“I am here to stay for five years unless I commit a mistake,” said a confident chief minister Devendra Fadnavis, as he interacted with HT on a variety of subjects as he completes two years in office. He said he was looking forward to an alliance with the Shiv Sena for the upcoming BMC elections and both the parties are natural partners. He also said the political leadership at the BMC will have to take the moral responsibility for the road scam. Excerpts from the interview:
In two years, what has been the greatest failure of your government?
I won’t call it a failure, but I think the challenge in the agricultural sector is huge because we have failed there for the past 15 years. For the past 7-8 years, there has been a negative growth in the sector. Even today 45-50% of the population is dependent on agriculture, and it is very difficult to shift them immediately to the service or manufacturing sectors.
Do you think a lot of your development work last year was eclipsed by allegations of corruption?
In two years, there has not been any major scam in the government. There have been some allegations, most of which are politically motivated. We gave the replies, we gave the evidence. In Eknath Khadse’s case, the allegation was about conflict of interest in one of the plots he purchased. I think, as of now, I should not comment on it because a probe panel is looking into it.
The condition of the roads in Mumbai, especially this monsoon, was very bad. What is being done about it?
Unfortunately, the quality of roads has been very bad under the BMC. The investigation has thrown up some horrifying results, where the second layer or the quality concrete layer is missing by up to 80-100% in some cases. Unfortunately, the pre-qualification for road tenders were made in such a way that companies such as Larsen & Toubro could not qualify, while local contractors could. Now, corrective action has started. Last year, there was a scam in desilting contracts. A committee was appointed and corrective measures were taken. This year desilting went well because of that and water-logging was much less than usual. Mumbai has no right to stay backward because it is a cash-rich city. I head the MMRDA. My budget is Rs4,000 crore, and I am executing works nearly worth Rs70,000 crore, while the BMC has a budget of nearly Rs35,000 crore.
Be it desilting or the road scam, we have witnessed the contractor mafia operating with the political leadership hand-in-glove with them. Something needs to be done about it…
We have taken it very seriously. For the first time an FIR has been filed and the people [involved] have been jailed. The people concerned will now have to either fall in line or fall in jail.
There has been clear cartel of contractors handling the civic body’s road works for years. How are you going to ensure reputable infrastructure companies take up road work?
The pre-qualification for road contracts was designed in such a way that companies such as L&T were barred. There should be a level playing field and the technical specification should be such that it should not eliminate and attempt to qualify certain contractors. We will ensure everybody gets a level playing field from next year. I was told in the BMC there was a lobby of contractors from a village in Rajasthan.
Contractors, officers have been booked in the road scam unearthed a few months ago, but none of the political leaders have been held responsible. Why?
The responsibility has been fixed. Moral responsibility will lie with the political leaders too. Investigation is still on. If we find any connection between guilty contractors and political leaders, we will fix the responsibility.
The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) election is coming up. Will you contest it alone or with the Shiv Sena?
Both the parties think we should go together. Uddhav Thackeray has said we should take a clear decision. It means his party is in favour of alliance. We are practical. We have issues. There is no doubt about it. Even in the BMC, we have certain issues. In the state, the mandate was not clearly in our favour. If we had got 144 seats, then it would have been a clear mandate. The mandate is against the Congress and NCP. So, practically people want us to work together. We have certain common ideological issues, but on many issues we are not together. I think their style of working and our style of working are totally different. On issues of nationalism, their views and our views are a little different. Although we feel a lot for Maharashtra, we always think the sectoral identity is important, but it cannot override the national identity. That’s why we are two parties, if everything would have been the same then we would have been one party.
Is the Shiv Sena more like a compulsion than a choice?
No. When the choice is between three parties, the choice of course would be the Shiv Sena. If we have to choose any other party that will be a compulsion.
If at all the alliance does not work out, do you see it spilling over as a threat to the alliance at the state level?
I don’t think so. In our 25-year history, there have been many instances where we have not been partners in the local body elections. Even in the last election, in a few cities—Pune, Nashil, Nagpur—we were not together. In Mumbai, we were together.
Is there a possibility the BJP will contest solo in elections and then have a post-poll tie up?
Right now, I can’t say that. If everything goes well we want the alliance.
In the past two years, the Shiv Sena has largely played the role of an opposition, at times even joining the opposition to stall proceedings in the legislature. Doesn’t this hamper the government’s functioning?
I think that is okay for us. We have no problems until we have differences in the cabinet. Although we have problems on certain issues in the cabinet, we have taken all decisions unanimously. In the Assembly, you have to define your role. It is up to the party. If today you are a ruling party, and you still want to play the role of an opposition, I think that will not give a good signal to the public. It will be a loss to the party. It is for them to decide. We are comfortable. We have no problems.
There’s been a lot of criticism about how you dealt with MNS’ threat to Karan Johar’s movie. What is your response to it?
Initially when the MNS staged a demonstration, we arrested their people, we put them in jail. Karan Johar met me. I assured him we will ensure the movie would be released. A few people from the (Film Producers’) guild were having some back-channel conversations with Raj Thackeray. They gave me the impression that they didn’t want to go to Mr Thackeray, so if I call them at my residence, the issue would be resolved. I told them nothing would happen. They (MNS) would have some demonstrations and we would arrest their workers. However, for the producers, the first week is very important. So if 2-3 days during Diwali were lost, it would have been a huge loss for the film. We thought as they had come to an agreement, let us get it over with. I did not want to keep 2000 policemen outside the movie on the day of Diwali, when our security concerns would be something else. So, I called both parties.
About the Rs5 crore controversy…
There were back-channel talks (between producers and the MNS) so they already knew this is one of the demands. Producer Mukesh Bhatt said they had also decided to contribute to the soldier’s welfare fund. At that time, Raj Thackeray said, they have to pay Rs5 crore. I immediately said there was no compulsion to pay, but if they wanted to they were welcome to do it. We shook hands and everyone left. Both Bhatt and Thackeray told the same thing to the media. I also explained it when I spoke to ANI the same night. I don’t know what the hype was all about. At times I think, and I am sorry to say, but the national media does not understand Marathi. If they first understand what everyone has said and then speak, the issue would not have escalated.
Do you think Pakistani artistes should be allowed?
Personally, I will say an artiste is an artiste. But the public sentiment is different. As a government, we can never ban Pakistani artistes. We have a responsibility. We have the responsibility to screen every film that has received a censor board certificate. That is the difference between Pakistan and India. We have a democracy. They don’t. We didn’t tell the guild anything. Whatever the guild did was out of public sentiment. If tomorrow the Centre grants visa to a Pakistani artiste, he will come here legally. You cannot stop him. I am a custodian of the Constitution irrespective of my feelings. Whatever the Constitution wants me to do, I will do.
How would you describe patriotism?
I don’t describe patriotism. Why should I define it? I think working in national interest, doing things transparently is patriotism. Doing your job efficiently as a chief minister is nationalism.
What is your take on the housing scenario? You didn’t have any bidders for Dharavi. Cluster redevelopment is not speedy enough. People can’t buy houses in Mumbai.
There’s no problem for cluster redevelopment in Mumbai. In fact, in the BMC we have cut down the number of days required for approvals. Same is the case with slum rehabilitation. In Dharavi, we tried our best, but could not get bidders. We are coming out with a new scheme there. With regards to the redevelopment of BDD chawls, we are ready to float tenders in the next two months. There has been a delay in introducing a cluster redevelopment scheme in Thane, but not on our part. The Bombay high court has ordered no cluster redevelopment scheme can be approved in the entire Mumbai Metropolitan Region without its consent. We have completed the impact assessment and have submitted the entire proposal to the HC. It is pending with them for the past two months, and we have requested them to fast-track it.
The demands by the Maratha community for review of the Atrocity act and reservation are not feasible and the organisers too are aware of it. Don’t you see the protests or part of them as being against you or your party?
Unrest or the demands are not related to our regime. They are there for 20 years. A major but isolated incident of Kopardi rape case triggered the demand. It would be wrong to say the unrest is against our government, but there are expectations from us. Unrest is against those 25% powerful people of the Maratha community, who have ruled and exploited others for all these years. They are in-charge of cooperatives, they control the education institutions. Other sections of the community comprise 75% of the population, which is left out and agony among them is against the 25% who have been enjoying power for years.
The 25% tried to portray the unrest is against the government. But they did not get the chance either to lead the protest or divert it in our direction. They are trying to target me and my government.
My government has already started working to address the demands made by the community. We passed the reservation bill and are contesting it in court. The scholarship for the economically weaker section was recently announced, as we think the reservation is not sufficient or will not reduce the problems of the community, as private college seats are more than government colleges.
As far as the Atrocity Act is concerned, we have clarified it cannot be repealed. The charge sheet in Kopardi case was filed within three months and the verdict is expected in two months or even before that.
We have been talking about improvement in public transport for years to ensure decongestion of roads, but nothing seems to have happened. What are your plans on this?
For the past 8 to 10 years, the supply for public transport has been not been looked into. Creation of public transport has been at very slow pace...The suburban railway is the lifeline of Mumbai, it carries 7 million passengers. The Metro network, which we are creating, will carry 8 million passengers.
Eight years ago, a 172-km Metro network was conceived. In eight years, the previous government could construct only 10km. In less than two years, we have already awarded contracts for 100km, so Mumbai and the entire MMR will be integrated through the network. The way it has been designed is circular, so all sides will be served and the station will be nearer to one’s home. We are creating two elevated corridors for suburban railway and this will enhance the carrying capacity by 5 million. Finally, we plan to integrate the transport systems with a single ticket. Another example is a project like the trans-harbour link, critical for Mumbai has been pending for a decade. In two years, we have got all clearances and work on it will by November or December this year.
You are a favourite of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah. How do you manage this?
Modiji does not go by your face when it comes to work. I will continue to be his favourite till the day I implement the development agenda and continue to work efficiently and transparently. The day I lose transparency and efficiency I will not be in the office.
Despite that, people talk whether you will complete your five-year term….
I am here to stay for five years, unless I commit a mistake or do something wrong.