Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal wants the state to be on unabated, uninterrupted, smooth progress up to the grass root levels so that in the coming days the hill-state becomes an example as a model state in the whole country on how a difficult Himalayan-state can be governed smoothly, effectively without any ado if the intention of the Chief Minister is “sincere, serious, clear”. In an exclusive interview with LOK PANCHAYAT, sonorous-voiced Dhumal talks of his chief ministerial ‘do’s.
Q. Himachal Pradesh is on continuous progress in all sectors. Am I right?
A: You are correct in saying that Himachal Pradesh had made record progress in recent past and a number of milestones in development and social welfare activities have been established. Himachal Pradesh is a small hill State having a geographical area of 55,673 square kms. with population of 68.5 lakhs. People are simple, God fearing, hard working and hospitable in general overwhelmingly supporting the policies and programmes of the State Government resulting into speedy development in all sectors. State has high rate 85 percent of literacy and density of population is 123 persons per square km. Whenever BJP Government came to power in the State accelerated pace is given to development activities. State Government is carrying uniform and balanced development and giving added attention to the areas which have remained under developed and bring them at par with the other areas. The initiatives taken by the State Government in different sectors have been recognised by the Government of India, international agencies like World Bank and Asian Development Bank besides the media and the State has won 43 National and International Level Awards in almost all major sectors.
Q. What are your immediate plans for further developments in the State and in which all sectors?
A: Development is a continuous process which never ends. We have all our revenue villages electrified, over 80 percent of them have potable drinking water facilities and a targeted programme to connect every village with motorable road is under implementation. State is endeavouring to create quality infrastructure of basic amenities to its people, maintain best law and order and ensure safety of life and property of every individual. State Government has launched a number of schemes aimed at generating vast employment and self-employment avenues to the educated unemployed youth in the State. We aim at providing people everything required to lead a quality, peaceful and secure life.
Q. How strong are the Panchayats and Municipal Bodies in Himachal? How are you involving them in the governance of the State?
A: Himachal Pradesh has taken the lead in strengthening the grass root bodies of the democracy. It was during our earlier term of 1998-2003 that Panchayati Raj institutions were given more powers to help them function more effectively. Himachal Pradesh happens to be the first state in the country providing 33 percent reservation to women in Panchayati Raj and municipal bodies elections which now has been increased further to 50 percent. State Government has decentralised its various powers and empowered the Panchayati Raj institutions to plan for developmental activities required to be undertaken at Panchayat level, select beneficiaries under different social welfare schemes and also supervise the village level functionaries making them to deliver the goods to the people.
Q. How are you utilizing apple as a rallying point for the pointed development of the Himachal State? Do please comment on the international scope for Himachal apples.
A: Himachal Pradesh is popularly recognised as ‘Apple State of India’ and is poised to emerge ‘Fruit Bowl of India’. State had record apple yield last season and over 4.25 crore cartons were produced. Himachali apple is very popular with the fruit lovers and apple of some specific areas, heights and tribal area is in great demand in the markets of the country. Apple contributes about Rs. 3,000 crore to the State Gross Domestic Product per annum. Himachal Produces pure and naturally flavoured juice which is in great demand with the apple lovers. Although imported apple attempted to enter the market and jeopardise the State economy but due to the quality and flavour of the Himachal apple, imported apple could not stay in the market. State has created a strong network of marketing yards providing trading facilities to the growers near to their homes. The marketing network is further being strengthened with modern facilities so that growers could know of the market trends by sitting at their homes and market their produce more conveniently. A cold chain network is also being created to stock the produce to market at appropriate time so that growers are benefitted with best prices in the market.
Q. Do you support more industrialization in the State? If yes, in which sectors? Should only smoke free industries be there in the State? Why?
A: Himachal Pradesh has emerged a favourite destination for safe industrial investment as almost all the major industries in the country and multi-national companies have set up their manufacturing units in the clean and investment friendly environment of the State. The industrial activities at the moment are limited to the border areas only which requires dispersal to the inner parts of the State. Among many attractions to the entrepreneurs include cheap land, uninterrupted power supply, tax holidays, quality industrial infrastructural facilities and above all best law and order conditions required for safe investment. State Government has banned establishment of polluting and low employment generation industrial units and preference is being given to eco-friendly, employment generating to the local educated unemployed youth and based upon local raw material. Keeping in view the challenges posed by the climate change and global warming, the State have been planning to take every precautionary measure to reduce the emission of green house gases to the minimum, hence banned polluting industries in the State.
Q. What new initiatives have you taken in the tourism sector in the State to attract more people in the State?
A: Tourism happens to be the basic industry in the State since it has been blessed with immense natural beauty and grandeur by mother nature. Himachal Pradesh is the only state in the country which has one or the other thing for every visitors to their taste and liking. Natural beauty is at the top, while there are adventure, water sports, para-gliding like activities to suit the taste of visitors, State have many prominent religious shrines giving boost to the religious tourism activities. State government has launched ‘Eco Tourism’ to acquaint tourists with the flora and fauna of the State besides ‘Home Stay Scheme’ to acquaint them with the living style, customs, traditions and local cuisines besides enjoying the natural grandeur available by associating the people of the State motivating them to register their houses equipped with quality basic amenities of boarding and lodging to the visitors. Now the State aims at attracting high end tourists for which quality hospitality facilities are being created by associating private players in the process and to begin with heli-taxi service has been introduced to save the time of the high paying tourists to the state and fly them to maximum areas within minimum possible period of time. Airports are also being upgraded to accommodate landing of bigger planes so that more visitors could come to Himachal Pradesh. A number of new initiatives have also been taken to give renewed momentum to tourism promotion activities.
Q. Various types of pollution and pollutants are a deep worrying factor in the State and its natural surroundings. How and in which ways are you facing the pollution and what are you doing to curb it if not finish it?
A: State is very much concerned of its ecology and committed to protect the same at all costs. State have already banned setting up of polluting industrial units and all polluting activities under different modes have also been banned. Smoking in public has also been banned and efforts are afoot to declare Himachal Pradesh smoke free State. Industrial units set up in the State have been directed to incorporate anti-pollution devices into their plant and machinery so that no environmental hazards are caused to the ecology. The matter of concern is the increasing number of vehicles which have been contributing massively towards emission of carbon dioxide gases. State Government is motivating the vehicle owners to minimise use of their vehicles and pool the same to travel from one place to other which could be possible only through the mass movement to save environment. Himachal Pradesh is the first state in the world which have signed a memorandum with World Bank on Carbon Credits.
Q. How is the law and order situation in the State in view of Himachal Pradesh’s close proximity to J&K?
A: Himachal Pradesh is popularly known as ‘Dev Bhoomi’ (land of Gods) and law and order condition is at its best since the crime rate is negligible and the offences committed by people are generally non-Himachali. People are God fearing and lab abiding by nature and generally refrain from indulging into criminal activities. Although the neighbouring states, in the past also, had been infested with terrorism activities but there were no such incidents in the State and people from different faiths, community, religious affinity have been co-existing in a most harmonious and peaceful environment.
Q. Do you (any why) subscribe to this growing view that its time Himachali culture spreads all through the country up to the South Indian States so that more and more people visit HP as tourists swelling the State’s revenue?
A: Himachal is the one state which have diversified cultural identities. Each of the twelve districts have their distinctive cultural identity and such areas are identified with the specific folk they present. This diversified culture also adds to the endeavours of the State to attract folk lovers from within and outside the country. Himachal Pradesh is known for its fairs and festivals also since a large number of such events have been taking place in different parts of the State since the time immemorial and some of them carrying historic and religious significance. Although the cultural troupes have been travelling across length and width of the country and in some cases to foreign countries also under different cultural exchange programmes but still lots of more is required to be done in this direction. State have been organising cultural events on important occasions, especially during the summer season when maximum of the visitors come to Himachal to acquaint them with the varied and colourful folk art of the State to make their visit memorable. You are right in saying that the culture needs to be popularised in every state of the country.
Q. What help and assistance (fact, figure wise) do you expect from the Centre for further concentrated development of Himachal Pradesh?
A: I expect Central Government to not to discriminate with non-UPA, especially BJP ruled States and provide their due share without any prejudice. Himachal Pradesh happens to be the Special Category State and deserves every Central benefit being provided to such states elsewhere in the country. But in majority of cases the interests of the people of Himachal Pradesh are ignored and premature withdrawal of the Special Industrial Package announced during NDA regime by son of the soil the then Prime Minister of India, Shri Atal Behari Vajpayee, reducing the tie-up and matching grants in the Annual Plans and other schemes, reduction in the BPL, APL ration and kerosene quota, are some of the glaring examples of discrimination. Hill States need separate parameters for determination of development grants and cannot be treated uniformally with other states where it takes less money to carry development activities. In Himachal like states due to difficult topography the roads are constructed inch by inch while in the plain areas kilometres of road can be constructed in a single day. Similar is the situation in respect of other development activities.
Q. Your comments on the present scenario in your part BJP? How do you see BJP’s immediate future as?
A: BJP is gaining strength in the country as party nominees are getting elected to different bodies in the states where it had no visible popularity. You can count the State where BJP has formed its Government and in few others where it has alliance with the ruling parties. There is unquestionably no doubt that the future of the party is bright and would emerge victorious with flying colours in the next parliamentary elections and form government of NDA at the Centre.