Anandiben Patel is Gujarat’s first woman chief minister under whose dynamic leadership Gujarat has seen considerable progress in the past two years since she took charge. In an exclusive interview to The Sunday Guardian, Anandiben talks about what she has achieved so far and her future plans for Gujarat. Excerpts:
Q. You took over the reins of Gujarat as the state’s first woman Chief Minister in May 2014, succeeding Narendra Modi, who was then the Prime Minister-designate. It must have been a big challenge for you to take over from Modi and build on his record of successful governance. Did you face any initial problems or was the transition smooth since you already had substantial previous administrative experience?
A. When I took charge as the Chief Minister of Gujarat, a strong foundation of policy-driven governance was successfully put in place by Shri Narendrabhai. I believe, I have been privileged to get the opportunity to steer it further. Today, I am committed to keep up the pace on the path so clearly laid out by him and contribute to accelerate it further.
Yes, the task assigned to me is challenging, but is equally rewarding. With my experience of working in the service of people of Gujarat under different portfolios like women and child development, roads and building, revenue, urban development, sports and disaster management, I continue to put in sincere efforts in carrying forward Shri Narendrabhai’s legacy to shape the Gujarat of his dreams. My administration is working hard towards achieving inclusive and sustainable growth of Gujarat in a result-oriented and time-bound manner.
Also, in the spirit of cooperative federalism, the Union government led by the Hon’ble Prime Minister has taken a decision to accept the recommendations of the 14th Finance Commission to increase the devolution to states from 32% to 42% of the net Union tax receipts. The decision has provided the flexibility to state governments to make allocations and initiate welfare schemes as per their needs. This has enabled Gujarat to make large allocations to its social sector and agriculture sector in the past three state budgets.
With clear goal-setting and a governance philosophy of “Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas”, my government deals with problems like challenges and focuses on carving new paths for all-round socio-economic development of Gujarat.
Q. What are the recent schemes that your government has put in place for the uplift of women in Gujarat, especially in terms of their education and healthcare?
A. I strongly believe that women’s empowerment is the need of the hour. Not only social, but economic upliftment of women is the first step towards gauging a state’s progress. Women from every section of society and from all ages should be empowered to step out of the cultural and societal inhibitions and restrictions. The government of Gujarat is sincerely working in the direction of women-oriented development. Apart from ensuring that women from all walks of life are drawn towards economic engagement, we have also laid special emphasis on their education and healthcare.
Talking about a few initiatives in this direction, to encourage girls towards civil services, Rs 60,000 is given to those who have cleared preliminary exams for preparation of main exams and Rs 30,000 to those who have cleared mains for preparation of interviews. Also, assistance is extended in tuition fees to girls from BPL families getting admission in MBBS at GMERS and private medical colleges. New government girls’ hostels and residential girls’ schools are being set up, especially for girls belonging to scheduled castes and schedules tribes.
Focussing on holistic health of women, under state-wide free health check-ups organised since June 2015, screening of 82.81 lakh women for breast and cervical cancer till April 2016 was undertaken. Out of which, 828 were diagnosed of suffering from breast cancer, 302 of cervical cancer and are now being treated free of cost by the state government.
To provide special care for mentally challenged and HIV/AIDs affected women inmates of shelter homes, two special shelter homes are to be established. This would help in providing special medical services and necessary attention to the suffering women, and improve their living conditions. The state government will also set up a special mother and child hospital in Ahmedabad.
Clear goal-setting for Gujarat’s inclusive growth and speedy implementation of pro-people initiatives have been the top priority of my government. That is why we have launched the “Gatisheel Gujarat” campaign, wherein time-bound targets are set and met on a mission mode.
Q. This February, you inaugurated the fourth Indian plant of Honda Motorcycle and Scooter India (HMSI) at Vithalapur near Ahmedabad. It is the largest scooter manufacturing facility in the world and has been made operational within 15 months of laying the foundation stone in October 2014. How was this made possible in so short a time?
A. It is a matter of pride and privilege that I laid the foundation stone of Honda plant at Vithalapur on 16 October 2014, and within less than 16 months, I inaugurated the plant in February 2016. This is a testimony to Gujarat government’s commitment towards development that one of the largest scooter manufacturing facilities in the world has been made operational in such a short span of time. This was made possible with our focus on successful conclusion of projects by simplifying government procedures and approvals involved in the process. Ensuring “ease of doing business” is not just a promise from my government; it has become our identity, our approach towards pursuing new heights of state’s growth. Our pro-investment approach and prompt efforts towards a friendly and favourable atmosphere for new businesses to prosper has brought unprecedented rise in the growth-graph of the state.
Q. Now that the Vithalapur plant has become operational, do you think it will contribute to making the region a prominent auto hub of the country and enable the creation of thousands of jobs?
A. Yes, of course. The newly inaugurated Honda plant at Vithalapur, one of the largest scooter manufacturing facilities of the world, has the annual capacity of manufacturing 12 lakh scooters. This means that one-fourth of the Honda scooters manufactured in India will be “Made in Gujarat”. This truly complements our ongoing efforts in developing the region which is fast emerging as the auto-hub of India. This operational plant will provide job opportunities to more than 3,000 people that will surely lead to empowering the local people and improving their standards of living.
Q. Considering that the business environment in Gujarat is already dynamic and among the best in the country, what are the recent steps the government of Gujarat has undertaken to improve the ‘Ease of Doing Business’ in the state?
A. Our focus is to make sure that investments do not remain just on paper, but are translated to operational projects. Gujarat continues to be the first choice among corporates, industrialists and potential investors with our dynamic business environment and our sincere efforts are at work to keep up with this accomplishment. Close monitoring of implementation, progress and follow up of new MoUs is undertaken at regular intervals. Not only that, it is also ensured that procedures related to approvals of land, environmental clearances and infrastructural facilities are expedited. We also prioritise on extending infrastructural facilities required for welcoming investments, implementing industry-friendly policies and simplifying government procedures and laws involved in the process.
Q. At a recent function organised on the occasion of the 125th birth anniversary of Dr B.R. Ambedkar, you had said that all villages in Gujarat will have toilets and be free of open defecation within the next one year. Out of the state’s roughly 14,000 villages, what is the status of construction of toilets in the villages?
A. The Gujarat government has been committed to contribute towards PM Narendra Modi’s clarion call of “Swachh Bharat, Swasth Bharat”. As a significant step in this direction, we have taken up the cause of making Gujarat open-defecation free by ensuring toilets-for-all across the state. Talking about villages, 100% individual toilet construction has been completed in 3,088 Gram Panchayats. In all, 8,36,139 individual toilets have been constructed in rural areas of the state till now, and sincere work is being undertaken to achieve the target of open-defecation free Gujarat.
Q. Gujarat being a very important state from the point of view of maritime security, what steps have been taken by your government to tighten coastal security along the Gujarat coast?
A. Gujarat has 1,600 km-long coastline, the longest in the country and 17 districts fall the coastline. With this geography, maritime security becomes vital in the overall safety of the country. Significant improvement has been ascertained in the measures taken to secure the sensitive coast of Gujarat. Regular and imperative patrolling of the international border and the coast is undertaken. “Static Sensors” are being placed on the entire Gujarat coastline. Marine Battalion and Marine Task Force are set up to boost coastal security of the state that ensures that our coastline is safeguarded from anti-social elements and activities.
Q. According to reports, Gujarat’s Gandhinagar Municipal Corporation is all set to launch a project to provide free Wi-Fi to its residents. People will get 30 minutes of free Wi-Fi at 4 mbps speed every 12 hours, according to the reports. What is the status of the project and is there any plan to take the project and implement it across the rest of Gujarat?
A. Yes, Gandhinagar is all set to soon become the first Wi-Fi city of Gujarat. Significant work is being undertaken in this direction. Gradually, major cities of the state, and then all villages and other cities, will be provided with free Wi-Fi at all public places and free or cheaper internet at homes and work places. The process of laying one lakh km long fibre optic network in the state for broadband internet services has already begun.
It is a matter of pride for us that India’s first Wi-Fi enabled tribal taluka Khedbrahma, India’s first Wi-Fi enabled urban centre Modasa and India’s first Digital Village Akodara — all these landmarks belong to Gujarat.
Our vision is to achieve complete digitisation with internet connectivity of all gram panchayats, government offices, schools, colleges, hospitals, public places with free Wi-Fi facilities. This will take forward Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s dream of “Smart Cities”.
I continue to put in sincere efforts in carrying forward Shri Narendrabhai’s legacy to shape the Gujarat of his dreams.
Q. What according to you are the specific achievements of the Gujarat government under you so far and what are your plans for Gujarat in the near future?
A. Clear goal-setting for Gujarat’s inclusive growth and speedy implementation of pro-people initiatives have been the top priority of my government. That is why we have launched the “Gatisheel Gujarat” campaign, wherein time-bound targets are set and met on a mission mode.
I have always aimed that my government should be dedicated to ensuring that people of Gujarat lead a happier and healthier life. We have done immense work in focussing on holistic health of people through state-wide free health check-up camps. In this direction, we have also aimed at achieving the target of making Gujarat open-defection free. According to recent data, Gujarat tops in the country in construction of household toilets in urban areas between Oct 2014 and March 2016. Out of 13.26 lakh total toilets constructed in India, 4,97,634 are constructed in Gujarat alone. Such progress, especially in social sector, gives me a sense of satisfaction of working in the service of people.
Empowering the youth has been our important focus area. The historic initiative of Mukhyamantri Yuva Swavalamban Yojana for education, skill training and employment of our youth from all classes, is a testimony to our commitment in this direction. In the past seven months since its launch, over 11,000 students have been provided with aid worth Rs 35.46 crore. Such examples of effective delivery of government initiatives mark true achievements for my government.
Taking forward the legacy of Gujarat’s impressive industrial development, we have adopted a multi-pronged approach to boost the MSME sector and ensured skill training and job opportunities for the youth across the state. Today, “ease of doing business” has become the identity of Gujarat that makes it the most preferred investment destination in the country.
With persistent efforts to simplify administrative procedures for the benefit of the people, our sole aim is to make the government more and more people-oriented with each passing day.