‘Not getting GST dues, even BJP-ruled states unhappy’: Hemant Soren
Jharkhand chief minister Hemant Soren said his state has issues with the GST but claimed that he was not alone and that even BJP-ruled states have problems with the GST compensation but they are quiet for obvious reasons.
Despite the talk about cooperative federalism, Soren, citing his experience as CM over the past year, said that the relationship between the Centre and the state is not healthy. The leader, whose government completes one year tomorrow, also lamented the poor state of opposition in the country and called for “collective responsibility” to take on the BJP.
The CM, in an interview to HT’s Vishal Kant, maintained that Jharkhand has done better on mortality and positivity rate ranking in coronavirus management as compared to other states.
Admitting that work on the development front has been slow, the CM pointed to restrictions on movement of labour amid coronavirus. Besides mines and mineral sector, the CM stressed that he was looking at other avenues to usher in development in the state.
Here are edited excerpts from the interview:
Q. You complete one year in office tomorrow. How do you assess your government’s performance during this period, which was also hit by a global pandemic?
It was a very challenging period. It was quite a learning experience as in how we should go about handling such a crisis. As a result, it is for all to see that we (state) are in a better position in containing the pandemic. Be it mortality rate due to Covid-19, or the positivity rate, we are placed higher among the states (in terms of Covid management) in the country.
Q. And performance on the development work front, despite all the challenges?
On the work front, I admit it was very slow paced. If performance is to be analysed on parameters of setting up industry, job creation, then there is nothing much to show. Industry needs labour but there were several restrictions in terms of movement. Therefore, we could not do much there. However, we ran several programmes to ensure people do not get depressed in such a scenario. For example, we performed the best in terms of generating maximum man days under MNREGA as compared to previous years. On an average, we used to generate around two to 2.5 crore man days every year. This financial year we have already generated over 7 crore mandays so far.
Q. But some of the new schemes you are talking about did not yield result. For example, the urban job guarantee scheme on the lines of MNREGA.
Yes, not many people turned up to avail that scheme. We are reviewing it, identifying the loopholes. These things are related to financial availability as well. We are relooking into the daily wage rates. Also, we need to factor in that even in urban areas most of the labour comes from nearby rural areas. We are relooking into the entire scheme.
Q. And how would you compare your current one year with your first stint as CM in 2013-14 when you held the chair for about 14 months?
The current term is very different. My first stint was a very short one. In the language of cricket, it hardly mattered then which part of the park the ball was to be hit? It was like playing T20. All we had to do was score maximum runs. This term is like a test match, where we need to dig in and strategise. We are moving ahead with a sustainable model. And in fact, this is what we have done this year. The pandemic year gave us an opportunity to plan to give the state a sustainable direction. Because even after 20 years (of Jharkhand’s creation), we are still dependent heavily on the Centre for finances. We now have a plan how to become self-dependent.
Q. Could you elaborate on this further, especially when you say you give a certain direction to the state?
A: What I assess, till now all plans for the state only had mining at its core. We are a mineral-rich state, but there are other sectors in the state which could generate jobs as well as revenue. Besides mines and minerals, now we are including other potential sectors in our development plan. For example, education, information technology sector, tourism and sports. We are coming up with the new tourism and sports policy. To add to that, the locals also have had bitter experience in terms of mining activities despite this economic activity going on in this part for around a century now.
Q. You came to power with a slew of electoral promises. Despite all challenges, people expect their delivery, be it job creation, unemployment allowance or increased quota for reserved categories.
I totally agree with that. People gave us a big mandate. We had an election manifesto as well. However, experience of being in a situation while contesting the election and being in this government is quite a contrast. It’s like black and white; we need finances to deliver on the promises. However, the fiscal health of the state has been an open secret. When we took over, it was difficult to even the salaries. Many times, our treasury pressed the red button that we don’t have funds. The state is heavily dependent on the Centre for finances.
Q. GST is a major source of revenue for the state. In the past one year, we have seen lots of words and letters exchanged between the state and the federal government over such issues.
A: It is not that only we have issues with the Centre on the GST issue. Even BJP-ruled states have issues. Just that they are not speaking due to obvious reasons. The union finance minister has said it on record that everything is in the hands of god.
Q. The DVC issue also came where the funds were deducted from the state’s consolidated fund?
If you analyse such issues, we are not getting our GST dues. Cutting dues from our consolidated fund was unconstitutional. Such issues should not be dealt with on the basis of a simple agreement done by the previous government. DVC here often threatens to load shed power supply. We had issues with the coal auction. The Centre did not heed to our suggestions. We ultimately knocked the doors of the court. Based on my experience over the past one year, I won’t hesitate in saying that the relationship between the Centre and the state is not healthy, which is not good in a federal set up.
Q. Today’s political space in the country is dominated by the BJP. There are few states where opposition leaders are still standing strong. You are one among them. How do you assess the future course of politics in the country, especially in states where non-BJP parties are ruling?
I am not very clear at this stage in commenting on the Central politics. But yes, we can surely admit that the opposition is weak at the Central government level. In such a scenario, state governments and the state leadership have a very critical role to play. I think the opposition needs to move forward with a collective responsibility. If we move collectively, I am confident that we can find a way going forward.
Q. Do you advise an anti-BJP front?
A: Yes, because every strategy, every decision of the BJP and its government is political in nature. Be it GST implementation, demonetisation, farm laws or land acquisition - all the decisions have been political. GST was implemented with the idea of One Nation One Tax. Every state cooperated and surrendered our backbone in terms of revenue generation. But how has GST been implemented? And see how that has adversely impacted the country’s economy.
Q. So, what is your take on the One Nation One Election issue being championed?
The blueprint is yet to come out. But the BJP thinks, preaches and practices differently. They have a hidden agenda in everything they do. We need to decipher what they have on offer because they don’t want to listen to alternate voice. They are fond of calling names. They don’t hesitate in branding protesting farmers as terrorists and Khalistsanis.
Q. BJP’s state unit has already gone belligerent against you. Its leaders have been repeatedly claiming that your government would fall soon. JMM also filed a case in Dumka against BJP leaders during the bypoll. Now, some personal allegations have also been made against you.
They are not trying this only here. From the very next day they lose the election, they start making efforts to come to power through the backdoor. We have already seen that in other states. As far as personal allegations are concerned, it’s an old saying that if you spit into the sky, it falls into your eye. We are already seeing how names of some of their several stalwarts are coming out for being involved in this conspiracy.
Q.You are seeing a conspiracy against your government?
Absolutely. If we don’t speak, it does not mean that we are in a sleeping mode. I am very much watchful. We believe in the concept of “sau sonar ki ek lohar ki (one powerful blow is comparable to a hundred smaller blows)”. They are hatching a conspiracy, but they won’t succeed. It’s not necessary that people would always fall into their trap. I have an eye on everything.
Q. But certain political developments here also raise eyebrows. All legislators of ally Congress came to see you recently and reportedly placed certain demands.
No other government in the state in the past has come up with such a big mandate, with so many MLAs in treasury benches. Even the previous government had got numbers due to defections. Since the number is high, few voices here and there are not unnatural. But there is nothing to worry. We are taking everyone along.
Q. There are several key appointments pending, like chairman in boards, corporations and information commissioners.
All appointments would be made soon. As far as information commissioners are concerned, there is an issue due to non-availability of the leader of opposition. So that’s a making of the BJP that they have not chosen the right person as LoP. Now we are taking legal advice and would make appointments. We will approach the court, if required.
Q. Effectively, there are three vacancies in your cabinet as well.
Technically, we can’t say there are vacancies now because one seat has been vacant since the beginning. One of our colleagues is unwell and undergoing treatment. We are expecting him to be healthy soon. One vacancy was created due to the demise of one of our ministers. The required changes will be made in due course.