Veteran leader with vast and varied administrative experience, UT administrator and Punjab governor Shivraj Patil (79) was expected to speed up governance and decision-making. But did he live up to the expectations during his five-year tenure, which ends on January 21, 2015.There were hardly any new projects, the “connect” with the city residents was missing and the ‘public darbar’ too had to be suspended. However, Patil can be credited to have resisted the external pressure in bringing about changes in the master plan and succeeded in maintaining the original character of the city. He describes his term as fulfilling with allotment of houses for slum dwellers, encouraging solar energy projects and clearing the Chandigarh master plan. However, he regrets not getting the metro on track. Mentioning about his autobiography, the governor says, he did not write it to create controversy and claims that he always followed the middle path, which was his way of life. Coinciding with the 125th year of birth anniversary celebrations of India’s first prime minister Jawarharlal Nehru, for whom Chandigarh was a dream city, principal reporter Monica Sharma talked to Shivraj Patil about the city, his stint and future plans. Excerpts:
How can we preserve Chandigarh’s architectural heritage while carrying on the developmental works in the city?
Chandigarh is very beautiful and one of the best planned cities in the country. It should not be allowed to lose its character. Anything that is done here should be done according to well-conceived plans for the city. Vested interests should not be allowed to interfere with the master plan. Focus should not be on development of commercial activities in the city, but on development of offices, educational and health projects.
On what stage is Chandigarh’s master plan and what changes are on the anvil?
Prime importance has been given to the Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research (PGIMER) and Panjab University (PU) in the Chandigarh’s master plan. The administration officials finalised it after working on it for nearly four years. I have sent it to the Union home ministry and other central authorities, after approving it, for their examination. A policy for towers has also been suggested. The master plan does not allow the widening of roads or constructing multi-storey roads like those in Tokyo.
What flaws do you see in the construction of houses in the city at present? What changes have been recommended in the master plan?
The present houses do not have space for domestic servants. Labour, servants are working at offices, shops, industry and houses; but when it comes to housing facilities, people look up to the government. We would also like to see that bigger houses have provisions for water harvesting, using solar energy on top of the roof.
Do you think Chandigarh should have a metro?
The city should have a metro. But it will not be sustainable in terms of profit in short term for private players. That is why the government should itself go ahead with the project. If the metro project is handed over to a private person, he will not wait for next 20 years to get the returns and the project will get derailed.
What’s your opinion about city being an educational hub?
This city is going to be one of the headquarters of educational activities because of the presence of Panjab University, which has its own reputation. It is one of the universities established by the British, along with the universities in Chennai, Mumbai, and Kolkata. The students from different states come to study here. We have given a lot of land to the varsity for development, which will fulfill the city’s need for next 50 years.
What has been done to improve the health facilities in the city?
The focus has been on the PGIMER. The burden on it is enormous. We have given land to the PGIMER which will meet their requirement for the next 50 years.
What was your contribution as UT administrator?
Underground parking is need of the hour and fortunately the municipal corporation started it on my recommendation. I cleared 25,000 houses for slum-dwellers, of which 12,000 have already been constructed. I got the master plan finalised and got land allotted for expansion of the PGIMER and PU. I also contributed in promoting use of solar energy in the city. Sticking to the original character of the city, The industrial activity was not encouraged.
Are you in favour of imposing house tax in the city?
If you are not taking even a single penny as tax from house costing `10 crore, should I not question the corporation about it? Residents are not ready to pay to the administration for the different services availed in the city. I have asked the corporation to increase the tax, or else while leaving, I will increase it.
Was the public darbar system fruitful?
It wasn’t productive as individual cases like personal disputes, landlord-tenant dispute were coming up. I cannot interfere in personal disputes. I did not refuse to meet anyone. What should I do? It was getting counterproductive, so I suspended it.
What do you regret about not achieving during your tenure as UT administrator?
The dream of seeing the metro on track has been left halfway. Talks were on to have PPP mode, but I said it cannot come up this way. If I would have been in Delhi, I would have got it cleared from the cabinet.
You have been charged with being slow in decision making?
I did not believe in taking hasty decisions. Secondly, I did not play in the hands of a few people who had vested interests.
Why you didn’t allow leasehold property to be converted into freehold?
Why should we allow leasehold to be converted into freehold? Freehold means acquiring the plot in your name and moving on after selling it. We are not increasing the rent for leasehold. If we are throwing any shopkeeper from leasehold then we are doing injustice.
Punjab CM Parkash Singh Badal has once again sought Chandigarh as exclusive capital. What is your take on it?
That is a political issue. I will not comment on it as I am the governor of the state. I am still Chandigarh’s administrator. If I am in Government of India then I would make a decision, but not now.
How deep is the problem of drug menace in Punjab and what are the factors responsible for it?
Drug menace is problem of the affluent society. Drugs are a problem which has to be handled in joint fashion by society, family members and government at high level. Punjab’s long porus border is also one of the reasons.
How can Punjab develop further?
Punjab needs industrial development. Food and fruit processing industry, besides bio health can be explored as state is close to Himalayan region. The state can also produce equipment which are used in agriculture such as tractors, harvesters and threshers.
What is the Punjab government doing to promote different kind of industries in the state?
Why should Punjab government alone do something to set up industries? Why not the private people do something? Let the private sector do it and earn the profit. The Punjab government will easily give permission for this.
What next for you sir?
Retirement and happy life! Wherever I am needed and my help is required, I will be there. I will remain in Delhi at my place.
When and how do you think the Congress will revive after hitting the historic low at the Centre?
I will comment on this after I leave this position. I think Congress will revive. Life revives back, so does the party. This doesn’t mean they will revive in two years, five years or ten years time. If the existing government is going to govern properly, they will continue. If they commit mistakes, someone else will come.
Your autobiography ‘Odyssey of My Life’ does not have any controversy or critical comments on any leader or officer?
I have not written the autobiography to earn money or to sell my book by writing something controversial. Why should I find defects in others to earn a few lakhs of rupees by selling the book? What are the problems being faced by the different ministries; how they solve it, find mention in my book.