‘IT WILL TAKE A WHILE TO RECTIFY BJP’S 15 YEARS OF FUNDS MISUSE’
The Lok Sabha debacle behind him, Chhattisgarh CM Bhupesh Baghel talks about his priorities for the state
With the Congress winning just two of the 11 Lok Sabha seats in Chhattisgarh this May, just five months after the party swept the state election with 68 of 90 assembly seats, Chief Minister BHUPESH BAGHEL has a tough task ahead of him. From managing the state finances and working with a bureaucracy that bears his predecessor Raman Singh’s imprint to tackling Maoism and dealing with tribal protests against mining by the Adani Group. Known to be a fighter among Congress leaders in the state, a trait that endeared him to Congress president Rahul Gandhi, Baghel is ploughing on. Excerpts from an interview with Group Editorial Director (Publishing) Raj Chengappa and India Today (Hindi) Editor Anshuman Tiwari in Raipur:
Q. How do you explain the setback the Congress received in the parliamentary election after the unprecedented mandate it won in the assembly polls just a few months earlier?
A. We began fulfilling all the promises we made to farmers, tribals and common folk soon after the assembly election. In the BJP, on the other hand, infighting came to the fore after the election and the morale of the party cadre was low. The BJP was nowhere to be seen in the Lok Sabha campaign. Most political analysts gave the Congress 10 or 11 seats, but when the results came, they were unexpected. No one here (in Chhattisgarh) had imagined this. But the results are in front of you.
Q. What do you think were the reasons for your defeat?
A. The reasons being offered are beyond comprehension. If you say it was nationalism arising out of the surgical strikes, then why did the issue not have an impact in states where non-Congress parties were pitted against the BJP, such as Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, Tamil Nadu or even West Bengal where the BJP did everything they could but could not pull off a clean sweep? The issue is something else, about which we have not been able to say anything. And if that is the issue, it is extremely dangerous. If it is the EVM, then it is very dangerous for democracy.
Q. This is a very serious allegation you are making.
A. The voters don’t know what’s inside EVMs whereas a ballot box has all the details of voting within it. Even the educated don’t know the intricacies of the EVM, what to say of common people.
Q. Your critics are saying you did not deliver on your promises and the Lok Sabha verdict is a reflection on your government?
A. That is wrong. We gave Rs 2,500 per quintal for paddy, above the Minimum Support Price of Rs 1,750. What can be a bigger delivery than this? Loans of farmers from cooperative banks have been written off. Between January and May, automobile sales in Chhattisgarh increased by 26 per cent when sales elsewhere were falling. Gold and silver purchases, construction of houses, sales of ACs and coolers have increased. It couldn’t have happened if there was no money in the hands of the people.
What do they want? To have president’s rule for the next four years? Simultaneous elections has been an old BJP agenda; why didn’t they do it in the first government?
Q. You met Rahul Gandhi recently, after he resigned as party president. What did you discuss with him?
A. The BJP may keep criticising the Nehru-Gandhi family but Rahul Gandhi is the only leader who is acceptable to the Congress workers. It is true that expectations from Rahul Gandhi are very high, but no one in the Congress is angry with him. So when I met Rahul Gandhi, I requested him to continue as party president.
Q. One of the first issues Prime Minister Narendra Modi is pursuing after coming to power is simultaneous elections to the Lok Sabha and state assemblies. What is your opinion on the issue?
A. There are more states where elections are due later this year. What do they want? President’s rule for the next four years? They are making an issue out of a non-issue. Instead, they should discuss the economic issues states are facing vis-a-vis the Centre, which we are ready to discuss. This has been an old BJP agenda; why didn’t they do it in the first government?
Q. What areas are you setting as your priorities in Chhattisgarh?
A. Chhattisgarh is primarily an agrarian state. We get rains from two monsoons, but there is still shortage of water for irrigation. Forty-four per cent of the state is under forests and it is in these areas that the problem of irrigation is the most severe as Forest Act permission is required to build dams or to bring in electricity lines. These would be our focus areas.
Q. People say each successive chief minister prioritises one or two programmes they think they will be remembered for...
A. We want to make our villages self-sufficient and the ‘Narwa, Garwa, Ghurwa, Badi’ programme is a step in that direction. Agriculture in Chhattisgarh is facing a crisis owing to stray cattle. Fifteen per cent panchayats have been identified in the first phase under which gauthans will be made. Manure is being made in the villages and we are looking at improving cattle breed too to make livestock an asset. We don’t want the government to run these programmes, but make the rural population self-sufficient in running them. By covering livestock, agricultural fields, manure and water, Narwa, Garwa, Ghurwa and Badi will cover agriculture and the rural economy in a holistic way.
Q. How will your government be different from that of Raman Singh?
A. In the 15 years of Dr Raman Singh’s government, there was an increase in the number of poor, increase in malnutrition and a drop in education standards. School buildings are missing in Maoismaffected Bastar. Maoism has spread from four blocks to 14 districts, including Raman Singh’s home district. The problems of farmers, tribals, malnutrition and challenges in education are what I am focusing on.
There was misuse of funds during the Raman Singh government. DMF (District Mineral Foundation, a non-profit trust in mining-affected districts) funds were used to instal lifts, make air strips. The only constant in the past 15 years has been the giving of commissions. There is no shortage of funds in Chhattisgarh, yet the previous government contracted a loan of Rs 50,000 crore. About Rs 6,000 crore was spent on the new capital, but there is nothing to show for it. A skywalk has been made in Raipur, but it has no users. There was misuse of funds everywhere. All this takes time to rectify. In review meetings, I tell officers that you did this for so many years and produced no results. It’s now time to change all this. We are working on it. If there is a will , nothing is impossible. You will slowly see improvement.
Q. Will the Naya Raipur project of the previous government continue?
A. When Rs 6,000 crore has been spent, there is no other option but to continue with it.
Q. The bureaucracy has been complaining of frequent transfers after you came to power.
A. Transfer is not a punishment. They have been given a task to fulfil and if they don’t, they will have to go and make way for someone who will complete it. One person cannot let an entire scheme be adversely affected.
Q. Are you looking into certain cases of corruption of the previous government?
A. We merely removed the dust from some files and a huge uproar took place. The opposition has termed it Badlapur. I have not registered these FIRs; I am merely looking into cases registered then. A lot of corruption took place in the previous government, which will now be looked into.
Maoism spread from four blocks to 14 districts in Raman Singh’s tenure. They brought no development. We are proceeding in a consultative way
Q. Your rivals term you vindictive. What do you have to say to that?
A. I did not start the case pertaining to Ajit Jogi’s caste status nor the one against his son, which is in the Supreme Court. Raman Singh commenced the proceedings in the Civil Supplies Corporation case (known as NAN or Nagrik Apurti Nigam ghotala), I am only taking it forward. The Antagarh tapes FIR was filed in 2014, I have not done anything new. The FIRs were registered earlier, I am only taking them ahead.
Q. A mine allocation to the Adani Group in Dantewada has sparked a controversy and led to opposition by tribals. What is your stand on the issue?
A. I must clarify that no mine has been given to Adani. During the UPA government, there was an allegation that a Rs 1.86 lakh crore scam took place in coal allocation. Then began the process of auctions that gave states Rs 2,300-Rs 3,200 per tonne royalty, but it was stopped. It was followed by allotments to states and state electricity boards, to Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra and Telangana. Then came the system of tenders and MDOs (mine developers and operators). Bailadila is a joint venture between NMDC and CMDC. They floated tenders for MDOs and the Adanis got the tender. When the agitation began (on June 7), we were told that forests were being cut, we stopped it; we also said we will conduct an inquiry into the crucial gram sabha meeting (whose consent is mandatory for any development activity). The agitation ended on the basis of these actions.
I wrote to the PM and told him when I met him that the allotment of mines to states and electricity boards is giving us only Rs 100 per tonne as royalty while auctions gave us at least Rs 2,300 per tonne. In the next 30 years, Chhattisgarh would lose Rs 9 lakh crore. In case the system of allotment is continued, the royalty should be increased to at least Rs 500 per tonne. Since mining leads to deforestation, damage to roads, pollution-related diseases and inconvenience to local population, we feel we should be compensated for it through enhanced royalty.
Q. Your predecessor Raman Singh claimed he had kept Maoism in check. How do you plan to deal with Maoism? A. In the previous Congress government, only four blocks were affected by Maoism; now 14 districts are affected. Tribals have been uprooted from their homes and are being forced to live in conditions where they face problems regularly. The previous government was not successful. It did not have any policy to bring development to places which our brave forces were able to liberate from Maoism. There seems to be no difference between villages that have been liberated by jawans and those where the Maoist writ still runs. The roads that are being built are for sending in forces. The local population should feel that the roads are being built for them. I was in Bastar for two days and met journalists, civil society members and tribals, asking for their suggestions. We are proceeding in a consultative way.
Q. Are you coordinating with the Centre, especially with the home ministry, in dealing with Maoism?
A. We are. Recently we have asked for Rs 4,400 crore for LWE (left-wing extremism)-affected districts, but we have been given only Rs 306 crore. We also raised the issue at NITI Aayog and with the home minister, who said that a meeting of CMs and DGPs of the affected states will be called in early July.
Q. How is your relationship with the current NDA government at the Centre?
A. In the NITI Aayog meeting as well as in a meeting called by the finance minister, I raised the point that the financial share of states is being increased while the central component is being reduced. In central schemes, all CMs are demanding that the Centre finance cent per cent, be it the PMGSY (Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana) or Swachh Bharat. The financial burden of the states has been enhanced, which is why they are unable to fulfil the promises they have made to their people.
Q. What are the three mistakes of the Jogi and Raman Singh governments that you will ensure you won’t repeat?
A. It is very easy to find fault with others, but one should learn from history. We are the custodians of Chhattisgarh, not its owners. They (Raman Singh and Ajit Jogi) were treating the state as their fiefdom. Second, the natural wealth of the state should be used for the common people. In the past 15 years, nothing was done to improve their lot. Third, all sections should feel that the government belongs to them. I always tell officers and elected representatives working with me that we are for the people, the people are not for us. The system is for helping the people, whether tribals, women, youth, industrialists or other stakeholders.