“Filing is done in a systematic manner”

Maharashtra's minister of finance & planning and forests talks about ISO certification, farmer suicide and GST

geetanjali

Geetanjali Minhas | September 9, 2017 | Mumbai


#ISO certification   #Sudhir Mungantiwar   #Maharashtra minister of finance  
Sudhir Mungantiwar, minister of finance & planning and forests, Maharashtra  (Photo: Karan Jethwa)
Sudhir Mungantiwar, minister of finance & planning and forests, Maharashtra (Photo: Karan Jethwa)

How did you get the idea to go for ISO certification? What did you want to achieve when you mooted this idea?

It is my firm belief that work must be accomplished in an organised manner and give a sense of satisfaction. But one cannot evaluate their shortcomings. Evaluation can only be done by others. When you go for ISO compliance, others evaluate you.

Many times papers and files are not available when required, so it becomes very difficult to take decisions. With SOP being followed in my office, filing is done in a systematic manner. We identify the work and it is completed in systematic manner with standard operating procedures. Duties and responsibilities have been delegated to my personal secretary and officers on special duty. Due to my busy schedule I reach late for many meetings. While I may not realise this but the feedback I received from people made me realise that we need to change. This is a big advantage with ISO.
 
 
After certification, we also created a feedback form and asked everyone to rate us on their experience. I realised and introspected on my shortcomings so we can work on our mistakes for doing better work. While change will not happen in an instant, what is important is that we are now moving for change in the right direction. With ISO systems I will have the record of my promises to people and be able to honour my commitments to people.
 
I feel happy that my office is the first minister’s office to receive ISO. I am also proud to add that my office has adopted and taken forward the honourable prime minister’s GR on wearing khadi to office.
 
What have been the tangible results of ISO certification so far?
Work is now being done in a systematic manner. With feedback from others we are trying to better ourselves. Earlier ministers were not been able to work in this direction, we will ensure that we make a difference, which is happening with ISO. In the next three-four months we will know the real benefits.
 
Has it helped bring down costs of governance or brought in efficiency and transparency?
Transparency is the soul of this government. Here you can track the file movement. Besides, duties and responsibilities of officers are put up on the cabins, so visitors know whom to approach. This removes ambiguity and brings in responsibility towards performance.
 
The chief minister has apparently appreciated your initiative. Is the state government planning to take this to the next level?
Yes, he has appreciated the initiative and desired that I guide other offices towards ISO certification.
 
Maharashtra has a debt of over Rs 4 lakh crore and farm loan waiver of over Rs 34,000 crore. Where is the state economy headed to?
Since independence we have neglected farmers. Though we gave importance to agriculture in our speeches we did not give our farmers anything in our budgets. This is a serious issue for us. For their plight we ourselves are to be blamed. Though Uttar Pradesh has 44% irrigation ours has been hovering around 18%. Why could we not set up godowns and electricity connections for farmers?
 
In Maharashtra 4.55 crore people are in direct and indirect employment. Out of these, 2.60 crore are dependent on direct and indirect employment in agriculture sector. Agriculture contributes to 10-11% GST in Maharashtra. Those dependent on agriculture have meagre incomes. So when I give this Rs 34,000 crore, 2.60 crore people will benefit. Just as we are raising money for payments towards 7th Pay Commission we will do the same for farmers. When I give money in 7th Pay Commission, 50-60 lakh people benefit and we have to take care of both. Under the guidance of our chief minister and within our economic limits we will use all our resources to help farmers.
 
Post-independence, farming is the only honest and incorrupt business. Farmer is honest, worships cow and is purely dependent on his land and weather, without any other source of income. Today he is unable to buy seeds and pay his loans. We must provide him facilities.
 
As a finance minister, I can say that I will sign the file after one month but if the farmer says that he will plant seeds after one month then the crop season will pass and he will get nothing. Or if he says that he will harvest his crop after two months his crop will rot.
 
According to our directive principles if any group suffers due to wrong policies of the government, the government must help using funds from its own treasury. As compared to the budget of 2012-2013 my next budget for farmers will increase by three times.
 
Do you think farm loan waiver will lead to funds crunch for developmental work in the state?
No, it will not. For all big projects we are taking loans from big companies and organisations like JICA and not from the state treasury. These are repayable by companies availing loans.
 
What will be its impact on the next financial budget?
Difficulties are bound to happen and we are taking all steps to remain strong within our economic policy. We are trying to increase the state income in every possible manner. I am confident that we will increase our non -tax revenue income. Our GST income in 2015-2016 will be more than 14% and we will utilise this money judiciously. In case of expenses, with direct bank transfer we will save some money. It is a long list and we are careful that this strain does not upset our next budget.
 
Is Maharashtra expected to lose revenue in the GST rollout? 
In practical terms there will be no loss. If there is loss it will reflect on paper and the government of India will add 14% compensation to it as mandated under the law. If we are unable to reach the GST at that level, then 14% incremental figure along with GST collection will be clubbed together.       
 
As I see, from a manufacturing state earlier, Maharashtra has now turned into a consuming state. Its population has increased from 11.23 crore in 2011 to 11.97 crore in 2017. With more per capita income than other states the per capita income of Maharashtra is 1.47 lakh. Besides, Maharashtra contributes 15% to national GDP, 19.68% to service tax and 20.50% to the manufacturing sector. Moreover with ‘kutcha’ and ‘pucca’ bill now done away, Maharashtra is bound to progress.
 
Trade bodies from hotel, textile industry, etc. have concerns regarding high GST slabs and it has started affecting their business. How are you addressing their concerns?
While coming out with GST law there were discussions on having one tax in GST like other nations. Though we have established one nation and one market, one tax has not happened. If you see other nations, economic disparity is very low, whereas in our country the rate is very high. There are many people in our country who cannot afford their supply of salt and are dependent on daily wages. For that reason we have kept crucial items in consumer price index basket tax in the maximum 5% slab. For items on which we can take a loan to meet our needs or to reach those in last mile or those who cannot afford their supply of salt we require money, so considering these, certain items have been put in 28% slab.
 
With 17 taxes being been done away with, the government has now given a convenient platform to businesses so they become good businessmen as against becoming good accountants. The PM has already said that it is a good and simple tax. Magar iske saath yeh garibon ka samaan badhane wala tax bhi hai, jisse garibon ki anivariya baton ko pura karne ke liye achha dhan rajyon aur kendra ke pas ikatha hoga [This tax will be beneficial to the poor as the government will have enough money to fulfil their necessities]. We will be able to implement many pro-poor schemes and reach the last mile. The purpose of GST is having one tax, doing way with inspector raj and ease of doing business. 
 
There were talks on keeping the cap at 18%.
This view is flawed. The rich pay 40% tax on their items. You are suggesting they should pay lower tax of 18% and poor people should be made to pay 18%?
 
There are reports that the state government is planning to set up a policy research institute. Please explain the idea and purpose behind it.
Yes. We have decided to set it up. The institute will assess policies. It is like the ISO where instead of blowing our own trumpet people should asses that the department is non-corrupt and honest.
 
I live in Mumbai. People in my constituency may want to connect with me but feel hesitant due to security around me. And I may not have a track of problems being faced by the common man in my own constituency. For that reason, some days back we set up the country’s first call centre where any person can register their grievances on given 25 points. This helps the common man to reach me. With digital systems in place the complainant will know the status of his complaint. This also makes the officials accountable to perform their duties.
 
While the helpline has registered many complaints, people are already sending their thank you messages satisfied with their work being completed. Some shortfalls are bound to be there, the endeavour is to address maximum grievances.
 
Your department is also the first in the country to start a forest helpline. Though it planted over 5 crore tree saplings this year, many have died.
We started the first 24x7 forest toll-free helpline number 1926 in the state -- a first in the country. If there is a fire we [will] immediately know. This didn’t happen earlier. The PM wants to start the same helpline in other states. We are slowly creating a green army. Though we require 1 crore members we have 31,000 so far. When everyone is talking of environmental damage we started planting trees. Though our target was to plant 2 crore tree saplings last year we planted 2.80 crore. This year our target was to plant 5 crore trees but we planted 5.47 crore saplings. 
 
Those who do not understand forest science feel trees are immortal. According to forest science 25% tree saplings are bound to face casualty. So you have to replant trees. Despite Maharashtra being a very progressive state there are 25 child deaths per 1,000 children. We are in the 21st century and only speaking of trees here. My people cannot go and water trees. My mission is to create awareness to plant more trees and we are working on that system.
Recurring drought and crop failures have added to the farm distress. How is the government planning to tackle this?
 
The farm sector has been ignored so far. It needs water, electricity connections, credit supply, processing and marketing of produce. After this government came into power we brought in many schemes like Jalyukt Shivar Yojana, increased Mahavitaran Vidyut connections, brought the farmers market right in front of Vidhan Bhavan so there is no middleman between farmer and consumer, brought a scheme for subsidy in processing units and a subsidy scheme for cooperative clusters in agriculture, etc. In 1970 our average farm size was 4.28 hectares, today it has reduced to 1.44 hectares. For a meagre land of 2.5-3 acres, a farmer cannot buy tractor. He can buy it for 25-50 acres.
 
Considering the above we brought in the concept of clusters and kept Rs 200 crore for it. We are now encouraging mechanical farming. It will take time to undo the wrong practises adopted earlier but we are now moving in the right direction. While the government has said that by 2022 farm income and production will double, in Maharashtra we are trying to achieve this by 2021.
 
The draught could also be because of the depleting forest cover. Do you have any plans to address this?
Water and forest are dependent on each other. Van hai toh jal hai, jal hai toh kal hai. Jeevan ka arth jeev aur van hai [If there is forest, there is water, if there is water there is future]. Since the time of kings, forest department was an important department which came to be neglected over the years. No one wants to become a forest minister. It is rather considered prestigious to hold portfolios that incur expenditure than those that earn income. For that reason when the CM asked me if I would like to become a revenue minister, I said no, I will want to continue as forest minister. It is my belief that while money will be important till the last breadth but our forests will help us in our next birth (punarjanam). I am all for plants and nature. Prana- Vayu ke bagair kaun zinda reh sakta hai.
 
We are being told that a committee will look into it.
Yes. While this is not the domain of my ministry but I do know that right steps in this direction will ease the burden off my department.
 
 [This interview appears in the September 1-15, 2017 edition.]

 

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