despite some exaggerated claims by politicians. This is an attempt to understand.

We have been hearing a lot about the so called Kerala model of tackling the Coronavirus. Of course, one has to adjust for the fact that Kerala attracts automatic positive coverage because it has a Communist government. For example, Kerala has around 600 cases to date. Neighboring Karnataka has around 1100. Which works out to almost the same when you account for the fact that Karnataka has twice as many people as Kerala. However, you can be certain that you wont hear of “Karnataka model” in the media any time soon. At least not until the state has a BJP Chief Minister.

Anyway, I digress. Let’s see if we can identify something special about Kerala. By now, it is clear to us that the pandemic is sustained by big cities. This is all too obvious. In the US, it is New York. In the UK, it’s London. In India, it’s Mumbai.

This makes perfect sense. A city generally has a large number of people packed densely into a small area. Also, cities tend to have highly mobile population. In times of pandemic, cities are dangerous places. This has been known for hundreds of years.

Tiny Singapore, with its population of 56 lakh people, has nearly 30,000 cases. That’s a third of the number for the whole of India! The pandemic is not in states nor in countries. The pandemic is in cities.

Consider how concentrated the pandemic is. While Mumbai takes up a tiny fraction of the land area of Maharashtra, it accounts for 56% of all cases across the state. Once you add in Thane and Pune, you are up to almost 80% already. In Gujarat, the situation is even more striking. Ahmedabad alone accounts for almost 75% of cases in the state. Once you add Surat and Vadodara, you go past 90%.

Up north, Delhi alone has twice as many cases as the whole of Uttar Pradesh.

So when we think nationwide in terms of the pandemic, we have to ask ourselves: where are the cities?

So which is the largest, most populated city in India? I’m sure you know that the answer is Mumbai. Then, there is Delhi. And they’re both suffering badly from the Coronavirus, just as you would expect. At No. 3 there is Bengaluru. But we have already agreed that we are not allowed to praise the work of BJP Chief Ministers. So we will just pretend that Bengaluru does not exist.

Who is next? There’s Hyderabad and Ahmedabad, which completes the top 5. Then there’s Chennai, Kolkata, Surat, Pune and Jaipur. In case you are wondering, Lucknow comes at  13, Bhopal at 16, Patna at 19, Ranchi at 38 and Raipur at 45. We are almost at the end of the top 50.

Wait a second. Where did Kerala go? Believe it or not, Kerala doesn’t have a single city in the top 50 in India. In fact, Kerala almost didn’t have a city in the top 75! The largest city in Kerala is Kochi, which makes it to the 75th place in the nation!

The most honest way to understand the pandemic is not by looking at state totals, but at city totals. If you have more cities, the pandemic strikes you hard. This is obvious from looking at the list of top 10 cities in India.

So here is a simpler hypothesis about ‘Kerala model.’ The pandemic did not strike Kerala hard simply because it had nowhere to go in Kerala. Because Kerala didn’t have big cities. No city in the top 50. Barely made it to the top 75.

Beware! Just because Kerala doesn’t have big cities does not mean it is not an urbanized state. In fact, the % of urban population in Kerala is above the national average. What this means is that Kerala’s “urban areas” are spread out. The state just does not have the kind of closely packed, super productive, metropolis that Mumbai, Delhi or Bengaluru would be.

So what do we have to learn? Without any disrespect to Kerala, not very much. Big cities don’t exist in Kerala because its economy does not need big cities. The usual economic engines such as financial hubs, tech hubs or factories do not exist in Kerala. Instead, the state has a remittance economy.

This works great for Kerala. But this is not a model that can be scaled up. The factories, the offices, the skyscrapers, all have to be somewhere. Wealth has to be created somewhere before it can be remitted to Kerala. In the case of Kerala, much of the economic engine has been shifted to the Gulf.

Again, this works great for Kerala. The state itself stays sheltered from the immediate drawbacks of a modern economy: big cities, polluting factories and now a pandemic. But the modern economy has to exist somewhere to generate the wealth that will support Kerala’s idyllic economy based on remittances, tourism and fishing.

So when we scratch under the surface, we find that the Kerala model has little to teach us. In times of pandemic, the most important thing is to identify the factors that lead to success or failure. In identifying these factors, the biggest mistake we can make is letting political biases get in the way.

16 thoughts on “Kerala model : No cities, no virus

  1. Ha ha. This is very good. Reminds me of the conundrum that agricultural economists were faced with in the 1960s and 1970s – why did Kerala not display the kind of malnutrition and starvation that many other, bigger, states did? The received wisdom at that time – you got it: was that the freely elected Communist government that was voted into power in 1957 had made the land one of abundance. First impressions, of course, can be deceptive but the JNU “academics” were least bothered.

    It was left to Prof. K.N. Raj in the mid-1970s to finally settle the issue. And it was absurdly simple.

    Kerala did not suffer malnutrition because Nature had endowed it with a peculiar attribute that other states did not share. It was benefited from seasonal and heavy monsoon rains that fed the largely riverine state, with lots of big and small rivers, tributaries, streams, and lakes; larger-than-normal “rural household” landholdings with an abundance of coconut trees, wild tapioca, and small rice plots together with those very same streams carousing the land; and abundant fish for the people to catch freely in the rivers and streams. Bingo! Problem solved. The citizens of the state, practically all of them rural as the state was least urbanised, had plenty to eat and all for free! They had their daily ration of carbs, proteins, and minerals…

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Mahabharata had the story of Bakasura, every family in the town had to feed one able bodied person to Bakasura. Kerala model is similar – Every family has to send one or few people to suffer in Gulf states so that they can live the unproductive lifestyle.

    All this worked as long as the Gulf states had to just dig up oil, price it at whatever price they wanted and sell it to other countries. Basically whatever the Gulf states paid the Kerala workers was just added to the oil price and rest of India paid for that.

    Problem with this model is that whenever the Gulf states sink, Kerala sinks along with them. China virus has sunk oil prices and that demand is not coming back again, so Kerala might have to find other ways to stay afloat.

    On a different note, banks and mutual funds have started sending mails about free newspapers and magazines. Looks like a scam where they funnel customer money to these useless journalists. Anyone knows what this deal is ?

    Liked by 2 people

  3. One of the biggest positive outcomes because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Petrodollars will dry up and with that, a lot of terror fundings will stop. Who knows with most western countries running in deficit, even payments to anti-India Fiberals may also stop. Another positive is, the Nobel Prize winner Banerjee has lost everything. His 65000 Crores Rupees were heartily supported by Congress and the Fiberals. Now that Congress is criticizing even more than the three-time bigger package as not enough, that means it has sidelined Mr. Banerjee.


    1. By 65000 crore package Banerjee meant handouts. The level of education in the Congress top brass is abysmal and they dont understand that wealth is not created by printing and distributing money.But for the BJP, stimulus does not mean printing currency and handouts. Which is a good fiscal policy.

      At one point, everyone in Zimbabwe had trillion dollar notes because of hyperinflation. People could not buy a days food with that. Inflation hit 230,000,000 percent Zimbabwe then switched to US dollar and other currencies to stabilize their economy.


      1. It is not that the Congress doesn’t understand, they understand it fully well with so many advisers to advice them. Why the CONgress still favours a hand out is because in the name of hand outs a large proportion of such free hand outs are swindled and goes into the pockets of the CONgress top brass and rank and file without any accountability. In the name of the poor so many money making scams have been made and perfected by CONgress. Take for instance the recent example of CONgress government in MP, in the name of farmers waiver of loans and hand outs a substantial sum of money was withdrawn from the treasury, but the actual farmers hardly got anything. That is the very reason CONgress always talks about freebies. It means freebies to themselves but in the name of poor.


    1. Abhishek is correct. The citation below already showed Bangalore at #3, but the numbers are dated – 2011. The city’s population today stands at about 10.5 million, Mumbai at about 18+ million and Delhi (NCR) following close behind. Chennai has a population today of about 8.5 million, quite sizeably behind Bangalore. The definition of the so-called “four metros” had changed at the beginning of the decade.


  4. Far easier to pay some unemployed journalists to write glowing tributes than to do real work

    These days if the Leftist media is praising anyone, it should be amply clear that those politicians are the non-performants

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Can you explain why the percentage of casualties are much lower in Kerala. Would you attribute that also to the same reasons highlighted. Can only feel pity for people like you.


  6. The author struggled a lot to find out may be for three months and at the end came up with a very valid reason.. great… I think the corona affecting the humans, not the buildings or factories or vehicles.. So its better to compare the places of equal population density than just names.. Let us take few cities in India with same population density.. Take “Biggest of Kerala, Kochi (7100/sqkm), Vadodara (6900/sqkm), Jaipur (6500/sq km) along with few less crowded cities.. meerut (1350), agra (1084) and Thane (1157).

    Now the infection; 28 in kochi versus, 660 in vadodara, 1598 in jaipur, 330 in meerut, 4115 in thane, 810 in Agra.

    And the number in April 5: kerala-314, Maharashtra-747, gujarath-128, Rajasthan-266 and UP-278.

    If the author has commonsense, he will understand. Keeping your eyes closed wont make the world dark..

    The same guy wrote another article in April, telling that the healthcare system in Kerala will be down this time… those who commented please read that too..

    NB: Please don’t defame the premier institution of the country The one and only “”IISc Bangalore””

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Population density does not tell the full story. The density might be high but people interaction might be very low. In Kerala, people interaction is very low because there are no factories, not many service industries, it is not a financial hub either. If people dont interact, then China virus wont spread.

      A good proxy measure might be GST collection by city (if it is available). Cities with low GST collection have lower economic activity and hence lower virus spread.


      1. You are utterly wrong. Population density matters. The main criteria for transmission covid between persons is the proximity enough to take in even a minuscule virus load usually disseminated through drop lets of respiration. And that radius
        of proximity is around a metre.; A Japanese simulation have proved that with in a confined room the virus could spread with in 20 minute to around 50 -100 people. Hence no necessity to do any fist fights of jam-packed urban commutes, or even factory conveyor lines, as a prerequisite to spread the contagion.
        Now for the case of Kerala, nearly 50 % of the land area, on a median line drawn on the map, is semi urban with a continuous stretch of highly mobile population with frequent interaction. An earlier John Hopkins release have suggested that 50% of the Kerala population is susceptible to be infected with COVID owing to its demography itself. A further challenge for Kerala is to handle this high density population over a huge land area, compared to that of the concentrated isolated pockets in Metro cities in other states.

        Kerala have wonderfully over came this challenging obstacle and controlled the COVID spread.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Some self-promotion by the Kerala pols…this one a column in today’s MSM New Indian Express by the Kerala finance minister. Of course, they can’t forget their “intellectual” predecessors in the Marxist iconography of propagandists: Joseph Goebbels in Nazi Germany and Dmitri Shepilov, reporting to Stalin, in the erstwhile Soviet Union. And – as with both of them – this Communist regime, too, would bite the dust and disappear into the ashes of history.

    Would be interesting to contrast what Abhishek wrote with this party hack.


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