In an exclusive conversation with Financialexpress.com, Uttarakhand CM Trivendra Singh Rawat answered a slew of questions related to the state's economy and development-related issues.
Uttrakhand Chief Minister Trivendra Singh Rawat recently marked the first anniversary of his government on a grand scale. In large advertisements in newspapers and lengthy television commercials, the Rawat government claimed that a lot has already been achieved in the past one year. The government has also presented its first complete budget of Rs 45,000 crore (approx). Amid all the pomp and show, it still needs to be checked how much the 56 MLA-strong Rawat government has actually delivered on ground.
The assembly elections held in 2017 saw the Bharatiya Janata party return to power with a thumping majority, decimating the Congress which was limited to 11 out of 70 seats. The Congress’ tally reduced by 21 seats while the BJP gained 26. The stakes were obviously high for the BJP and for Trivendra Singh Rawat who took charge at the helm of affairs in Uttarakhand, a state that has traditionally voted for an alternate party to power in each election.
As Rawat government completes one year in office, the Chief Minister has his hands full. And the first-time Chief Minister says he isn’t shying away from any of it. In an exclusive conversation with Financialexpress.com, the Uttarakhand CM said that the government is focussed on development of the state and that anything is possible if the intent is right.
Chief Minister Trivendra Singh Rawat answered a slew of questions related to the state’s economy and development-related issues. “Our first session made a record in terms of work done in the House. We have presented a historic Budget which has been applauded by the entire state as an inclusive Budget. I am confident that this session will also turn out to be significant in terms of work done in the House.”
Hill-city capital for Uttarakhand?
A long-pending issue in Uttarakhand is having a state capital in a hill-city. While in the Opposition, BJP government had once criticised Congress’ decision of holding an Assembly session in Gairsain, a town in Chamoli district. Recently, Indira Hridayesh, Leader of the Opposition in Assembly had asked Rawat government to clear its stand on Gairsain issue. Asked whether the capital should be shifted to Gairsain, Rawat said: “Gairsain is a symbol of development when it comes to hill areas. People have their emotions attached with the issue. In fact, we have held two Assembly sessions in the town in the past 1 year.”
The CM said that a number of things have to be kept in mind while deciding on the state’s capital: “We should keep in mind that a number of delegates from the entire country visit a state’s capital. Currently, Gairsain is a village. A state’s capital requires a large amount of infrastructure. It must have connectivity in terms of road, airways and waterways,” he said.
Asked if a change in the capital will also bring a change in government’s focus, a firm Rawat said that development depends on the vision laid out by the government. “We have created models developments for people living in the hill areas in the last 1 year of our rule. We have examples of turning the villages into digital villages and giving economic freedom, medical facilities and electricity to these areas.”
According to Rawat, there were almost 96 villages in the state without electricity when he came to power last year. “Today, the number has been reduced to 21. If your thinking is right, you can take the development to those areas,” said the chief minister.
Another burgeoning issue that the state has been faced with is the rapid migration from plains to hills witnessed in recent years. Several reports have said that almost 1,000 villages have been completely vacated by the people who use to live there. In 1 year of being in power, Rawat said that his government has brought in the concept of ‘growth-centres’ and asked officials to identify region-based needs.
“It is human nature to migrate for development, education and employment. From this point of view, education, health and employment are our priorities in hill areas. We have brought in a new concept called ‘growth centre.’ The 670 Judicial Panchayats in the state will be turned into a hub for economic activities. We have also made budget provisions for the same,” Rawat said.
“The farmers are being provided marketing facilities. We are working towards overall development of hill areas. If a place develops into an economic hub, then naturally education and medical facilities will develop there,” Rawat added.
Among the many other challenges that the state is faced with is the per capita income in state’s hill areas. The figure currently stands at under Rs 1 lakh, which is way below the state’s average of Rs 1.77 lakh. The CM however doesn;t sound too perturbed. There is a scarcity of resources in hill areas, he says, adding that he has laid out his vision for increasing the growth of the people living there.
“The national average (in terms of per capita income) Rs 1.10 lakh, while our state’s average in Rs 1.77 lakh. We are way ahead of the national average.” Rawat says the government has shifted its focus from state to the districts. “We have asked our officials to make separate plans according to the needs of the different districts in order to increase the per capita income of these districts,” Rawat said.
The promise of better economic opportunities was another factor that got the BJP to power in the state. BJP’s vision document (manifesto) had promised road connectivity to every village. However, the state faces dual challenges – to connect the major cities to hill areas and to connect the state capital to the national capital. Speaking on the progress he has achieved in one year, Rawat suggested that his government is working in close coordination with the Centre.
“As far as connectivity is concerned, Delhi-Dehradun National Highway is almost ready to start. Secondly, the Delhi-Saharanpur-Shamli Expressway has been approved. The state government has invested almost Rs 250 crore for Railways. The government has approved railway connectivity till Badrinath. The work for an all-weather road is underway with rapid pace. The work is on for the roads between Rishikesh to Badrinath, Rishikesh to Kedarnath, Rishikesh to Yamunotri, Rishikesh to Gangotri. The construction of roads between Udhamsingh Nagar to Jauljiwi via Pithoragarh and Tanakpur is also underway,” he said.
Not just roads, work in terms of air and water connectivity is also underway in the state, the chief minister said. “For air connectivity, we have got the sanctions for international Airport for Dehradun and Pant Nagar. Almost 20 flights land and take off from the state. Under Udaan Yojya, we are taking heli-facilities to places where the airstrips are not available. In Tehri, a project from the sea-plane has been approved. So, for connectivity, Road, Water and Air connectivity is available in Uttarakhand,” he said.
Uttarakhand tourism had taken a big hit after 2013 tragedy. Before coming to power, FM Arun Jaitley, party’s star campaigner in Uttarakhand, had promised reforms for state’s tourism sector. Highlighting his party’s seriousness about the reforms, Rawat said: ” The number of tourists visiting Uttarakhand had decreased after 2013. However, the footfall has come to close to equal that of 2013 after we came to the power last year. Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited the state three times in first six months of our government. Even former President Pranab Mukherjee, current President Ramanth Kovind, Home minister Rajnath Singh and many ministers have also travelled to our state. There is no fear in our state and I believe that a large number of tourists will come to the state this time.”
The ‘doctors’ challenge
Speaking on the state’s health services, probably the biggest infrastructural challenge faced by masses in the state, Rawat said that a number of poll promises have been already taken up, adding, that he expects massive difference in the sector in a year. “Currently, we have 2,700 posts of the doctors vacant in the state. We have recruited around 1,100 doctors in one year, which is maximum when you compare it to the recruitments in last 15 to 17 years.” he said.
He suggested that some of the promises like tally-medical services and Intensive Care Units is underway. “We are trying that none of our hospitals should remain vacant from the doctors. To fulfill the requirement of radiologists, we have started taking services of tally radiologists working on the international level. Today, we have a direct relationship with doctors from England and other countries, who can report us within 4 hours,” Rawat said.
“Earlier, there were no Intensive Care Units in the district hospitals state. Now, we are developing ICUs for district hospitals. I am confident that there will be major changes in the state health care sector,” he added.
Speaking to Financialexpress.com, some doctors in Dehradun, on the condition of anonymity, had expressed that they don’t wish to serve in hill areas due to lack of basic amenities. Asked how he plans to convince doctors in hill areas, Rawat said: “This is true that doctors don’t want to give their services in hill areas. In our state, the MBBS students have to sign a bond which mandates them to serve the government for next 5 years. If they don’t, they have to submit a fine of Rs 30 lakh. In fact, around 175 such doctors have been recruited so far who were the signees of these forms.”
‘Work against corruption evident’
The run-up to the elections saw the BJP promise to create anti-corruption cells before coming to power last year. However, Opposition leaders and experts have accused BJP government of not acting against corruption. Rubishing the claims, CM Rawat said that his government’s efforts against corruption are evident. “Our work to eradicate corruption is evident. At least 20 people have been arrested in different corruption cases.
“These accused are not getting bail because of the controlled probe by our Special Investigation Team. Apart from that, we have increased our income by 28 percent in mining, generated Rs 150 crore revenue in the transport sector, which is more in comparison to that of the last year. Even in the energy sector, we have generated Rs 200 crore more in comparison to last year. The increased income in key sectors proves that we have worked against corruption,” said the chief minister.”