At 6 feet and 3 inches, BJP state unit president Ram Bilas Sharma (66) towers above his cabinet colleagues in Haryana — in not only height but also administrative and political experience.
In a cabinet packed with first-time legislators and ministers, the one-time Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) pracharak is a five-time MLA and three-time minister. Articulate and assertive, Sharma, second in command in the first BJP government in the state, has his work cut out for him, handling tricky areas such as education, transport, tourism and food and civil supplies.
These departments cater to the entire populace of the state and account for more than half the workforce, a demanding lot, of the state administration. Confident of making a difference, the minister spoke to assistant editor Navneet Sharma about his priorities, challenges, concerns and a whole set of issues.
Excerpts from the interview:
HT: As the senior-most minister, what are your priorities?
Sharma: Our government will be transparent, honest, responsible and pro-poor. As the BJP has formed the majority government with me as state president, my responsibility will be greater. You can sense the love and faith of the people from the crowd that has gathered in my office. This is the scene here daily. The people have great expectations from us. Therefore, we have greater responsibility. Also, my priority will be my assembly constituency.
What immediate challenges do you foresee?
The biggest challenge is the fiscal position of the state. The Congress government has left us a debt of `84,000 crore. We can’t run away from the situation. But what is comforting for us is that there is a BJP government at the Centre. I can say from my past experience in the government that the central government will help us tide over this problem.
There were allegations of corruption against the previous (Bhupinder Singh) Hooda regime. What do you plan to do about the allegations?
There were complaints of wrongdoings and corruption against the Congress government indeed. We will look into these irregularities and take action as required under the law.
Will the BJP government be any different?
We are absolutely clear that our government will be transparent in its functioning. We will streamline procedures, systematise decision-making and ensure accountability.
There were also allegations against the Congress regime of regional discrimination and irregularities in recruitment? Since your departments account for more than half the government workforce, what do you plan to do?
The recruitment they made in education is replete with instances of wrongdoings. We are verifying biometric imprints, documents etc. There are hundreds of cases where those recruited had given biometric imprints of their toes instead of their thumbs during the selections process. These are all cases of fraud. All these are being verified. We will expose these irregularities in recruitment. The scale is such that we have decided to review their decisions and recruitments. As for regional bias in hiring, there will be none in our government. The recruitment will be based on merit.
What about the quality of education in Haryana?
The sorry state of education is a big challenge for us. Hooda did the biggest damage to the education system in the state during his 10-year rule. He commercialised education. Today, even the government schoolteachers do not want to send their children to state-run schools. Though they are better trained and more qualified than counterparts in private sector, the government gave importance to private schools and paid inadequate attention to own. This is what is responsible for the present state of the state-run schools. We will also carry out rationalisation of teachers and impart training to them to improve the quality of education.
Haryana was known for highway tourism at one stage, but has slipped in recent years. What plans do you have for the tourism sector?
There is an immediate need to focus on tourism development. We can look at newer destinations. For instance, there is a fort on top of a hill at Madhogarh village in my constituency. I had gone there recently with the officials of my department. We can develop it as a tourist destination. There are other similar forts. Then, Kurukshetra is the cultural capital of India and needs to be promoted.