Trivendra Singh Rawat took over as Uttarakhand chief minister in March 2017 after the BJP’s victory in the state elections. The Rs 12,000-crore Char Dham road project, which was announced in the run-up to the state elections and which aims to provide all-weather connectivity between the shrines of Kedarnath, Badrinath, Gangotri, and Yamunotri, is expected to be a major poll issue for the party in 2019. Uttarakhand has lost the advantage of being a special category state since the introduction of the GST.
Uttarakhand CM Trivendra Singh Rawat talks about migration from hilly areas of the state, defends suspending a school teacher, lists plans to increase revenues of state, dispels concerns regarding environmental damage due to Char Dham Yatra Marg, and talks about how a polluted Ganga stretch was made ‘a selfie point’.
Liz Mathew: There are environmental concerns about the Char Dham Yatra Marg. What is your opinion on the matter?
For the Char Dham Yatra Marg, we have to cut about 3,500 trees. However, the National Green Tribunal will not approve the project unless we submit a proposal to plant saplings 10 times the number of trees that will be cut for laying the road. In Dehradun, we have planted more than 2.5 lakh saplings in a day. Similarly, we planted 1,57,755 saplings in one hour on the bank of river Kosi. We have also followed the proper procedure while undertaking projects to rejuvenate the rivers in the state and their ecosystems. While we surveyed the area using drones, bulletins were issued every 15 minutes about the number of saplings that were planted.
Environmental losses take place when development works are carried out. But we should try to make up for it. The people of Uttarakhand care for the environment. The public, including children and the elderly, have participated in movements to protect the environment.
I’ve told all district magistrates to adopt a river that can be rejuvenated. The result will be visible in the next 50-60 years. In Uttarakhand, development works are being carried out in an environment-friendly manner.
Liz Mathew: A few months back, a government schoolteacher was suspended for complaining about her transfer at a Janata Darbar that you held. Usually politicians are very careful in public. Can you explain what happened?
Any politician is first a human being and should be treated with respect. The woman claimed that she had been posted in a particular area for long. Her family lives in Dehradun. She belongs to the district cadre, yet was posted in the nearest possible location from Dehradun. But she wants a posting in Dehradun. We cannot post her there. The government’s work is to administer and not break rules. But she doesn’t understand that. She had posted on Facebook that she would go to the Janata Darbar and cause trouble for the government. She had decided on it before she came there. Yet, we tried to explain the matter to her very politely… If someone causes trouble, it’s my duty to improve the situation. If I am the chief minister, it’s for the public. If someone is a government employee, it is for the public. If someone is a teacher, it is not just that person’s livelihood but the purpose is to teach students. Children from poor families come to study in government schools. We cannot play with their lives. The government will not tolerate corruption. When an employee does not do his or her work, that
Ravish Tiwari: What message were you trying to send out by attending former chief minister Harish Rawat’s mango festival?
Harish Rawat had invited me. I had earlier invited him for Holi. This is just cordial behaviour. Our political fight has nothing to do with this. I will go again if he invites me.
Ravish Tiwari: Following your tenure as BJP sangathan mantri (general secretary-organisation), you entered electoral politics. Did you imagine you would become CM when there were other stalwarts?
After completing my graduation, I spent my life as a samajik karyakarta (social worker). Then I was associated with the RSS. In 1992, when Uttarkashi was hit by an earthquake, I stayed there for six-seven months and worked to rehabilitate the people of the villages. I used to run a school which had about 70 children. I was destined to join politics. I used to say that I’m not interested in politics but then I was told that there are certain tasks that we have to do. Good people should join politics, I was told. I was given the opportunity to fight the elections in 1993 but I refused and kept working for the RSS. Circumstances compelled me to fight the elections. I won and became an MLA. But I did not ask for ministership. I just kept doing my work. I worked in Uttar Pradesh with current party president Amit Shah, and then I was given the charge of Jharkhand. We formed the government there and the leadership decided to give me the responsibility of Uttarakhand. Everyone has been very cooperative. Whenever there is a need, I request others to guide me.
Ravish Tiwari: Many Congress leaders have joined the BJP and have become MLA’s and ministers in your government. Don’t you think there has been a degradation in the ideology of the sangathan?
When we accept someone, we accept his good as well as his bad qualities. The ideology of the Congress is completely different from ours. There are many leaders among them, including our friends from college, who were previously with us. So they have now come back. But the BJP is a mass party, not a class party. From the mass, some will connect to the ideology and some will join by leverage or for other reasons. We have accepted these leaders and they have accepted the BJP’s ideology. All of them are well-educated, experienced, and have a political and social life. So if they have joined the BJP, it must have been an informed decision.
Devyani Onial: According to a report of the state’s migration commission, villages in the hills are getting empty. What is the government doing to control migration?
Migration is happening in the hilly areas and not in the plains… Nearly 57% of the people in the hills have left the villages and migrated to nearby towns such as Dehradun, Haridwar and the terai regions of Udham Singh Nagar. These people move in the search of jobs and money as farming is not very profitable. Hilly areas have very small landholdings. As a result, productivity is limited.
We started the Gram Light project —10 women have been trained to make LED lamps, tube lights and 45 such items. This has helped in generating employment. These products cost half the price of similar products you find in the market. The warranty period is also double.
We do a lot of work at our Udyog Centres — we teach women tailoring and train them in marketing.
Also linked to migration are the vacancies in the health sector. The current strength of doctors in hospitals is 55%. I am hopeful that in the next two years, all vacancies will be filled.
We are using technology to resolve problems faced by people living in remote areas. We have advised farmers in Ghes village to cultivate peas as the climate is suitable to grow the crop. Earlier, they used to grow potatoes but they never grew enough of the crop and villagers found it difficult to sell them in the market. Now they get Rs 50 for a kg for peas. First year, they sold peas worth around Rs 50 lakh. This year we are expecting sales worth Rs 2 crore. Earlier, there was no phone or Internet connectivity in Ghes or adjacent villages. But now we have connected them to Delhi’s Apollo Hospitals. The villagers now consult doctors in Delhi.
We have also started distributing Dev Bhog. We educated the locals and trained women to prepare the prasad. We have also given 25 people about Rs 25 lakh each. In Kedarnath, the sale of bhog is worth Rs 1.5 crore. There are 625 temples in the state, including Badrinath, Yamunotri, Gangotri, Jagannath, Rajeshwar Dham, Bageshwar Dham, where we have started Dev Bhog. In the next four-five years, we will earn about Rs 200 crore through Dev Bhog. This money will be used for the empowerment of villagers and women.
Over four crore tourists visit us and we are targeting them. However, this year, the number has increased manifold. People know that they are safe while travelling in the state.
Anil Sasi: Before the GST was implemented, Uttarakhand received excise benefits as it was a special category state. But now that comparative advantage has reduced. It is being said that many pharmaceutical companies are planning to shift base. What are you doing about that?
We held a meeting with pharmaceutical companies. Of the total pharmaceutical production in the country, we contribute 20%. The affected companies shared their problems with us and we tried to find solutions. The chief secretary and other secretaries accompanied me to the meeting and decisions were taken on the spot. We apprised these companies of the benefits of staying in Uttarakhand. The state not only has the cheapest electricity rates in the country but also does not face law and order problems. The companies said there were problems related to electricity as there were not many transformers. We immediately issued relevant orders to the agencies concerned to resolve the issue. We told the pharma companies that they might lose some profit due to the GST but they will not find a similar work environment anywhere else. I don’t think the pharma industry will shift from the state.
I admit that the state has incurred losses because of the GST. So we are now focusing on the service sector to compensate for the losses. For five years, the Centre will give us compensation. We are setting up 5,000 home stays. Nearly one lakh people are being imparted training in skill development. We are also focusing on tourism. This year, the number of tourists visiting the state in 46 days has touched what we normally achieve in six months.
The tourism sector has the potential to create jobs… Nainital was established in 1881 and now it is completely saturated. Nothing new can be constructed there. Mussoorie was established around 200 years ago and now it is full. So, we are now focused on developing 13 new destinations. Since the start of my tenure, around 12 big banner films have come to the state. We are trying to increase the revenue of the state in the coming years. By 2020, we want to double the state’s resources.
Liz Mathew: Is the government planning to shift the capital from the plains to Gairsain (in the hills)?
We are carrying out development work in Gairsain. It is a very small place. We are making a lake there because the area faces water shortage. There are around 1,000-1,200 people who live there, including friends from the Legislative Assembly. I am aware of the problems they face. Dehradun, the biggest city in Uttarakhand, is feeling the burden of being the capital. That is why we thought of making Gairsain the capital city. We will take a final call at the appropriate time. But basic necessities — electricity, road and water — should be available.
Liz Mathew: For how long will Dehradun continue to be the capital?
We can’t say that right now.
Ravish Tiwari: All hill stations in India — Darjeeling, Ooty, Mussoorie, Nainital, Shimla — were established by the British. After Independence, there has been no new hill station. Does your government plan to create a new one?
We have Gairsain. We are also developing areas near the lake in Tehri. In every district, we have shortlisted places that we want to develop. We are inviting investors. We are organising an investors’ meet on October 4 and 5, and the Prime Minister will be attending it. Thailand also wants to invest in Uttarakhand. We have already issued licences to some people in this regard. In Rishikesh, we have around 900 acres where we are planning to build an International Convention Centre.
Ravish Tiwari: Uttarakhand is popular among youth for adventure tourism. Is the government taking any initiative to streamline it?
Tourism is the future of Uttarakhand and we have people visiting from across India and the world. The state has been popular for religious tourism. But now, a lot of people come for rafting, paragliding and mountaineering. The number of tourists has gone up. Some people come for yoga. Wellness tourism is growing popular. People want to go for safari to Jim Corbett, which has one of the biggest tiger populations in the country. India has 16 climatic zones and Uttarakhand has 15 of them.
Ravish Tiwari: The dams on the Ganga are responsible for the accumulation of silt in the river. Is the BJP’s effort to clean the Ganga moving in the right direction?
The river beds of the Ganga and Yamuna are made of silt from the mountains of Uttarakhand. Today, the Ganga fulfils the foodgrain demand of about 45% of the population. Silting and desilting are natural processes. The soil will travel down the mountain slope. Dams are constructed after extensive surveys. Many factors are analysed before a project is cleared. A few days ago, a youngster from Delhi made a video of how sewage water was polluting the Ganga in a particular area. We worked on it and now the area has become a selfie point. We transformed it in five days. All sewage lines will be cleaned by 2020.
Devyani Onial: What are you doing to rehabilitate people who will be displaced by the Pancheshwar dam?
The Pancheshwar dam will be one of India’s biggest development projects. Nepal also has a share in it — around 30 villages in Nepal that are in the catchment area will be impacted. It is about the future of our country. Tehri Dam is one example which led to huge migration. There are many facilities that will be provided to people who migrate. The dam will help us provide drinking water to people as well as meet their irrigation needs.