Chhattisgarh was once dubbed a backward state and unsafe for business due to its long-running Maoist insurgency. But for chief minister Raman Singh, the state’s strength lies in its ability to turn apparent disadvantages into opportunities. In a candid interview to Hindustan Times, the 63-year-old three-time chief minister lays out his road map for the state’s progress…
Q: Chhattisgarh faces stiff competition from other smaller states to attract investment. How are you coping with that?
A: Chhattisgarh is not engaged in any competition with small or big states. We all are partners in India’s growth story, as Team India. Every state has certain specific value propositions, which need to be leveraged in the country’s best interests. In the case of Chhattisgarh, its advantages are: central and strategic location (very important, post-GST); surplus, economical and high quality power; easy availability of land; low cost of doing business; ease of doing business; availability of abundant and skilled workforce.
We have also created a large land bank for hassle-free land allotment for industries. Land allotment is now done online as part of the new rules in force since 2015. Plenty of minerals and other natural resources make this state a preferred choice, on principles of optimality and value maximisation for given investment, over other areas/regions.
Q: How helpful are schemes like Make In India in promoting industrialisation?
A: Make in India has given us ample opportunities and a platform to promote manufacturing-led industrialisation to attract new investment in our state. I have been the chief minister of Chhattisgarh since 2004 and can confidently say that this is one of the best initiatives by the central government to promote industrialisation, which would not only generate new employment opportunities for our youth but also provide more resources for the state in the form of higher tax collections. The increased resources may be used for customised integrated development, as per each state’s unique requirements, till the last mile. We are seeing that India has emerged as the next big investment destination for the world. We have just experienced it during the Make in India week in Mumbai where business delegations from the US, China, Japan, Germany and other countries showed significant interest in Chhattisgarh. They all want to be part of India’s growth story and states need to leverage this unique opportunity to position themselves so as to attract the investment borne out of this heightened interest in India. To that extent, Make in India is very helpful not only for India as a whole but also for states that utilise this opportunity to channelise investment into their areas.
Q: Which are the areas in which Chhattisgarh wants to attract investment?
A: We have been able to attract large investments in core sector like coal, steel, cement and aluminium, which have made Chhattisgarh an established investment destination for the core sector. Now we are focusing on other sectors as well, like information technology, electronics manufacturing, capital & engineering goods, new and renewable energy equipment manufacturing, urban development infrastructure components, food and agriculture, food processing, data centres (server farms), textiles and apparel. We are also looking at attracting investment in the defence equipment manufacturing sector, due to the offset policy of the central government for big-ticket defence contracts.
Q: A new land acquisition policy is caught in the Parliament logjam. Is it hurting growth of your state?
A: Chhattisgarh has already set an example in peaceful acquisition of large tracts of land. In addition, we have already created Naya Raipur, the first 21st century greenfield capitol city, through hassle-free land aggregation methods, which include land acquisition and land pooling. As such, whatever form the new land acquisition policy finally takes, we in Chhattisgarh will fully integrate it into our existing processes and proceed accordingly. The important thing is for its quick finalisation and passage into an Act, so that uncertainty is removed and a clear roadmap for execution is present. In any case, we have a huge land bank with us that can be quickly leveraged to meet the existing needs of any interested industrial unit in the state.
Q: Chhattisgarh faces a Maoist problem. Is it not an impediment in attracting investment?
A: Not at all. Instead, we are getting big investments in Bastar. The National Mineral Development Corporation (NMDC) is building and nearing completion a big steel plant there. We are working on the Rowghat rail project on a PPP model, which connects Bastar with the rest of Chhattisgarh and India. We have already laid 18 km railway line and started operating train on that line. The Surguja region (northern Chhattisgarh) is fully peaceful and more than 90% of Bastar also has become peaceful. People in Bastar want education, health and employment. They want to be part of the mainstream development. The government is committed to meeting these needs of the people and dispelling the myths regarding extent of Maoist influence in that region. In fact, NMDC has been operating in Bastar area for the last 50 years and is one of the most profitable PSUs.
Q: You complained about step-motherly treatment by the previous UPA government. Has the new regime solved those issues?
A: The new regime has newer energy and a co-operative federalist approach that is more conducive to state partnership in overall growth efforts of the country. Previous central governments talked about federalism but this new central government under the leadership of the Prime Minister Narendra Modi have actually made it possible. Now states get more share in revenue, more freedom in crafting and enacting schemes according to local needs. Mineral-rich states like Chhattisgarh are getting more royalty on its own resources. This is a huge benefit. Now, we have more money to spend on the development of backward districts. So, we are seeing very positive steps in the current times.
Q: Prime Minister Narendra Modi is visiting the state on Sunday. What do you expect out of it?
A: Narendra Modi has been a long-standing friend of the people of Chhattisgarh and has understood the real needs of the state and its people, better than anyone else. He has already announced a plethora of schemes for Chhattisgarh. He is coming to lay the foundation stone for an electronic manufacturing cluster, which will open the door of opportunity for the youth of Chhattisgarh. He will also lay the foundation stone for construction of 40,000 houses under the ‘Housing for All’ scheme. I am thankful to him that he has decided to launch Shyama Prasad Mukherjee (Rural-urban) RURBAN mission from Chhattisgarh, which will be a path breaking scheme in the development of rural areas of the country.