Under the leadership of the Chief Minister JAI RAM THAKUR, Himachal Pradesh has been infused with a new vision and a focused plan of development. In an interview with Jetender Rawat, the state leader shares details of his comprehensive approach towards growth
Himachal Pradesh in undergoing a wave of transformation under the new government and has set its course towards development. The Chief Minister of Himachal Pradesh, JAI RAM THAKUR, informs that his government has identified some priority sectors, under which 30 projects have been marked with proper budget provisions, and is working with a focused approach to achieve the goals in a time-bound manner. Excerpts from the interview:
How is the government working towards the socio-economic upliftment of the senior citizens of the state?
After coming to power, in one of our first meetings, we reduced the age limit of social security pension for the old age persons from 80 years to 70 years that too without any income criteria. This decision has benefitted about 1.3 lakh elderly people of the state. We are trying to not only provide social security but also give the senior citizens an opportunity to live a respectable life. The social security pension is being provided to about 4.47 lakh people in the state. A budget provision of Rs 443 crore has been made in this current financial year. Various social security pensions are being provided to the eligible people in the state including the Old-Age Pension, the National Old Age Pension, the National Widow Pension, the National Disability Pension, and the Disability Relief Allowance and so on. The old age pension of Rs 750 is being provided for those above 60 years old where the annual income does not exceed Rs 35,000 and for those who are above 70 years or more will be given a monthly pension of Rs 1300 barring any income criteria.
Please elaborate on the ‘Gramin Jan Manch’ programme of the government
It has been observed that citizens often face difficulties in accessing benefits provided by the government in vital sectors like pensions, health, and education and so on. For registering such grievances with the local authorities they have to spend both time and money. We believe in the ‘government at the door step of the people’ and thus we announced the concept of ‘Jan Manch’ which was envisaged as a high level grievance redressal mechanism. Under this programme, all the ministers of the state government regularly organise ‘Jan Manch’ in the remote areas of every district to solve the problems of the people at the spot. The officers of each department are to be present to facilitate decision making. The objectives are to identify and resolve the grievances effectively, especially of the underprivileged. It is seen as an equitable, accessible, friendly and approachable programme to debunk the perception that only the work of the influential gets done. Apart from grievance redressal, the ‘Jan Manch’ also targets delivery of citizen centric services like delivery of various kinds of certificates and completion of documentation under various schemes; saturation of select government schemes such as 100 per cent immunisation, 100 per cent LPGfication, 100 percent piped drinking water supply to all households; physical inspection of operational schemes and ongoing work amongst others. However, it does not deal with issue like transfers, court cases, demand for government jobs and new schemes. It is organised assembly constituency-wise on the first Sunday of every month and the Ministers-in-charge rotate every month to cover all the constituencies, systematically. Publicity campaign is conducted 15-20 days before the designated date, informing the citizens about the proposed ‘Jan Manch’ which is to be held at the designated venue. This model has been so successful that many other state governments are now looking at it as a case study to implement in their respective states.
Himachal Pradesh launched its own scheme to provide LPG connections to various households of the state. What is the purpose of this?
The Prime Minister Narendra Modi, had launched the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana to provide LPG connections to the women in the households in order to reduce the usage of coal and other non-renewable sources as fuel. Though the scheme has been quite successful, we observed that many households in our state could not get the benefit of the scheme.Thus, on the sidelines of the same, we introduced the Grahini Suvidha Yojana (GSY) under which the state government is giving LPG facility to all the families for two years. Besides, the government will also provide security amount to get LPG connection and a gas stove to those families who were not covered in Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana. A budget of Rs 12 crores has been approved for this. Within four months of this scheme, almost 35,000 families have been given gas stoves in their homes, thus fulfilling the larger objective of a sustainable environment.
What are the measures being introduced to stem the tide of migration of youngsters from the hills in search of livelihood?
The youth are the strength of the country and the future. However, there is rampant unemployment among them and it is not possible to provide government jobs to all. Thus, to offer incentives to the youth to become entrepreneurs, we introduced the Mukhyamantri Yuva Swavalamban Yojana (MYSY) for the unemployed youth in the state. All the unemployed youth between the age group of 18 to 35 years are eligible for this scheme. The jobless young citizens are being given a subsidy of 25 per cent on machinery on making an investment of Rs 40 lakh in the industry of their livelihood, whereas the women have are being given a subsidy of 30 per cent under the same. On loans up to Rs 40 lakhs, the government will provide an interest subsidy of five percent for three years and has also offered to provide government land to the youth on rent at just one per cent. We have also announced to reduce stamp duty from six per cent to three per cent on the purchase of land. This scheme will ensure that adequate self-employment opportunities are created in the state to reduce the unemployment problem. Moreover, each youth will be self-sufficient and will also hopefully become a job creator. We have made a provision of Rs 80 crore for the successful implementation of this scheme.
Tourism has been identified as a crucial project in Himachal. What are the plans in place to develop the state for this sector?
Himachal Pradesh is known as ‘Dev Bhoomi’ and is renowned world-over for its natural resources and scenic beauty. The law and order in the state is also quite good, which attracts a lot of tourists, both domestic and foreign. We are working on this sector with a focused approach and plan to develop some virgin, unknown destinations, beyond the popular ones. For this, we have introduced a project named—‘Nayi Rahein, Nayi Manjhile’. We have got an approval for a Rs 1,900 crore tourism infrastructure development project to be funded by the Asian Development Bank (ADB). This project will focus on diversification of tourism and spreading it to new areas by developing relevnt infrastructure. It will have both hard and soft components and will include beautification of towns, development of unexplored areas, conservation and restoration of heritage buildings, infrastructure development in adventure, eco and rural tourism with emphasis on community participation. It will also help us to generate employment for the local youth and showcase Himachal Pradesh as the best nature tourism destination. This project has been designed based on the detailed baseline data, a study conducted of 324 sites in 12 districts of the state, suggestions obtained from over 90,000 tourists and is designed in line with the sustainable tourism guidelines for the Himalayan states. Some of the new destinations that have been identified are the Chanchal area, Janjehli, Kangra and the Pong Dam. The Chanchal area has brilliant slopes that are apt for skiing and this would be further developed for active, hard adventure activities. Janjehli will be developed from the perspective of eco-tourism. Bir Biling in the Kangra district will be developed as an international destination for paragliding while the lakes and the Pong dam in the state will be developed for water sports activities as a new tourism product to the tourists to the state.
How is the state addressing issues of connectivity?
Connectivity, to and from various locations in Himachal Pradesh, has been a challenge for us over the years. We are trying to address the same with projects in place to improve road, rail and air connectivity. Under the Udaan-II scheme of the government, various destinations in the state will be connected by air as flights will be made operational from January 2019 onwards. The Chief Minister of the states is provided with a helicopter for quick visits. However, times when the helicopter is sitting idle, we have offered to deploy it between Shimla and Chandigarh three times a week for the purpose of heli-taxis. Soon, we will also begin joy rides to Rohtang.
The state is also working on increasing its power capacity. What are the new projects?
Himachal Pradesh was known as the powerhouse of the country but over the years we have not been able to make much progress in the power sector. Our Power Policy has had some stringent rules which discouraged many investors to come to the state. We have identified these issues and tried to crease out the hiccups after meeting with the investors. Also, we have recently allocated the 780-MW Jangi-Thopan- Powari hydro electric project in the Kinnaur district to the public sector, Satluj Jal Vidyut Nigam Limited (SJVNL) on a Build, Own, Operate and Transfer (BOOT) basis for a period of 70 years. The company is in the process of implementing various projects, which are at different stages of development. Upon completion, they will add 4,018 MW capacity. We plan on conducting an Investor’s Meet next year where we will bring together all types of industries including agriculture, horticulture, pharmaceuticals, power, and tourism and so on to bring more funds to the state for the fast-track development of Himachal.