‘Need a separate cadre, time zone for Arunachal’: CM Pema Khandu
Arunachal Pradesh chief minister Pema Khandu has demanded a separate all-India services cadre and different time zone for his state. Khandu, who joined the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in 2016 after quitting the Congress, spoke to Kumar Uttam about his demands, infrastructure development, and his government’s performance. Edited excerpts:
Why have you asked for a separate time zone?
You have to cross Bhutan while travelling to the north-east. Bhutan is half-an-hour ahead of us. We, in the north-east, are even ahead of Bhutan. A separate time zone will lead to better output and daylight saving. We have early sunrise and people sit idle before offices open at 10am. In winter, we have early sunset.
Why has your government sought a separate Arunachal Pradesh cadre for all-India services like the Indian Administrative Service (IAS)?
There is a history to it. We were part of the North East Frontier Agency until 1972. Then we got the name Arunachal Pradesh with a Union Territory [UT] status and we had Indian Frontier Administrative Services, which merged with the IAS in 1968. We got statehood in 1987, and it has been over 30 years [since then]. Arunachal is the north-east’s largest state. Within the north-east, we are the northernmost and the easternmost state. UT cadre officers are dynamic. But a separate cadre for Arunachal will ensure continuity. Officers get two-year postings - what can you do in two years? One year alone will go into understanding Arunachal. In a democracy, lawmakers get a five-year stint. Sardar [Vallabhbhai] Patel called the IAS the steel frame of the government machinery. But here we have no steel frame. There is no institutional memory. The speed of the government functioning also suffers because of that. The Centre is preparing a concept note on this and seems serious.
Have you faced any problems because of the hardline positions on religious and cultural issues that the BJP is criticised for?
There is no problem as such. The BJP is the country’s best party. The kind of training it imparts to its cadres and elected representatives is unheard of. Other national parties do not have such inbuilt systems. Their only objective is to form governments. The BJP respects cultural and religious diversity. The tribal population here eats beef, pork… There has never been any instruction from Delhi [regarding] such practices. Our only concern is how to bring more infrastructure projects.
What are your plans for infrastructure development?
My father [former chief minister Dorjee Khandu] started a trans-Arunachal project, which is almost 1,700 km long highway for inter-district connectivity. Almost 80% of the work is complete. We are also taking up two major road projects. A frontier highway will cover border districts and an east-west industrial corridor the foothills. A survey for rail connectivity to Tawang will be complete by December 2020. There are 35 tunnels on this route – minimum length being 3 km and maximum length 28 km. We have got a survey done for an airport at Tawang too.
Northeastern states have often complained about the centre’s approach to development works in the region. What has been your experience?
There is suddenly a lot of priority being given to the northeast. Earlier, if a [central] minister used to visit Guwahati, newspapers would make news out of it… Earlier, chief ministers used to visit Delhi twice or thrice every month to push for projects. Today, things move without chasing. I hardly go to Delhi anymore. In this government, there is a roster for every minister to visit all states of the northeast. The difficulties and hidden beauties of Arunachal are being noticed now.
Has the current government’s work culture changed compared to the previous one?
Let me give you an example. When I was in the Congress and asked for an appointment with Rahul Gandhi, I was asked to wait for three days. I called up the Prime Minister’s office recently and there was a call back in 15 minutes.