Trivendra Singh Rawat took charge as the ninth chief minister of Uttarakhand on March 18 following the BJP’s landslide win in the assembly election. In an interaction with Deep Joshi, Rawat lists his government’s priorities that range from providing a corruption-free administration and augmenting the debt-ridden hill state’s revenue to checking forced migration from the hills with development and infrastructure building. Excerpts
‘Result of liquor ban (elsewhere) has been dangerous, people take to hooch, drugs…’
Q) What message do you think the electorate gave to the BJP with such unprecedented mandate in the assembly election?
A) The mandate shows that the people have high expectations from us and meeting those expectations is our major responsibility. We went to the people with the poll plank of corruption in the previous Congress regime because it was hand-in-glove with the land, mining, liquor and transfer mafia. Obviously, the people expect us to speed up development and give a clean, corruption-free administration.
Q) You are on record stating that the state has a massive debt burden of ₹45,000 crore. How do you plan to resolve the problem?
A) The previous Congress regime is responsible for such a huge debt burden as it had increased non-plan expenditure manifold despite the fund crunch. It not only wasted funds in distributing pensions etc, but also indiscriminately distributed minister-rank responsibilities among the party workers. Besides, the former CM (Harish Rawat) had appointed 70-80 individuals as his personal staff. So the funds that should have been spent on development went into the pockets of individuals. To ensure that the state is rid of the debt, we are augmenting our revenue generation. We can increase receipts from mining activity by nearly three times. Tourism has a huge revenue generation potential. We are also introducing transparency in tax collection.
Q) Had the successive governments focused on strengthening tourism sector, would it have been possible for you to concede the people’s growing demand for a complete ban on liquor?
A) Let me make it clear that we don’t want to enhance our revenue by selling liquor. But will the sale and consumption of liquor stop, if it is banned? That is a big question. In fact, we have a vast chunk of people serving in the army and paramilitary forces who are officially entitled to their quota of liquor. We have tribes who have been traditionally brewing liquor and consuming it. The result of the liquor ban (elsewhere) has been dangerous -- people started producing illicit liquor and took to drugs. Banning liquor will not only lead to a revenue loss but people will also start drinking illicit liquor. So, we will discourage people from having liquor by creating awareness.
Q) Forced migration from the hills is a major issue. You recently said your government would soon come up with a new policy to check migration. Please elaborate.
A) We have constituted a committee that will study the issue in its entirety. It will submit a report on the basis of which a comprehensive policy will be chalked out to check migration. The panel was set up so that people, farmers, and legislators who represent them, could offer their suggestions to help resolve the problem.
Q) Unemployment is also one of the main factors behind the forced migration. A major reason behind joblessness is the lack of availability of proper education facilities. Most schools don’t have proper buildings and teachers avoid postings in remote areas.
A) We have one teacher for every 12 students unlike the national average of one teacher for 20 children. Schools are shutting down not because there are no teachers…they are closing because we don’t have sufficient students. We will have to create an atmosphere to run schools to improve the standard of education. Teachers avoid taking postings in the remote hill areas because of lack of academic atmosphere. We will soon bring in an Annual Transfer Act, which would make it mandatory for all state employees and teachers to take up posting in the hills on a rotation basis.
Q) The condition of higher education is no better….
A) It is true that higher education in our state is below par, which also has its root in the absence of right academic atmosphere. We will create good academic atmosphere in the hills. We have asked all regional universities to conduct examination at a particular time. We will also ensure that the universities and the colleges affiliated to them stick to the academic session. Things will be all right if teachers and parents ensure that the students attend the schools.
Q) Another major reason behind unemployment is the state not having enough technical institutes.
A) There are technical institutes in the state but they allow admission to students who qualify the entrance tests. So, we will have to make our students more competitive so that they can gain entry into such institutes.
Q) There are hardly any industries in the hills. Do you have any plans to attract industrial investment so that jobs could be created for the youth?
A) I think if we have to generate employment in the hills, we will have to encourage agro-based industries there. We will also have to encourage farmers to grow high quality aromatic and medicinal plants. We have laws under which people can rent out their land to investors for farming. We have a hill industrial policy that encourages investment. We will think of ways and means to provide facilities like tax holidays to attract investors.
Q) Lack of basic medical facilities is another factor causing forced migration. Most state-run hospitals in the hills are either ill equipped or don’t have sufficient doctors.
A) It is a fact that doctors are unwilling to take up postings in the hills because of the state’s tough geographical terrain. So, we are going to make it mandatory for students in the state-run medical colleges to serve in remote hill areas for first three years after they graduate. We are also in touch with private medical institutes so that they could also contribute to improving the health sector in the hills.
Q) Agriculture and horticulture are also in a bad shape because hill farming is mostly rain dependent. That coupled with the frequent crop raiding by wild animals has forced a large number of hill farmers to migrate.
A) We are introducing rain water harvesting in the hills so that the farmers have sufficient water to irrigate their fields. Some wild animals like monkeys and nilgai have been officially categorised as vermin but can’t be killed because of religious sensitivity. We also have a plan under which fruit bearing trees will be grown in the forests so that wild animals like monkeys and wild boars do not stray out and damage crops. Measures such as neutering the monkeys would also be taken to control their population.
Q) The BJP won the assembly election on the poll plank of corruption in the previous Congress regime. What measures have you initiated to ensure a corruption free government?
A) We have already initiated anti-corruption measures. For instance we recently ordered a CBI inquiry against seven officials who were involved in irregularities relating to the construction of National Highway-74 in Udham Singh Nagar district. We also initiated action against forest authorities after an employee was killed by the mining mafia.
Q) Recently your government referred the Draft Lokayukta (anti graft) Bill to the select committee. The proposed law does bring the CM and ministers within its ambit but forbids action against them unless there is unanimity among the majority of the members of the Lokayukta bench.
A) I will not comment on that because the Lokayukta Bill has been referred to the select committee. The step aims to elicit the opinion of all sections of people and the legislators representing them so that we have an effective anti-graft law. In fact, what we are aiming at zero corruption so that there is no need to move the bench of the anti-corruption ombudsman.