"Mr PM, you are punishing better-governed states"

Himachal Pradesh chief minister Prem Kumar Dhumal in an interview with Governance Now

trithesh

Trithesh Nandan | December 28, 2011




When it comes to social sector indicators, Himachal Pradesh is one of the best performing states. However, that has not been a rewarding point for the hill state, says chief minister Prem Kumar Dhumal.

Talking to Trithesh Nandan in his Shimla office, the chief minister rues the rough deal the centre doles out to the state. Dhumal alleges that the UPA government’s partisan attitude towards non-Congress state governments is an open secret.

In a recent meeting with prime minister Manmohan Singh, this English professor-turned-politician said, “You are punishing better governed states.”

Edited excerpts...

In a recent human development index (HDI) release, Himachal Pradesh has performed handsomely on social fronts. In a short span, how did the state turned out to be such a good performer?
We had decided right in the beginning that our government will provide services to people – Sadak, Shiksha, Swasthya, Swarojgar, Swalamban, Swabhiman. There is connectivity to every village. Every child born must have the best education. People in the state must have medical aid. When one is healthy and educated, he would like to have employment. You can’t provide employment to everybody, so we have self-employment schemes. If one is healthy, educated and self-employed, then he becomes self-reliant. This results in self-respect.

The state has achieved 83.8 percent literacy. 
It is the only state which spends 18 percent of its budget on education. The dropout rate is zero now.

I also came to know that several schools have just two or three kids.
Yes, you are right. There are at least 750 schools with less than ten children. But distances are far off. We have always maintained that there should be one primary school within the radius of 1.5 km.

The state has made a turnaround even in the rural poverty.
The state has 91.1 percent rural population. When facilities are available in the radius of one and half kilometres in the village, why should anyone send children to urban areas? When the health facilities are available in rural areas, why should people rush to urban centres? So we developed rural areas by providing these facilities. The conditions in rural areas are good, so people here don’t shift to urban areas.
I am the only CM to keep the agriculture and animal husbandry department. During my stint, we brought out Pandit Deendayal Bagwan Samridhi yojana. I don’t think there is any scheme in the world where 80 percent of subsidy is given to farmers. For BPL farmers, who use bamboo instead of steel rods, the state is giving 90 percent subsidies for floriculture and horticulture. An amount of '353 crore has been spent on this scheme.
Since introduction of Doodh-ganga yojana, the production of milk has gone up. Twenty-five percent subsidy is provided for the general category and 33 percent subsidy for the SC. Then we have a large population which rears sheep and goats. So we have Bhed Palak Samridhi yojana – schemes for the shepherd – under which we are giving loans of '1 lakh for purchase of sheep and goats. We are providing a 33.3 percent subsidy under this scheme. So for a loan of '1 lakh, you are getting '33,000 as subsidy.
We have tied up with Japan International Cooperation Agency, under which a sum of '325 crore has been allocated for rural farming. We are identifying organic farming centre zones. Twenty thousand farmers have registered in the organic farming category. For agriculture, floriculture and horticulture, they now have network of markets. We have spent '100 crore on that. We are trying to come with some more schemes so that people create job opportunities.

Do you any have monitoring mechanism to check the use of subsidy?
Definitely. We give subsidy in stages.
But in electoral politics, good governance is usually not a winning factor. I don’t think that good governance is bad politics but you have to take into consideration politics while governing. Instead of making it as government programmes, what I tried to change is involvement of people. So that it is not only a government programme but it becomes people’s programme. Then there is minimum resistance, larger cooperation and greater success.

Is it true that nobody dies of hunger in the state?
Generally, we are better nourished people. We need more calories for living in the mountains. As a policy, we are providing three pulses, iodised salt, mustard oil, and refined oil to BPL and APL. Anybody who has a ration card gets benefits at subsidised rates. From this year, we have introduced a new scheme for SC, BPL, and those who don’t have land of its own, we are subsidising even gas cylinders, LPG connections and stoves under Mata Shabari Sashaktikaran yojana.

The state has become free of open defecation in 11 years while several states are still struggling. How did you achieve this?
A survey was carried out by some NGO which says that 85 percent of state population is getting piped water, which is the highest in the country. Availability of water is one of the major factors which led to this success.

How is the state dealing with environment and ecological concerns?
We have been perhaps the best in the country in terms of environment. We have banned polythene bags. Our mid-Himalayan project, where watershed and rainwater harvesting has added to the rural empowerment, has been praised by the World Bank. The scheme has been extended to another 106 villages. We have also entered into an agreement with the World Bank for the carbon credit purchase. This is the biggest project in the world now. China had 3,500 hectares and Himachal signed an agreement for 4,400 hectares, which is the largest in the world.

Is the institution of Lokayukta in your state robust in terms of functioning?
I think it needs some improvement. Team Anna is in touch with me. They have sent a draft and we have seen it.

What about the centre-state relations? As the state is doing well, do you get required support from the centre?
Unfortunately, the experience has been very bad. I remember during former PM Vajpayee’s time, he used to treat everybody equally. But UPA has become very partisan in certain issues. For example, the state roads are in a better condition than the national highways. We have got nothing from the centre to repair national highways. There has been a long rainy season this year. I had a meeting with Kamal Nath when he was minister for roads and highways; he sanctioned five national highways for us. The new minister, CP Joshi, has not notified it so far and not released any funds for repair of roads. The NDA CMs are writing one by one and if you are not releasing the funds, why then call them national highways? Let the state look after them.
Similarly, we have very bad experience in the industrial package. This was launched by Vajpayee but as soon as UPA came to power, it withdrew the package. It continues for J&K and the northeast but Uttarakhand and Himachal are not getting it.

Did you raise this matter in the national development council (NDC) in October?
I have raised all these issues not only in the NDC meetings but in one-on-one meetings with the PM, FM and the planning commission. The state which has contributed more to the power sector, irrigation and defence of the country has just got 35 km of rail lines in 64 years of Independence.

Have you sought incentives, given your performance?
I told the PM that he was punishing the better governed states. For example, some prosperous states have performed badly in education; they have been given more funds for college education. See the irony. We have been given less grant compared with the rich states.

Even with robust social performance, the child sex ratio is very low.
In 2001, it was 896 but has now increased to 910. When that report came, we immediately took steps like free education for the girls. Several concessions have been provided for women, like 50 percent reservation in panchayats and local urban bodies. As soon as a girl child is born in the BPL family, an amount of '5,000 is deposited in her name.

Another concern of the state, the seven districts of the high-mountain horseshoe region have been lagging behind on several parameters.
I have been taking up that issue with the government of India. When you are sitting in an air-conditioned room in Delhi, you make some faulty programmes. When you say that 1,000 people in villages will be connected by PMGSY, you should consider how many villages in Himachal have a population of 1,000. Then it was brought down to 500 and again to 250. Then they say, you construct within nine months. How is it possible? For six months, most areas are covered with snow. Some roads disappear because of heavy rains. There are many difficulties. That’s why these regions are slow starters in terms of development. It is not just that you will do it with bulldozers in a day. In mountainous regions, you have to cut rocks inch by inch.

Alleging corruption, the state Congress has said that you have removed Section 118 of HP Tenancy and Land Reforms Act, and that you have sold the state to private players.
There have been 62 permissions under the Apartments Act so far. This was opposed by the BJP when we were in opposition. It was passed without discussion by the Congress government. Out of 62 permissions, 51 were given by the Congress government in one and half years. We have given just eleven permissions. They gave permission for 2,071 acres of land, while we have given permission for 377 acres of land. You can see who has sold the state and to whom. Then section 118 has been amended five times. All these amendments have been made by the Congress government. The BJP government never amended section 118. As far the Apartments Act is concerned, I constituted a Vidhan Sabha committee which has recommended scrapping of this Act and we are going to scrap it and builders won’t be able to sell land.
About corruption, I wrote to the chief justice to give a sitting judge to look into allegations of all benami deals. He couldn’t give me sitting judge but a retired judge. No Congressmen has come to the judge with any corruption charges. The judge has been travelling the whole state but there are no complaints from the Congress yet.

Who is the judge looking after the matter?
Justice DP Sood.

In your second tenure, you opened 18 private universities in the state. The Congress has alleged that you made money out of creating private universities.
I asked the opposition in the assembly itself. Are you in disagreement with your union human resource development minister who said we need 1,000 more universities? We gave permission to the private universities as thousands of students have been studying outside the state. The Congress has some vested interest in opposing the private university in the state. Their own state government in Rajasthan has 67 universities, Haryana has 22 private universities, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu have more than 50 universities. Why oppose 10 or 12 in Himachal Pradesh, when our students are still going outside?

Do you have any monitoring mechanism to look after private universities?
We are the only state with a regulatory body for private educational institutions. It is headed by a very senior IAS officer. We regulate the fees. We have made it mandatory for the universities to put biodata of the faculty on the website with complete address and complete qualifications. There should not be any wrong information about the teaching faculties. If they violate anything, they are fined up to '5 crore. And if they wind up before 25 years, the whole properties will be confiscated.

Some of your party members make corruption charges against you.
Some people will always criticise. We are open to every criticism and open to answering those on any allegations.

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