Will bring in ₹1lakh-crore investment in a year: Maharashtra CM
On the eve of the first anniversary of the Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government of the Shiv Sena, Congress and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), chief minister Uddhav Thackeray, in an interview to Hindustan Times on Friday, looked back at his year in office, speaking on varied topics, including his target to attract businesses, the Centre-state relationship and the future of the allies. He also targeted his former ally, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), over the vindictive politics over the past few months.
The Opposition has been predicting that your government will collapse any time, but you completed a year. How do you see your tenure as the CM?
Let them keep predicting, they are busy and happy doing it. I do not want to spoil that. The time during which we are running the government is different (referring to the Covid-19 pandemic). The world has faced such a situation after a century. Whoever was running the government so far hadn’t faced such a difficulty. You can understand the challenges. You have to see how we are trying to handle the situation. I am coming in front of people and telling them what to do. I am satisfied that the people of Maharashtra consider me a part of their family. We have some goals, which will be completed in the next few years.
Do you think the state has got as much co-operation as you would like from the Centre in dealing with the pandemic and otherwise?
Even though the party or ideology of people running the government is important, it is the duty of the government either at the Centre or in the state to work impartially without any discrimination. From September, the Centre stopped the supply of things such as PPE kits and N95 masks. It led to an increase in the state’s financial burden by ₹250-300 crore. Also, the GST and tax devolution dues of ₹38,000 crore are still pending with the Centre. Besides, we did not receive expected cooperation in handling natural calamities such as cyclone Nisarg, floods in Vidarbha and incessant rainfall in western Maharashtra and Marathwada. In some cases, the Central teams have not come to assess the damages despite our requests. If the teams have not come, when will we get the assistance?
Recently you asked for a national policy for Covid-19 vaccine distribution. Is there a fear of inequitable distribution given the Centre-State equation?
We need a plan as there are five companies making vaccines. What is the ideal temperature for storage? How many doses are required? So far, there is no clarity. A few days ago, PM Narendra Modi convened a video-conference, but still there is no clarity over distribution and other details.
Do you think the GST system has become a tool for the Centre to corner states? What needs to be done to retain the state’s autonomy?
When GST was introduced, we had raised some issues through BMC to maintain its autonomy. Mumbai has a special status in terms of the scale of tax it pays, so the city should get additional help for further development, it is the job of the Centre. If there are any lacunae in the GST, they should be fixed to make it a foolproof system. If it is not possible, then the old tax regime should be brought back till a new system is adopted. If by Centralising something, all (states) don’t get justice, what is the point of doing it?
Within months of taking over, the state was faced with the Covid crisis. How does the government plan to revive the financial condition of the state in the coming year?
During the budget session, the coronavirus started spreading in the state, so we had to curtail it. Since then, we are battling the financial crisis. While everything was shut, the Maharashtra government signed memoranda of understanding worth ₹50,000 crore. Of the MoUs signed in June, preliminary work on 60-70%, in terms if allotting land etc, of them has been done. The remaining work will also be done in the coming days. We have decided to bring in investment worth ₹1 lakh crore in one year. It is important to note that though the wheels [of economic activities] had slowed down, they had not stopped. We will see the fruits of our efforts in the coming days.
What were your government’s major achievements in this one year?
We started with a decision on development of Raigad district and allocated funds. Another big decision was farm loan waiver up to ₹2 lakh crore. We introduced Shiv Bhojan [subsidised meal] at ₹10 [per plate]. It is now being given for ₹5. This is a big [decision]. We have fulfilled nearly all promises we made. Farm loan waiver was a big decision. We don’t make announcements of doubling and tripling farmers’ income or say ‘acche din aayenge’. I take them [farmers] into confidence and make them aware of the situation on the ground and go forward. We have a new idea ‘vikel te pikel’ (sow that sells) to make markets available for farmers.
Your family has so far run governments with remote control. How was your experience running a coalition government with two parties?
Running a government through remote control is a separate thing. Here, we have three parties and the government runs by a coalition.
You moved the Metro car depot from Aarey Colony to Kanjurmarg, will this not lead to cost escalation? Secondly, a private developer has claimed rights on the land and there are other issues over the land. How will you overcome these obstacles?
These are old issues. Some people claim to study, but their study never ends. We understand the situation immediately and take a decision. People will not regret this decision. They [Opposition BJP] will oppose it, but not the people. I will give a detailed presentation [soon] on what we have done. Moving the car shed to Kanjurmarg could have been done earlier. But committees were appointed unnecessarily and reports were made. What do we want to achieve? The environment is equally important. Show me one city which has a forest right at its centre. It is not just a forest with trees, it has wildlife, complete eco-system, right from microorganisms to leopards. We don’t want to carry out development by destroying life there. Today, we have developed to such an extent that we are not able to show our faces to anybody. We have had to wear masks, this is our development. We are taking the depot to Kanjurmarg and it will be beneficial to more people. No part [of the project] or money will go waste.
The Opposition says that PM Modi is upset with you because you became a member of legislative Council after his intervention, but never acknowledged it in public…
Such discussions are pointless. I do not want to waste time on such topics.
The Governor has still not cleared the MVA’s nomination of 12 candidates to the Upper house of state legislature. Is there another tussle between the government and Raj Bhavan?
We had requested him to do it at the earliest. We had written to him to take a decision in 15 days. Like reopening of temples (as governor had written to Thackeray), we expect him to take quick decisions on matters related to democracy as well.
Will the MVA contest the BMC and other municipal corporation polls in an alliance?
Definitely, we will contest together. The Vidhan Parishad (legislative Council) polls next months are being contested as a coalition.
While attacking the Centre over GST and other issues, you took on the BJP government on the political front. It is being said that Uddhav Thackeray is standing up to the Central government led by PM Modi.
No, that was never my intention. I work passionately and speak on issues passionately. I never make personal attacks or speak with malicious intent, like they attacked my family with a vengeance… When we were with them, we were good to them, we used to campaign for them without which their ballot boxes would not fill. Now see the manner in which they are attacking our family and the perverted tendency of their politics. I have not stooped to their level and attacked them. Whatever I say is for the good of my people and will continue to do so.
Last year during elections, Devendra Fadnavis called you his elder brother and you had called Modi your elder brother…
That time, you (Fadnavis) did not see brother’s janam kundali? Now you realised it? We have your kundalis as well.
What happened to the plan to give relief to the people over the inflated electricity bills. Has the state backtracked?
Firstly, using the word inflated bill is incorrect because during lockdown [physical] meter readings were not done. The average bill of three months was sent to consumers. Everybody, including me, thought that the average amount was high. I want to say here that there was no increase in tariff. All complaints are being looked at. I am told that once the meters are checked, people understand that this is an average bill as per their [past] usage. Even then, if people have complaints, they are being attended to. Do not mislead people with the use of the word inflated. The pending recoveries are worth ₹60,000 crore. We are not getting much help from the Centre, our dues are not being cleared and we are facing a financial crisis. Even though the crude oil prices have come down, the Centre has not slashed thm. We are not doing anything of that sort. There should not be any misunderstanding.
The PM has recently spoken about the ‘one nation, one election’ as part of Centralising things.
As of now, that plan is on the backburner. It has not come up yet. There are several other issues that need attention as of now.