Sunday, November 27th, 2022 21:24:24

“I tried to connect with the heart of the people”

Updated: May 26, 2022 7:50 am

“Himachal Pradesh is known for tourism. Despite the environment, good law and order and natural beauty here, reaching Himachal was not much convenient for most tourists. But our government paid attention to the fact that the tourist destination in our state should be easily accessible and convenient for tourists to reach. For this, we tried to ensure that the road condition in the state remains good and for easy and convenient arrival of tourists, we tried to make sure that these tourist destinations are well connected by four-lane roads. For this, work is going on in Manali on a war footing and sooner than later, connectivity to the place will be top class. Similarly, in Shimla also, many projects are being started for the better connectivity and within one year it will be connected with four-lane road network. Apart from this, four-lane roads have also been approved for Dharamsala and the work has also started,” said Chief Minister of Himachal Pradesh Jai Ram Thakur in an exclusive interview to Uday India Editor Deepak Kumar Rath. Excerpts:


Your tenure is nearing its end, and voters are waiting for your progress report for the last four and a quarter years. In this election, what are your achievements which you can say that they are different from previous governments? Have you fulfilled promises made by you?

Look, our government has completed four and a quarter years and naturally, we are now in the election year. In such a situation, if I say that what we have done is quite different from what the previous government did, then it would be quite true. I would like to say that our government took not one but many initiatives which the previous government did not take. Naturally, everyone has a different way of running one’s government. How can we solve the problems of the people quickly and what should we do for the development of the state along with solving the problems of the people, was the main concern for us. For this, we identified various areas and worked on them, giving focus on them first. If I talk about initiatives, then I will mainly mention that Himachal Pradesh is known for tourism. Despite the environment, good law and order and natural beauty here, reaching Himachal was not much convenient for most tourists. But our government paid attention to the fact that the tourist destination in our state should be easily accessible and convenient for tourists to reach. For this, we tried to ensure that the road condition in the state remains good and for easy and convenient arrival of tourists, we tried to make sure that these tourist destinations are well connected by four-lane roads. For this, work is going on in Manali on a war footing and sooner than later, connectivity to the place will be top class. Similarly, in Shimla also, many projects are being started for the better connectivity and within one year it will be connected with four-lane road network. Apart from this, four-lane roads have also been approved for Dharamsala and the work has also started. It is necessary to mention here that Himachal is a state where air connectivity is still low, so we have to focus more on road connectivity.

So, we have focused more on road connectivity and we are moving ahead. Secondly, projects like expansion and modernisation of Kangra airport and construction of a new airport in Mandi, for improving the air connectivity in near future, for our state are also started. Apart from this, the saturation level has come at our established tourist destinations like Shimla, Manali, Dharamsala, Dalhousie and Kasauli. Hence, given the increasing number of tourists, it will not be possible for us to increase the road infrastructure, and at the same time, increase the number of hotels as Himachal is geographically a hilly state. So, with that point of view, more tourist destinations have to be developed and that’s why we have started a scheme in Himachal Pradesh named “Nai Rahein Nahi Manzilen.” Through this scheme, we are working towards developing five-six new tourist destinations. Apart from this, we have started “Janmanch” scheme for immediate solutions to the problems of the people, from the comforts of their home and without having them to go to and fro to the government offices in the cities. Janmanch is one of its kind schemes in our country, in which our cabinet goes to the people on the first Sunday of every month. In every 12 districts of pur state, 12 ministers are their on the first Sunday to listen to the grievances of the people. Avenues are fixed and people are informed of the avenue. People gather there with their written and verbal pleas or complaints.

The district officials, with an active presence of a Cabinet minister, listen to the grievances and try to solve them then and there. Here it is pertinent to mention that if the grievances of the people are not settled on the spot, the next framework of our government comes into action. In this framework, district commissioners are asked to compile a report about the issue and a time-bound redressal system is activated to dispose off the issue. If the issue is resolved at Level 1, then it’s okay, otherwise it goes to Level 2 and Level 3,One interesting thing is that if the problem is not resolved on the spot, then we ask the deputy commissioner there to compile the information about the issue. Then we put a time bound framework to troubleshoot the problem. In that, if the disposal is not done at level 1, then it goes to level 2, then it goes to level 3. In this manner, Janmanch is being operated in a better way to solve the problems of the people.


You were mentioning about tourism connectivity. Please tell me that during your tenure, how many kilometres of NH and how many kilometres of state highways were built in Himachal Pradesh?

If you look at road connectivity, kilometre-wise in Himachal Pradesh, then the highest number of road connectivity has happened during our tenure. During our four-year tenure, we are far ahead in road connectivity than all the previous governments have put together in their full tenures. Apart from this, work is going on, on a war-footing scale on our major four-lane state highways. The biggest difficult task in Himachal is to widen the road. With that in mind, we aim to widen road connectivity and not increase kilometres. The length of roads is the same as that of national highways, but we have widened roads so that people do not have to face problems, jams, etc. I am happy that of the present total road length, Himachal Pradesh has 3900 km, and in that, a huge contribution, more than 51 per cent, belongs to PMGSY (Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana). Former Prime Minister late Atal Bihari Vajpayee  had started this scheme and after the launch of PMGSY scheme, the road network in rural areas has grown so much, that not only the road connectivity but also the road quality has improved a lot.

Have you taken the help of the private sector as well to develop the tourism sector?

To bring investment from the private sector, for the first time in the history of Himachal Pradesh, we had organised a “Global Investors Meet” in 2019. In this meet, MoUs worth Rs 9,600 crore were signed, and within a month of the global investment meet, we saw a ground-breaking growth of Rs 500 crore. Recently, Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to Himachal on the completion of four years of our government and launched new projects worth Rs 28,000 crore for the state. Among them, tourism sector has the advantage over others. We have made a lot of efforts to ensure that private sector investments come in the tourism sector and we have been successful in that to a great extent. Still, our focus is on attracting more private sector investment, and we are doing well in that direction. Tourism, agriculture and horticulture sectors are our major area of focus and we hope we will make these sectors grow with the help of private.


What progress has been made in Himachal in the field of hydro-power generation?

We have done a good work in the field of hydro power. We are happy that out of 45,000 MW of generation in the hydro power sector across the country, Himachal Pradesh contributes 1100 MW. Himachal Pradesh is a small state, yet it has a big contribution. Right now, government PSUs in the hydro-power sector, whether it is NTPC or NHPC, are working on huge projects, and in the coming two years, our power generation target in the hydro-power sector will cross 50,000 MW.


Who are the major investors, promoting the development of Himachal?

Talking about the major investors, the biggest investment came in the pharma sector. Country’s biggest hub of pharma is in Baddi, Himachal Pradesh. In this too, there has been a huge contribution of Atal ji. When Atal ji was the Prime Minister, he had given a package to Himachal Pradesh, and due to that package, many pharma industries came to Baddi in Himachal, and even today, they are working very well. Industrialisation of Himachal Pradesh was not the priority of previous governments, but Atal ji saw the potential of the state and provided it with the package. The package lured more investors to our state and now we are trying to make our state free from dependence of tourism sector only. Youth of our state need jobs and it is our priority also.


Are all the investors coming to Himachal Pradesh are foreigners or are there some investors from our country too?

All the investors are foreigners. In the fields of hydro and pharma also, all the investors are coming from outside.


What steps have you taken to attract investors?

We were previously ranked 16th in the field of business, but now we are ranked 7th. We’ve done a lot of nice things to attract investors, such as simplifying a procedure that used to be quite complicated for investors into a single window. The second is that Himachal Pradesh has a surplus of electricity. In such a scenario, projects in Himachal Pradesh will have access to a consistent, stable power supply in a timely manner. Third, Himachal Pradesh has excellent law and order. Finally, there’s our environment. All of these factors contribute to attracting investors to Himachal Pradesh.


What are your plans in future to develop industry in Himachal Pradesh and to develop the primary education sector and primary health sector?

We have taken various attempts in Himachal Pradesh to develop several things. When it comes to education in Himachal Pradesh, the state has experienced rapid growth. Expansion that was not planned – open schools, open colleges, how many children would be there, what infrastructure should be provided for them, there was not much planning for all of these things, but we decided that institutes should be built on the merits of the students. We concentrated on that. We worked with planning on who should be supplied infrastructure and who should be given special attention to staffing. Previously, schools and colleges were opened, but due to a shortage of manpower, those schools and institutions remained empty. Instead of establishing a new institute, we worked to improve its infrastructure, making Himachal one of the better states in terms of education.


In terms of health, how many individuals in Himachal have enrolled in the Central Government’s Ayushman plan, and what insurance is provided by the state government in the health sector, considering the Covid problem?

When it comes to the health sector, Covid has gotten a lot of attention in the last two years. The Prime Minister’s Ayushman Bharat initiative has gotten off to a great start across the country, with health insurance worth Rs 5 lakh being provided to the needy. Himachal Pradesh has a population of 72 lakh people, of whom 20 lakh are covered by it. The remaining 52 lakh individuals required assistance. To cover individuals who are left out, we decided to create our own system under the state government. For the first time in Himachal Pradesh’s history, a new scheme called Mukhyamantri Him Care Yojana was launched, under which we have a health insurance policy worth Rs.5 lakh for all residents of the state, with registration costing Rs.1000. Previously, this plan was just for one year; today, it is for three years, and distinct registration cost categories have been maintained. Those who are poor or work in MNREGA can register by paying Re 1 every day, or Rs 365, and there is also a free category. It is completely free of charge. In such circumstances, this programme has been the most popular in Himachal Pradesh. We have treated 2,25,000 individuals for free through the Him Care scheme, which has cost over Rs 230 crore. This programme has been ongoing for three years and is doing quite well. Our current focus is on infrastructure and personnel. In Himachal, there are six medical colleges, all of which are well-run by the state government. Now, the AIIMS Hospital has arrived in the state, with an OPD that will be opened by the Prime Minister in the month of July.


What have you thought about the common man’s social security?

In Himachal Pradesh, social security is one area, where we have engaged oueselves extensively. When it comes to social security, the previous administration spent Rs 400 crore on it, covering approximately 3 lakh individuals. We have now increased its reach and are presently investing Rs 1300 crore. Himachal Pradesh’s social security pension plan now covers over 7 lakh individuals. What did the previous government do to allow those above the age of 80 to receive pensions? In Himachal Pradesh, the age limit has been lowered. Everyone over the age of 60 now receives a pension. Apart from this, if you talk about the new initiative, then another initiative has been taken in the health sector. Such people who became ill as a result of an accident, or were afflicted with a disease that rendered him unable to walk, do his work, or do anything else. We created a new scheme called Mukhyamantri Sahara Yojana for such folks. We registered such people under the Mukhyamantri Sahara Yojana, who have brain haemorrhage, who are paralysed, who have broken their legs in an accident, who cannot walk, who cannot do their own work, who are cancer patients, who are kidney patients, and we are depositing 3000 rupees per month into their accounts. Perhaps for the first time in the country, a government has thought up and implemented such a system.


What schemes have you brought in Himachal to promote farmers?

We asked people how we can acquire more harvests and what we can do better for farmers with the use of modern technology for the sake of farmers. In Himachal Pradesh, we have emphasised natural farming, and more than one lakh farmers have registered as a result. We are now cultivating chemical-free produce, such as apples, peas, cabbage, and other vegetables. This is a new project. On the model of Himachal, a new natural farming model has now been established across the country, and the Prime Minister has made plans to implement it. The second most important factor was the extensive agricultural damage caused by wild animals. This is still happening, and farmers in some areas have ceased growing crops as a result. Solar fencing is now being marketed to protect crops from animals, and the government is providing up to an 80 per cent subsidy for it. Although the budget has taken a hit, the farmers have reaped the benefits. Farmers who had given up farming have returned to farming with the support of the solar fence scheme. Agriculture supports more than 80 per cent of the people of Himachal Pradesh. Our administration, via new initiatives, better research and study, has brought new technology to the grassroots level, resulting in increased productivity.


Your government established new programmes on Himachal Foundation Day, however the opposition party has accused you of using the scheme that the Chief Minister is executing as an election strategy. The Aam Aadmi Party, on the other hand, is eyeing Himachal Pradesh after capturing Punjab. What are your thoughts on all of these issues?

I’d like to point you that our government has been working since the beginning. It’s not that we’re working during an election year. Many of our programmes began during our first year in power. One of our first-year plans is Janmanch, and our first-year tourist programme is Nayi Rahen-Nai Manzil. The first year initiative is the Chief Minister Health Plan 11-00. After that, we created the Grahani Suvidha Yojana, which is distinct from the Ujjwala scheme, which was launched by the Prime Minister across the country and gave Himachal Pradesh with 1,36,000 gas stoves. A gas stove should be in every home, and our mothers should be in good health. The environmental damage caused by the chulha’s smoke should be avoided, and the wood provided for burning in the chulha should not be brought from the forest. With these considerations in mind, the Prime Minister launched the Ujjwala scheme, although it could not cover everyone. We then devised a strategy for Himachal Pradesh, launching the Mukhyamantri Grahani Suvidha Yojna, which mandated that any family enrolled in a Panchayat be provided with a gas connection. There is currently no family in Himachal Pradesh that does not have a gas stove. We finished this project two years ago. At the end of our two-year term, Home Minister Amit Shah and Nadda ji visited Shimla, and we declared gas stove saturation in that programme. The families have received 3,25,000 gas chulhas.


How far did the Prime Minister’s Swachh Bharat Yojana, Har Ghar Nal Jal Yojana reached in Himachal Pradesh?

In the field of Jal Jeevan, Himachal Pradesh ranks first in the country. We initiated a tap water campaign for every household under the Jal Jeevan scheme. It was managed in such a way that Himachal is currently ranked #1 in the country due to the incorporation of all concrete ideas into its planning. Prime Minister Narendra Modi also highlighted that Himachal Pradesh had done an excellent job in this area. In terms of cleanliness, Himachal Pradesh is also superior. We had already implemented a polythene ban in 2009. You will not get a polythene bag if you go to the market right now and ask for one.In addition, Himachal is second after Sikkim in terms of being an open defecation free state.


How would you rate the work of your government?

We told our administration from the beginning that we don’t believe in vendetta politics. If Himachal Pradesh is known as Devbhoomi, we shall lead the state forward using its culture. Similarly, we attempted to construct a development model by developing a working environment in Himachal Pradesh that reflected the culture of the state, and we were successful. People in rural areas nowadays readily accept us. It is our goal to do all possible to improve Himachal Pradesh.


What strategy have you prepared for the coming elections in association with BJP National President Jagat Prakash Nadda?

Jagat Prakash Nadda’s state is this. In March 2022, we won elections in four states and formed new governments in those states, defying all the calculations of the political pundits. Shri Nadda received this honour as the party’s President. On his arrival, he was hailed on behalf of the entire state of Himachal Pradesh. After meeting with ministers, MLAs, and party functionaries during his four-day stay, a blueprint for the upcoming election was drafted. Now, we will stick to that plan and will undoubtedly form a BJP government in Himachal Pradesh.

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