The year 2015 was a tale of mixed fortunes for chief minister (CM) Manohar Lal Khattar. A first-time CM, he introduced several new initiatives aimed at bringing transparency and curbing corruption in the government. But the government made more headlines because of controversies created by statements - his own and that of his ministers - on beef ban, yoga, moral education, etc. In a wide-ranging interview with senior assistant editor Navneet Sharma, Khattar talked about his challenges, governance mantra and priorities.
Q. How would you like to remember 2015: as a year of learning or one full of challenges?
A. I did not have any previous experience of governance. When you see the government from outside, you tend to criticise more and underestimate the difficulties of those in the government. When you get to be a part of the government, you realise the challenges. When we took over, we found that the government systems are more or less destroyed. Our aim is to find permanent solutions and not pick-andchoose to run the government for temporary gains. Not an easy thing to do, but we are trying. We are open to good ideas from anyone. It is not my thinking that only the CM or MLAs associated with the ruling party have a monopoly over good ideas.
Q. Your government started e-services, biometric attendance, women police stations and direct benefit transfer, but are they making a difference?
A. The initial results of some are coming. One positive feedback is that officials can be found in their offices from 9am to 5pm. This wasn’t the case earlier. How much work they do is another thing. Our first aim is to ensure their availability during office hours. We have been able to ensure this up to the district level. Almost 80,000 employees have registered for the biometric attendance system and 35,000 of them are monitored daily. We are also setting up systems to check misuse of discretionary powers.
Q. How do you plan to deal with the bureaucracy because it resists change and does not get involved to the desired extent?
A. Yes, it is not giving response to the desired extent, but things are changing. The officers get involved and take action as per their zeal. We have some outstanding officers who come up with brilliant ideas. There are also those about whom you are not sure whether they would work or not, wherever you may post them. We cannot remove them. It is not a private company that you can give one month’s notice and show them the door. We have to take everyone along.
Q. Cow, yoga, slokas and moral education seem to have overshadowed the good governance mantra of your administration.
A. These issues are not about good governance. E-governance is good governance to ensure delivery of services. It remains our core mantra, but these issues relate to the culture and history of Haryana. They are about keeping the cultural maanbindus (symbols) alive, promoting them and creating devotion for them in society. We talk about quality-based education. This is what it is about — character building. We are not taking up these issues mindlessly or because of orthodoxy.
Q. There is a feeling that controversies created by the statements of ministers, MPs and other party leaders have undermined governance in the state. What do you have to say?
A. I think these are minor things. If someone says something or makes a remark to prick someone deliberately, it is all part of the game. At times, it happens due to communication gap or high expectations. The media just picks up these things and plays them up. When we talk to each other, all these things get sorted out.
Q. In feedback sessions by the state in-charge, party workers voiced displeasure over the working of ministers and bureaucrats. Do you see the need for course correction?
A. Taking feedback is a party practice. It all depends on how you take such feedback. If you talk to a large group, it is not a useful method. If only one person in a gathering of 100 makes an adverse remark, it becomes the talking point, even though the sentiment is not shared by others. You cannot satisfy everyone. People have their own agendas, be it a leader or a worker. We cannot accommodate everyone in the government.
Q. Rampant corruption is another big challenge and you often talk about it in your speeches. How do you plan to tackle it?
A. I will never claim that my government has put an end to corruption. I don’t think corruption can ever be wiped out completely. We will hit it at its root. I have a three-step strategy. I will keep making appeals, create proper systems to curb opportunities for corruption and take strict action if someone does not mend his ways. I have also asked for lists of officers of doubtful integrity. We will sideline such persons. If they still do not change, we will keep a watch on their activities and not spare them.
Q.What about ex-CM Bhupinder Singh Hooda’s allegations of political witch-hunting?
A. We have a positive agenda and have always said that if we come across some facts that require an inquiry, it would be done. In a speech in Panipat some days ago, I had stated in advance that we are now starting inquiries and some leaders would make allegations of political vindictiveness. This was very much expected. We are not against any Vadra or Hooda. If someone has committed some wrong, we will expose them. If someone gets away with wrongdoings today, others will also try to do the same. We don’t want that to happen.
Q. The government had brought out two white papers on state finances. Have things improved?
A. Things cannot be changed overnight, but we are taking steps to improve the fiscal position. First of all, efforts are being made to reduce the financial losses of power utilities by transferring their debt to the state government under a central scheme. The consequent 4% saving in interest on a loan of Rs 24,000 crore would mean a gain of Rs 1,000 crore annually. Similarly, a strategy on taking advantage of use of cheapest available power could lead to saving of another Rs 1,000-odd crore.
Also, our excise revenue is expected to see a jump of 30% due to computerisation and other changes. There is slowdown in sectors like real estate, but we are making continuous efforts to improve the state finances. You want to attract private investments in mega projects, but land acquisition is a big hurdle. How do you plan to manage that? The traditional system of acquisition has failed due to land pricing issues, but we are thinking of bringing a direct land purchase system at open market rates in the state. It will help us get small pieces of land, which can be then consolidated for contiguity. Consultations are underway. And, we might come out with a policy through an act shortly.
Q. What is your agenda for 2016?
A. My top priorities will be investment and job creation. An investment summit is coming up in March and I will also be travelling to China and Japan to attract investors to meet our investment target of Rs 4 lakh crore to give direct employment to one lakh people.
We have also identified 50,000 vacant posts in different government departments and already invited applications for 30,000 of them. Another focus area is the development of a ‘caring system’ for each of the 2.50 crore residents of Haryana, from birth to death. The idea is to take care of their well-being.