New Maharashtra CM Devendra Fadnavis talks of improving the state’s economy, giving power to minority commission and being independent of the RSS. This Idea Exchange was moderated by Shaji Vikraman of The Indian Express and Girish Kuber of Loksatta
Shaji Vikraman: With global commodity prices crashing, including that of sugar, there could be serious consequences for Maharashtra. How do you intend to tackle the challenges to the rural economy?
The biggest challenge I am facing is that the overall financial situation of the state is not very good. If we fulfil all the announcements made in the last two months by the previous government, then Maharashtra would need to borrow R52,000 crore. Revenue deficit would go up to a historic R26,000 crore. The highest-ever revenue deficit until now was R9,000 crore, in the election month of 2009. We have inherited this situation.
On the other hand, the crop situation in Marathwada is quite serious. In all of Marathwada, crop loss may be up to 50%. So the entire region would require relief. Half of Vidarbha would require the same.
Unfortunately, if you look at our investment pattern, to improve agricultural economy, we have invested around R1,000 crore. And in relief, we have invested R7,000 crore. We have to give relief to people, but that money neither satisfies the farmer nor does it pay you back. So some sustainable model should be evolved so that we can invest more in agricultural infrastructure and equipment. That is one thing on my mind.
On sugar also, we are at a stage where I am worried. In UP, we saw that the sugar issue was so badly handled that farmers have sugarcane but mills are closed. The rate fixed by the government is such that they cannot run their mills.
In Maharashtra, we are fortunate to have adopted a law wherein a mechanism to fix sugarcane price is devised through a committee under the chief secretary. That committee, comprising five people representing industry and five representing farmers, has not yet been constituted. Once we constitute it, once industry and farmer leaders sit together, we can come out with a solution. People have understood that if sugar mills don’t run, it is a problem, and if farmers don’t get a good price, that is an issue too. I hope that soon we will be able to evolve a formula that is win-win.
Dinesh Gune: Could there be a central package for a permanent solution
I have studied this earlier. The thumb rule is that you need R2 crore to drought-proof a village, or R50,000 crore to drought-proof our 25,000 villages. This is a large sum. I hope to seek some Central aid. And there may be some convergence of funds from various departments. In our budgetary systems, there are many parallel departments running parallel programmes, leading to a thin spreading of resources. Also, while we need to finish irrigation projects, the geology of Maharashtra is such that no single solution is possible, we will need different solutions. Dams have been stressed until now, even in areas with assured rainfall.
I don’t mean we should abandon projects but we need to look at a variety of solutions. Where the water table is very low, we have started mining water—we are using ground water that will take 1,000 years to recharge. Once that water is over, these areas will become a dark zone. We need to change our approach to focus also on watershed development, check dams, Shirpur pattern dams and other consolidated efforts. More than irrigation, we need soil moisture security.
Sandeep Ashar: What is your plan for management of finances and what schemes do you plan to
More than rolling back schemes, I see that, for the last many years, fiscal planning has been missing. For example, we make bulk allocations up to R30,000 crore. Where does this money get spent? On roads that are not even in a 20-year plan for roads—such a thin spreading of resources where you give priority to roads that some MLA wants. Fiscal management is necessary. On macro-parameters, Maharashtra has always been good. The fiscal deficit may be 0.11 or 0.2% here and there, but always matches parameters given by the Central government. But at the micro-level, there is no expenditure management and the quality of expenditure is bad. Ultimately, if you invest money and don’t get it back, at some point, your economy will not sustain. This has happened. We have a debt of R3 lakh crore. With increase of debt, if I look at the way it is spent, it is not giving me returns.
If we follow the previous regime entirely, the revenue deficit goes up to R26,000 crore. With certain measures on expenditure, we can bring this down to around R4,000 crore. This is an off-hand sum, it may be R7,000 crore or 8,000 crore. In the last three-four months, so many schemes have been announced. Many are non-starters. Ultimately, it is not that we would cut down any ongoing schemes. But with certain new schemes and expenditures, we would manage to bring down revenue deficit.
Santosh Pradhan: Would the R10,000-crore waiver on power bills of agricultural pumps be withdrawn?
More worrying than the R10,000 crore on agricultural pumps is the R760 crore spent every month on industrial tariff subsidy. And this does not benefit industry because they cannot achieve global competitiveness even with this subsidy. Industry is purchasing power at very high costs. I met the power minister because the situation was such that we had coal for three or four days at some stations. We are trying to rationalise linkages. Even if we do this, there is an impact of R0.80 to R1 per unit.
The agricultural pump subsidy cannot be removed in a day—on the contrary, it will grow because 3 lakh pumps are still to be energised. Instead, the cost of generation can be improved.
An important thing is that we pay 40% of our power bill accounts for just 25% of power. We have to reduce costs on this 25%, maybe buy short-term power. If we do a power purchase agreement, we can sell power when we don’t need it. There will indeed be some loss, but it will average out.
Shubhangi Khapre: Your election campaign was based on ‘Where have you taken Maharashtra to’. We would like to know in the next five years, where are you going to take Maharashtra? What critical areas the government plans to tackle?
Maharashtra has everything to attract industry, the only problem is the lack of ease to do business. Over the last few days, people have told me that the basic problem in the state is that if someone wants to set up an industry in an MIDC (Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation) zone, he requires 76 approvals. If it is a non-MIDC zone, he requires 67 approvals. The other day, the chief secretary was telling me about an application for extension of time he received from some company where they said that they had managed to get 64 permissions and needed an extension to get 12 more. I have asked the Industries Department to immediately prepare a note and work on how the number of permissions can be brought down. I want to cut them drastically. It has to come down to 20-25 or even 15. Then I propose to bring all the departments on a single e-platform, a single window system that will bring in accountability.
Most sectors have become critical and we have to work on nearly every sector. In agriculture, the problem is of low productivity. The central average for irrigation is 44% ours is 19 % at best.
Gujarat’s yield is double that of Maharashtra. Madhya Pradesh has maintained an average growth of 15%in agriculture for three years. It was as high as 22%. Gujarat has an agricultural growth of more than 10%. We had negative growth.
Girish Kuber: Ministership is all about controlling, but you are asking your colleagues to decentralise. Don’t you think the real problem will be internal? A lot of them feel that good economy is bad politics. How will you handle it?
The Central government has started a new work culture and it is here to stay. I have realised that bureaucrats want to work. However, when he sees there is no incentive to work and people do not back him, he holds back. With the new government, the work culture has become transparent. We were facing a crisis with our coal reserves and I had called up power minister Piyush Goyal saying there is a problem. He told me right away that we will hold a meeting tomorrow, even though it was a holiday. He told me that in this government there is no holiday. Thankfully almost everyone in my team has realised that if you do not perform you will perish.
Kavitha Iyer: Maharashtra has a history of being highly progressive. To what extent will the RSS dictate the functioning of your government? And what is your view on censorship?
First thing is, the RSS is progressive, not regressive. As far as politics is concerned, the RSS is independent of politics. Neither do they advise me nor do they want me to consult them. So I don’t think there will be any influence of the RSS, whether socially, culturally or otherwise, on my government As far as censorship is concerned, I believe in liberty. And the definition of liberty is simple — I have liberty which is unlimited, but it ends where my neighbour’s liberty starts. That is what I believe in: censorship to the level that I protect the liberty of others.
Zeeshan Shaikh: This is the first time since 1962 that there is no Muslim representation in Maharashtra’s Cabinet or the party which is ruling the state. How do you plan to address the growing concerns among the community about the ascension of the BJP in the state? What is your outlook going to be regarding the state minority commission?
First thing, we have not expanded our Cabinet as yet. It is very small. There is also a possibility that in future we may induct somebody from minorities in our Cabinet. I think we should wait.
We will give all powers to the minority commissions, all those powers that are given to them by the law. So, in our government, the minority commission will be strong, will be provided all the infrastructure, and whatever they need and whatever is promised to them, will be provided.
As far as minorities are concerned, we feel that till now, minorities have been used for vote-bank politics. We are not against minorities. We feel that there should be justice for all, appeasement of none. And when we say justice for all, even in the Central government, Modiji says, “sabka saath, sabka vikas”. Whenever he talks, he says, “125 crore Indians”. He doesn’t differentiate. Our policy will be the same.
Manasi Phadke: What do you have to say about traffic-control suggestions such as a congestion tax
See, these solutions cannot be stand-alone solutions. Ultimately when we impose a tax, we should ask ourselves, what benefit are we giving to individuals? Tomorrow, if we improve transport facilities, then we can say that look, we don’t appreciate all vehicles entering the central business district, and we impose this tax. As of now, we have not achieved that level of service. We must first achieve that level of service and then think
Smita Nair: What is your opinion on political interference in police transfers and the need for autonomy in the police force?
After all, it is a force, and it cannot be made toothless. At the same time, it should be given the autonomy that it needs. Today when I interact with the police, I get a feeling they are demoralised. I get the sense that a lot of favouritism has occurred. My opinion is that if a person is totally incompetent to handle the particular post and you think about considering someone else for that post, it is understandable. But if appointing whoever you want, irrespective of seniority, becomes the rule, it is not right. If a competent officer has seniority, there is no need to think about whose side he is on. In my time, the DG office will be empowered. And IPS officers will doubtless come to meet me, but I don’t think they’ll gain much from doing so.
Shaji Vikraman: Land acquisition is turning out to be a major obstacle in various industries and infrastructure projects. What is your take?
Land acquisition is the most critical issue now. With the new land acquisition law in force, nobody is able to acquire land. The central government itself is amending the law and it will be done either in this session or in the March session so that at least for certain good projects, land can be acquired.
Smita Nair: Will your government take forward the previous government’s Chhatrapati Shivaji statue proposal and if yes, will it be taller than the Sardar Patel statue in Gujarat?
It will be the tallest. It will be fast-tracked. Last government only gave assurances. This government will actually do it. Modiji does not need to be convinced for this. He is a follower of Shivaji.
— Transcribed by Kavitha Iyer, Zeeshan Shaikh, Gautam Mengle and Manasi Phadke