Sitting in the plush office of the local government department of Punjab in Chandigarh, former Indian batsman Navjot Singh Sidhu, a cabinet minister in the new Congress government of Punjab, does not seem on unfamiliar ground. On the second day of taking over as a minister, he has already held marathon meetings with his department officials and warned them against corruption. In an interview to HT, he says half of Punjab now lives in urban areas and his department can be the next match-winner.
What has been your first job after taking over as local government minister?
After the first cabinet meeting on Saturday, I took marathon meetings of local government and tourism departments on Sunday and asked the officers to tell me both the problems and the solutions. This is a mandate of hope. And when people hope, they also expect. Like in a Test match, have we to bat well in the first innings, that is, in the first six months. Our work has to speak for itself.
There was talk of you becoming deputy CM. Isn’t the local bodies department nearly defunct in Punjab?
Which department was not defunct under the previous Badal government? The migration of rural population to Punjab’s urban areas was 1.66% between 1951 and 1961. It was 8.25% between 1991 and 2001, and 10.39% between 2001 and 2011. Half of Punjab lives in cities now and it is the urban voter that has brought the Congress to power. My department will cater to that voter. It can be the next match-winner.
But the municipal bodies are cash-starved. Where will you get the funds from?
The water bills in Punjab are still levied at a flat rate. People won’t mind paying more if we provide them clean water, a clean city and other facilities. There also has to be discriminatory taxation as per one’s consumption. If you tax them for living in cities with no proper sewerage, waste management, clean water, good roads, parks and parking, why should they pay the government?
In the first cabinet meet, you had objections to disbanding improvement trusts. What was your objection?
What happens in the cabinet is sacrosanct. But some improvement trusts are kamau putt (earning sons). All I want is to go through facts and figures. Whatever is in the interest of Punjab will finally be done.
Your participation in the Kapil Sharma Show is raising questions of office of profit.
Going by this yardstick, Chandigarh MP Kiron Kher should have been suspended by now. I have no liquor, sand mining or transport business like Sukhbir Singh Badal (former Punjab deputy CM). I make money through TV shows. I will be in Chandigarh from Mondays to Thursdays and in Amritsar from Friday to Sunday. What I do at nights should not be anyone’s concern. I will take the first flight back to Punjab after TV shoots in Mumbai.
Any comments to offer on BJP appointing Yogi Adityanath as the new CM of Uttar Pradesh?