At the halfway mark of its second term, the Punjab’s ruling SAD-BJP coalition is struggling to maintain the momentum it received in the 2012 assembly polls. After a relatively poor show in the Lok Sabha elections earlier this year, some drastic changes are being proposed in different departments.
Formation of the Modi government at the Centre has given a high to the BJP, junior partner in Punjab but the overwhelming majority shareholder in the NDA at the Centre.
In an interview with HT, BJ leader and local bodies minister Anil Joshi appeared guarded, yet confident in his role as a minister with a key portfolio. He accepts there are issues still to be sorted out for improving the government’s work and image. Excerpts:
HT: Property tax continues to be a major issue for the government and people of Punjab. Despite efforts and amendments in the law, it is still to be sorted. What is the way out?
Joshi: The matter is really a cause of concern for our government as all residents of the state, especially those in urban areas, have been affected. We are making drastic changes in the system of paying property tax after its approval by the council of ministers meeting to be held on September 23. And we are drastically reducing the tax.
Why has the acute staff shortage in your department, leading to lax control over illegal colonies, not been addressed?
Staff shortage continues to affect functioning of the local bodies department and is indeed taking a toll. We have recruited inspectors, and are in process of more recruitment. Hopefully, things would change for the better, very soon.
The solid waste management project, a dream project of deputy CM Sukhbir Singh Badal, is headed nowhere even five years after it was proposed in the previous term of the SAD-BJP coalition government. What is the current status?
It is again a very tedious matter; but we are sorting it out. Very soon, work will begin in Bathinda, Ferozepur and Ludhiana clusters. Tenders have been invited for Amritsar and for the remaining clusters things would be rolled out in the next six months.
You raised the issue of change of land use (CLU) in areas within municipal limits and took independent decision for your department. How have things changed after that?
After I quashed the need for CLU permission for hospitals, hotels and industry within municipal limits, the process has been simplified and people are feeling the difference. Our department has zero pendency of CLU permissions, whereas, from what I have come to know, the housing department still has pending cases.
There was a perception that the SAD has not let BJP expand in rural areas whereas SAD has expanded in urban areas. How are you dealing with the issue as elections to local bodies are approaching?
The matter pertains to our state president. But one thing is very clear: In a coalition, partners have equal rights of expanding. Our party is equally strong in rural areas. We have functional bodies even at the village level.
What will be the seat-sharing arrangement with the SAD for the municipal polls?
It is being handled amicably, and we have good coordination with our ally.
How has the formation of the Modi-led NDA government at the Centre changed equations of the Punjab BJP with SAD?
Certainly, the morale of BJP workers in Punjab is very high after the formation of the Modi government, and hopefully it would reflect in the forthcoming municipal poll. Our government at the Centre is also helpful for the SAD as CM Parkash Singh Badal is one of the oldest allies of BJP. We hope the 2017 assembly polls will bring better results.