Bureaucrats’ egos slowing down pace of growth in Maharashtra, says CM Devendra Fadnavis
He speaks to HT on government’s past achievements and expectations from the next two years ahead of their three-year anniversary.mumbai Updated: Oct 27, 2017 11:17 IST
“There is an attitude among bureaucrats in Maharashtra that we are the best in the country, no one can teach us anything. If senior bureaucrats perform to the best of their capability, our state’s pace of development would be far better. They often don’t only because of petty issues like ego,” said chief minister Devendra Fadnavis, while expressing his one regret in the last three years of governing the state. He, however, said he had learnt how to drive the bureaucracy to perform.
Ahead of the regime’s three-year anniversary on October 31, Fadnavis spoke to Hindustan Times on a wide range of issues including his focus on executing projects worth more than Rs1.5 lakh crore in Mumbai alone in the coming two years, relations with ally Shiv Sena and balancing his development agenda with state’s poor finances.
He said he was confident that by 2022 the projects his government has undertaken for Mumbai would be complete and the city would be able to “defeat urbanisation” instead of getting beaten by it.
Excerpts from the interaction:
How do you look at the last three years in terms of work done and challenges ahead?
I think a lot of work has been done. We have undertaken several new schemes and policies. So, I am satisfied with what has been done so far but I am dissatisfied with what remains to be done. That is huge. It is unsettling that we still have such a long way to go to meet our goals. It’s not easy to drive change in 3 or 5 years but we are headed in the right direction. My focus in the next two years is execution, to complete the works taken up so far.
You have to execute several big infrastructure projects in the next two years at the same time in a populist decision you have announced loan waiver and there is also the future burden of seventh pay commission. How will the already weakened state finances shoulder such huge expenditure?
I am following a simple economic theory. If you invest in infrastructure, the GDP grows and the moment that happens your fiscal space increases. Your loan taking capacity is directly linked to your GDP. So, we are taking loans to fund our infrastructure that has, in turn, hiked our GDP. Today, we are the number one state when it comes to investment in big infrastructure projects, according to a report by Niti Aayog. We are not taking loans for unproductive things like debt servicing. That would be a debt trap.
If we continue to borrow at this rate, how can we balance financial discipline given that our debt is already Rs4 lakh crore?
We are the only state that is well within Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management Act. We have not crossed it even though our borrowing has increased because our GDP has grown. Our debt-to-GDP ratio is within the limits set by the Centre and below the national average.
Why does the finance department then continue to oppose and raise queries over spending? And, what is the cut on development budget?
That’s the finance department’s job. They have to be conservative. I have told them (finance officials) that don’t worry as long as you take loan for infrastructure. And, so far, frankly, we haven’t levied any 20% cut on development budget but we have told departments that you first carry out expenditure of 80% and then we will release 20 per cent funds. Their tendency is to park funds, sanctioned but not used, in their personal ledger accounts.
You had expressed unhappiness with state bureaucracy last year, pointing out that they were not willing to work in sync with your policies. Have you been able to tackle this issue?
My opinion is that overall the bureaucracy in Maharashtra is much better than in other states. But, I feel sad that often senior bureaucrats don’t perform to their optimum capacity and capability because of petty reasons and one such reason is ego hassle. If senior bureaucrats use their optimum capacity for the benefit of the state, the pace of our development would be much better. They are not partisan or biased but there is a tendency or attitude among Maharashtra bureaucrats that we are the best in the country, no one can teach us anything. Having said that, as compared to the last government, they are co-operating better with us. One has to drive the bureaucracy and now we have learnt to do that. You have to put the right person at the right place and that takes some time. I think now even the bureaucrats know that we understand governance and they are in greater sync with us.
Which projects do you see being completed by 2019 as you head for polls?
I want to complete at least two elevated Metro projects. By December end, one runway and one terminal building of the new airport will be completed. The work on Mumbai trans-harbour link will take off and work on Metro 3 project will also be half done. I think our investment in Mumbai alone is more than Rs1.5 lakh crore. I can say that by 2022, once all these projects we have undertaken are completed, Mumbai will beat urbanisation. Today, we stand defeated by urbanisation, but by 2022 we will overcome it.
Do you think you could have done better if you had majority and didn’t have to run the government with your ally?
We have to accept the political reality that we do not have majority so we have to work with our ally. In politics, there is no place for ifs and buts, the mandate of the people is to work with our ally. My sole advice to Sena is that the attempt to act as the opposition as well as the party in power, this dual position, breaches trust of the people. We should have consensus on major issues. Some of their leaders cannot accept any good decision taken by the government… they want to oppose everything or find some lacunae in it. That doesn’t work. People don’t like it. But, at the end of the day, they have to decide how to run their party. It is their decision.
Will you contest polls with the Sena in 2019?
Sena will have to decide whether they want to come with us in the 2019 polls. We have no issues, they have to decide.
You have earlier said you have a direct communication channel with Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray. Has that been impacted in the last two years especially because of intense rivalry during local elections?
My relations with Uddhav Thackeray continue to be good. At the party level, there is some tension but at individual level, there isn’t any issue. Even in the cabinet we have had a smooth sailing. So far, only for one proposal we had to clear by majority vote (Sena had opposed the move) and that was for direct election of village sarpanch.
Your predecessor Prithviraj Chavan was accused of being too slow in clearing files, it is said you don’t keep any file pending. Isn’t there a risk of making a mistake?
I clear files with conviction. So I don’t keep any files or decisions pending. There may be mistakes but those will be bona fide mistakes and not mala fide ones. To not clear files or take decisions because there will be mistakes is criminal.
There seems to be a coming together of different groups and elements against the Modi government reminiscent of 1977 anti-emergency movement with an aim to defeat your government in 2019 polls.
In the last three months, there have been attempts to vitiate atmosphere through social media. Several fake accounts of Rahul Gandhi have now come out. Other parties have created teams to just do negative campaigning. It will work for some time but it won’t last. The point is despite negative campaigning and agenda, we have been winning elections. People used to call us urban party but we have swept rural polls too. They may give us gaalis but will still give us votes because they know our predecessors did nothing. If people come together only for the sake of opposition it cannot last as a movement. Even from our point of view, for instance in 1977, people with very disparate ideologies came together against Indira Gandhi’s emergency. But, it could not last. There has to be some rallying point. They (Opposition) may be on the hunt for JP (Jai Prakash Narayan, stalwart and leader who lead the anti-emergency movement) but people want the BJP.
Isn’t economy that rallying point since various sections of people are upset with demonetisation and the way GST has been rolled out?
I think barring a section of people impacted by demonetisation, society, as a whole, has welcomed the decision. As far as GST goes, it will take time for the new tax structure to settle down. At the end of the day, GST will end the informal economy as we know it and even formal economy dependent on the informal economy is impacted by the decision. But, it will bring everyone in the tax net. For instance, we had 70,000 registered VAT traders that under GST have increased to 2.5 lakh businesses or units. People are feeling pinched because you cannot evade tax, there is no possibility of kaccha bills but by 2019 this sentiment will settle down. Many irregularities like charging over MRP or charging of GST by unregistered units will also get weeded out.
What has been the glitch with the disbursal of farm loan waiver?
The problem was mainly because banks had not seeded their data with Aadhar. So, nearly 1 lakh accounts had dummy Aadhar numbers. There were other issues like family of four people had same numbers, etc. Our system rejected this data and so to avoid errors we withdrew the initial list. However, loan disbursal will continue from today as we plan to release a new list. The reason for withdrawal of list is not because we don’t have money but to avoid errors. We have already parked Rs4,000 crore for initial disbursal.
You came to power on plank of anti-corruption and now many of your colleagues are facing similar allegations
The difference is that we are sensitive so when there are allegations, we institute inquiries. We set up inquiries even when we know there is no base in the allegations. Earlier, when we used to make allegations we also provided hard evidence.