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India By State - Kerala - State Overview

State Overview

Economic Snapshot

Capital Thiruvananthapuram
Area (sq km) 38,863
Population (Census 2001, million) 31.8
Literacy Rate (%) 90.92 per cent (highest in the country)
Sex Ratio (per 1000 males) 1,058 (highest in the country)
National Highways Length (km) 1524
Domestic/International Airports Thiruvananthapuram, Kochi, Kozhikode
NSDP (At current prices 2007-08) US$35 billion
Key Industries Coir, agro-based, textiles, seafood, chemicals, IT/ ITES, tourism, Khadi and village industry, Mining, food processing, spices and extracts, and sericulture

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Kerala is a small strip of land lying at the south-west corner of India. It lies to the north of the equator between 8 18' and 12 48' north latitude and 74 52' and 77 24' east longitude. The State extends over an area of 38,863 sq km, which is only 1.03 percent of the total area of India. It has a total coastline of 580 km. Its width varies greatly from west to east. It is about 120 kilometres at its maximum and just 30 kilometres at its minimum.

Kerala is bordered by land on three sides and by the Arabian Sea at the west. It shares its border with the state of Karnataka at the north and the rest of Kerala shares it border with Tamil Nadu. In fact, almost the whole of the western and southern frontiers of Kerala is surrounded by Tamil Nadu.

Kerala is divided into three geographical regions-

  • Highlands
  • Midlands
  • Lowlands

The Highlands slope down from the Western Ghats (also known as the Sahyadri) which rise to an average height of 900m, with a number of peaks well over 1800 m in height. It is 18650 sq km in area and accounts for 48 percent of the total land area of Kerala.

This is the area of major plantations like tea, coffee, rubber and various spices. This area is often known as the Cardamom Hills. This region is one of the largest producers of many spices especially cardamom from which it earns its name. Anaimudi (2694 meters), the highest peak in India after the Himalayas, is in the Munnar division of the Western Ghats. Most of the rivers of Kerala originate from the Western Ghats. The Midlands, lying between the mountains and the lowlands, is made up of undulating hills and valleys. It is 16200 sq km in area, approximately 40 percent of the total land area. This is an area of intensive cultivation. Cashew, coconut, arecanut, tapioca, banana and vegetables of different varieties are grown in this area.

Lowlands are also known as the Coastal Area. It covers an area of almost 4000 sq km. It is made up of numerous shallow lagoons known locally as kayels, river deltas, backwaters and shores of the Arabian Sea and is essentially a land of coconuts and rice. This area is very fertile and most of the paddy cultivation is along this area. Kuttanad region of Kerala is one of the very few places in India where cultivation is done below sea level. Water is the main mode of transportation in these areas.

Rivers, Lakes and Backwaters of Kerala: Though small in size, Kerala is a land affluent in water sources. 44 rivers water the land, of which 41 are west flowing and 3 flow east. Apart from these 44 main rivers, their tributaries and distributaries and a countless number of streams and rivulets crisscross the land making it green and fertile and also serves as inland waterways. Aside from these rivers, Kerala is bestowed with a number of lakes and backwater lagoon which add to the beauty of the land. Vembanadu Lake with an area of 260 sq km is the largest in the state. Shastamkotta Lake is the largest natural fresh water lake.

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According to the census report of 2001, Kerala's total population was about 32 million. Almost 91% of the populace is literate. And about 10.3 million i.e.32.3 percent are employed in some occupation or other. Almost 7.2 percent of the population is employed in cultivation, 16 percent as agricultural labourers, 3.5 percent in household industries and the majority of 73.2 percent in other industries. A steep rise in the literacy has led to a rise in those employed in highly technical fields such as engineering, medicine, IT etc.

According to the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry there were about 1.5 million Malayalis settled in Gulf countries alone. The major problem Kerala is grappling with currently, despite its high rate of literacy and level of education is the brain drain. Most highly educated professionals prefer to work abroad due to the higher living standards and income opportunities. However the government and other organizations are working towards combating this issue and to ensure a comfortable living for the NRI Malayalis in other countries.

Population Demographics

  • Population: 31.84 million
  • Density: 819 per sq. km.
  • Urban Population: 25.97%
  • Literacy Rate: 90.92%
  • Male Literacy: 94.20%
  • Female Literacy: 87.86%
  • Sex Ratio: 1058 females to 1000 males
  • Decadal Growth Rate: 17.51
  • Religion(s):56% Hindu, 24% Muslim, 19% Christian, 1% Other

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Kerala is one of the most economically prosperous states within India. Its gross domestic product (GSDP) is at an estimated US $40.4 billion. The State plays a significant role for India with regards to its industrial performance as it accounts for a large proportion of the State's total produce. Between January 1999 and December 2005, Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) approved in the state was $270.4 million in 184 projects, which constituted 1.26 per cent of the total FDI approvals in the country.

Around 50% of Kerala's population has agriculture as its primary source of livelihood and agriculture in Kerala is characterized predominantly by cash crops. Kerala is a major producer of coconut, rubber, pepper, cardamom, ginger, banana, cocoa, cashew, areca nut, coffee and tea. Kerala is also engaged in the cultivation of spices like nutmeg, cinnamon and cloves. Kerala accounts for 92 per cent of rubber, 70 per cent of coconut, 60 per cent of tapioca and almost 100 per cent of lemon grass oil produced in the country. Agriculture in Kerala has the distinction of having the highest gross income per net cropped area.

The economy of Kerala has grown impressively between 1999-00 and 2008-09 at a CAGR of 12.3 per cent.

This growth has been driven by all three sectors - The secondary sector has been the fastest growing, at a CAGR of 14.5 per cent and driven by manufacturing, construction, electricity, gas and water.

The tertiary sector, the largest contributor to Kerala's economy, grew at a rate of 12.5 per cent in 2007-08 over the previous year; it was driven by trade, hotels, real estate, transport and communications.

While the primary sector's share in the GSDP has been declining, the mining and quarrying segment in this sector registered a high growth rate of 39.8 per cent in 2007-08 over the previous year.

Kerala's per capita income is one of the highest in the country. From 1999-2000 to the fiscal year 2007-08, it has grown at to US$1,199 which is even higher than the average per capita of the entire country. The percentage of population in Kerala below the poverty line was 3.6 in 2004-05, as compared to the all-India percentage of 19.34.

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Physical Infrastructure


Kerala has 173,592 kilometers of road (4.2% of India's total). All villages are connected by road. The traffic has risen over the last few years (11% per year) resulting in high traffic and pressure on the roads.

India's national highway network includes a Kerala-wide total of 1,524 kilometers, which is 2.6% of the national total. There are eight designated national highways in the state. The Kerala State Transport Project (KSTP), which includes the GIS-based Road Information and Management Project (RIMS), is responsible for maintaining and expanding the 1,600 kilometers of roadways that compose the state highways system; it also oversees major district roads. Most of Kerala's west coast is accessible through two national highways, NH 47, and NH 17.


The Kerala state has 3 major international airports at Thiruvananthapuram, Kochi, and Kozhikode, that link the state with the rest of the nation and the world. The Cochin International Airport (COK) was the first Indian airport incorporated as a public limited company and is funded by nearly 10,000 Non Resident Indians from 30 countries. A fourth international airport is proposed at Kannur.

The airport at Thiruvananthapuram and the Kozlhikode are under the ownership of the Government while the third one is private. There is lot of traffic at these airports as Kerala is been increasingly recognised as one of the hottest tourist attraction destinations having immense scenic beauty. During 2005-06, 43,394 flights (17,839 domestic and 25,555 international) were operated from the three airports.


The coastline is 585km long and has a major port at Cochin, three intermediate ports and 14 minor ports. The port at Cochin has received the ISO 9001-2000 certification due to the fact that it meets all the quality parameters.

The backwaters traversing the state are an important mode of inland navigation, National Waterway 3 traverse through the state. The Indian Railways' Southern Railway line runs throughout the state, connecting all major towns and cities except those in the highland districts of Idukki and Wayanad. Kerala's major railway stations are Kasaragod, Kannur, Thalassery, Vadakara, Kozhikode, Tirur, Shoranur Junction, Palakkad Junction, Thrissur Junction, Aluva, Ernakulam Junction, Kottayam, Alappuzha, Chengannur, Kollam Junction and Trivandrum Central.


Thiruvananthapuram has an efficient railway network. The division carries almost 165,000 passengers daily, operating 47 express mail trains and 59 passenger trains. The state has a total railway route of 1,148 km and covers 13 sectors. It has 1,053.86 km of broad gauge lines and 94.14 km of metre gauge lines.


The Kerala Power System consists of 27 Power generating stations, which include 22 Hydel, 4 Thermal and one wind station of which Kerala State Electricity Board owns 22 hydel, one wind and two thermal stations.

The Kerala State Electricity Board has an installed capacity of 2319.23 MW on its own with another 350 MW contributed by NTPC and private sector producers taking the total installed capacity of the state to 2657.24 MW.


Telephone exchange is well connected to the STD/ISD network and out of them 98 percent is connected to the National Internet Backbone (NIB) by means of optical fibre cables, private operators such as Reliance.

VSNL's International Communication Gateway, with 2 high speed submarine cable landings (SEA-ME-WE-3 and SAFE) offering 15 Gbps bandwidth, is in Kochi.

11 new SEZs have been approved, of which 8 are notified SEZs. Kochi is the only city in India having 3 Special Economic Zones.

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Social Infrastructure

Kerala is one of the most progressive and best performing states in India with regards to social infrastructure.


The Literacy rate in Kerala is the highest among Indian states at 90.9 per cent as against the all India literacy rate of 65.4 per cent. For men, it is 94.2% while that of women is 87.9 per cent.

The state spent 1.23 billion of US$ in 2007/2008 on building and maintaining the educational infrastructure. The state has 7 universities. There has been a remarkable increase in the number of engineering colleges in Kerala in recent years, especially in the number of private self-financing colleges. To provide maximum employment, the state introduced the concept of providing Vocational Higher Secondary Education.

Schools and colleges are run by the government, private trusts, or individuals. Each school is affiliated with the Indian Certificate of Secondary Education (ICSE), the Central Board for Secondary Education (CBSE), or the Kerala State Education Board. English is the language of instruction in most private schools, while government run schools offer English or Malayalam. After 10 years of secondary schooling, students typically enroll at Higher Secondary School in one of the three streams-liberal arts, commerce or science. Upon completing the required coursework, students can enroll in general or professional degree programmes. Kerala topped the Education Development Index (EDI) among 21 major states in India in year 2006-2007.

Thiruvananthapuram, one of the state's major academic hubs, hosts the University of Kerala and several professional education colleges including fifteen engineering colleges, three medical colleges, three Ayurveda colleges, two colleges of homeopathy, six other medical colleges, and several law colleges. Trivandrum Medical College, Kerala's premier health institute, is being upgraded to the status of an All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS). The College of Engineering, in Trivandrum is one of the prominent engineering institutions in the state. The Asian School of Business and IIITM-K are two of the other premier management study institutions in the city, both situated inside Technopark. The Indian Institute of Space Science and Technology, first of its kind in India, is also situated here.

Kozhikode is home to two of the premier educational institutions of India: the IIMK, one of the seven Indian Institutes of Management, and the National Institute of Technology Calicut (NITC).


Kerala has 929 Primary Health Centres and 5,094 Sub-centres and has reached such a level where it can stand proudly and boast of its low death rate and high life expectancy. There are ample facilities for homeopathy and Ayurveda. Its health advancements are even comparable with the developed countries.

Comparison of health Indicators




Birth Rate* 14.7 24.8
Death Rate (2007)* 6.8 8.1
Infant Mortalitly Rate** 13.0 63.0

Life expectancy at birth (years; 2006-11)

Male 71.3 64.1
Female 76.3 65.4
Total fertility rate (per woman) 1.99 3.30

Per thousand persons*
Per thousand live birth**

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Industrial Infrastructure

There are 11 new approved special economic zones of which 8 have been notified. Kochi is the only city in India having 3 SEZs. They consist of industrial parks, townships, special economic zones (SEZs), industrial estates and industrial growth centres (IGCs). There are four IGCs located at Kannur, Kozhikode, Malappuram and Alappuzha. These IGCs are spread over an area of 1,108.8-acre, of which 90 acres have already been allocated to industrialists. Kochi is the only city in India having 3 Special Economic Zones. The three SEZs in Kochi are Electronic Park at KINFRA in Kalamassery, Cochin SEZ and the Cochin Port based SEZ. Two of them have been approved for development by Smart City Infrastructure Private Limited and Sutherland Global Services. Kerala has several SEZs out of which 11 have got the formal approval while 8 have been notified.

The Technopark at Thiruvananthapuram spread over 1.5 million sq. ft built-up space is the first CMM Level 4 ICT Park covering an area of over 300 acres. There is an Infopark at Kochi that makes the perfect place for ITES due to its proximity to the submarine optical cables.

The Infopark at Kochi is spread over an area of 96.90 acres. The total investment of around 32 companies is US$ 22.4 million and total turnover is US$ 16.0 million. Total export from Infopark companies is US$ 15.9 million. KSIDC (Kerala State Industrial Development Corporation) is planning to have four SEZs consisting of a total land of 2,200 hectares. It has also planned to convert three of its existing Industrial Growth Centres at Kozhikode, Kannur and Malappuram into a sector specific SEZ.

Formed in 1961, the main objectives are the promotion, stimulating, financing and facilitating the development of SMEs.

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More Information on Kerala

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