Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani answered questions that The Sunday Guardian sent him about his government’s work and his electoral agenda, among other things.
Q: The NDA government completed three years in power at the Centre, last month. Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently said, “States have the most important role in India’s progress. India can move ahead only on the strong shoulders of the states and not from Delhi alone.” What has been Gujarat’s contribution towards this?
A: Since the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) under the leadership of Prime Minister Modi was voted to power in 2014, this government has worked under the spirit of cooperative federalism. Unlike governments of the past, the Central government, under the leadership of PM Modi, has sought to make states partners in its endeavour, in order to effectively implement citizen-centric schemes. Our government, in particular, through this effective Centre-State co-operation has managed to efficiently implement Central schemes such as the Ujala Yojana, Swachh Bharat Mission, Make in India, Startup India, Smart City Mission, Digital India, etc., in a manner best suited for our citizens. And because of our successful collaboration, Gujarat as a state has prospered.
Q: With Assembly elections around the corner in your state, what will be your main focus in terms of governance in the run-up to the elections?
A: First of all, I would like to clarify that good governance is a holistic and continuous process. With elections or without elections, we cannot focus on a specific aspect of it. If we do so, it is not good governance. Since I took charge on 7 August 2016, my sincere endeavour has been to run an efficient and result-oriented government, which is sensitive to the needs of the people and believes in winning their confidence. The quality of public service delivery should increase and continue to improve, that is my first priority. All important aspects of the socio-economic development—health, education, social empowerment, economic progress, culture etc.—can be subsumed within this core objective.
Q: You assumed power in the state in August last year. In this short span of time, what sort of targets did you give yourself in different areas? Are you happy with the progress you have made so far?
A: Once I was sworn in as Chief Minister, I immediately understood the burden of responsibility that was placed on my shoulders. I swore that I would continue to maintain the image of this great state, renowned both in India and abroad for embodying the ideals of good governance. For this purpose, my government is run on the ideals of decisiveness, transparency, sensitivity and progressiveness.
In the last 10 months, we have introduced a range of unique initiatives. Among them are two novel campaigns called Seva Setu and Pragati Setu, which have helped us reach closer to the people and in making our governance more effective. The success and people-connect of the programme can be gauged from the fact that it has provided solutions to more than 51 lakh applications in less than six months of its launch. Our state has also managed to effect changes in education, through the passage of the Gujarat Self Financed School (Regulation of Fees) Bill.
Access to quality healthcare is a right that every citizen should have. For that purpose our government launched more than 250 Jan Aushadi Kendras, which provide medicines under the Deendayal Yojana to the poor and middle class. A further 250 will be launched soon, one at every taluka.
We have also made the lives of house owners easier in urban areas, through the regularisation of houses on ULC land. Through this act, house owners living on ULC land, will now be able to regularise their dwellings and legalise the construction after the payment of a fixed fee.
Our state has numerous programmes focusing on the empowerment and development of our tribal populace. Through the implementation of Rule-2017 of Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act, we took another step in this direction. Through the PESA Act, tribal people in forest areas now have control over any minor forest produce and minor minerals, providing them with a source of income, to develop the region. Furthermore, gram sabhas within tribal areas can also fix loan interests, thus eliminating the problem of moneylenders, in these regions.
With regard to the issue of ban of cow slaughter, it is a fact that cows hold a special place in our culture, both in the Vedas and Puranas. Therefore, their slaughter cannot be condoned and which is why we passed the “The Gujarat Animal Preservation Bill, 2017”. Through this law, cow slaughter is a non-bailable offence and is punishable with life imprisonment.
Our government also set up 16 fast-track courts, to try cases related to any atrocities committed against people belonging to Scheduled Castes or Scheduled Tribes. Furthermore, our government also undertook a number of transfers of district officials among the local bodies to crack down on any corruption within the system.
‘Congress has no agenda, and is drifting rudderless in this election battle. They have no strong leader who can take charge and unlike our party, news of disloyalty and discontent is being heard constantly amongst their ranks. The Congress’ tactics has been to only react and criticise. They have yet to offer a single policy thought. Unlike our party, they have yet to present a single coherent idea of what they would consider developed Gujarat.’
Q: What will be the agenda on which you will fight the elections?
A: Our government is based on the ideals of good governance and is not bound to the short-term goals of elections. While we respect the Assembly elections as a democratic process, our focus has always been in supporting the development of our people. It is a two-way process, where we plan our actions on the inputs of the people and we believe the people will judge us on the basis of our success.
It is the Congress on the other hand who have no agenda, and are drifting rudderless in this election battle. They have no strong leader who can take charge and unlike our party, news of disloyalty and discontent is being heard constantly amongst their ranks. Furthermore, if you see the Congress Party’s tactics throughout this election, it has been to only react and criticise, and they have yet to offer a single policy thought. Unlike our party, they have yet to present a single coherent idea of what they would consider developed Gujarat. Our party, on the other hand, has believed in the idea of “Sabka Saath Sabka Vikas”.
‘In the last 10 months, we have introduced a range of unique initiatives. Among them are Seva Setu and Pragati Setu, which have helped us reach closer to the people. The success and people-connect of the programme can be gauged from the fact that it has provided solutions to more than 51 lakh applications in less than six months of its launch.’
Q: Outreach to the youth is expected to play an important part in the BJP’s campaign strategy. How is your government connecting more with the youth of the state?
A: I recently met with a number of industrialists, businessmen and media representatives, as well as over 200 bright young minds, at my residence, at an event titled Young Gujarat for New India. This event gave me a chance to interact with some of the best and brightest of our state and helped reaffirm this government’s commitment to engaging with the youth.
Our state is a national leader in job creation, with special exchanges at eight universities—five for SC/ST and two for women. This February, we managed to provide jobs to over 109,520 youth. A fair proportion of the employed youth belonged to SC/ST and backward sections of society. 144 Divyangs were also provided employment.
But beyond just providing our youth with jobs, the government is also focusing on giving our youngsters the skills they need to become job-creators, rather than job-seekers. To that end, our government has set up a number of universities that offer the youth of our state specialised training. These universities include Pandit Deendayal Petroleum University, Raksha Shakti University, Gujarat Forensic Science University; and the setting up of India’s first railways university in Vadodara.
We have introduced a sports policy, which will provide the youth with more opportunities in sports. Furthermore, through schemes like MYSY (Mukhymantri Yuva Swavalamban Yojana), we have been able to provide more opportunities to the youth in the field of education.
‘The peace-loving and progressive Patidar community is supporting us unanimously as earlier.’
Q: Recently, you launched “Mission Women’s Empowerment” and asked the state’s women to turn towards “digital revolution”. How is your government ensuring that women in the state go increasingly digital?
A: Our government has introduced a number of policies, and in our recent budget, we introduced a fourth consecutive gender budget, with over 653 women welfare schemes. To help the women of our state go digital, we will begin digital virtual classrooms in every school, with a target to bring the next generation into the digital era. Over 2,400 classes of 7th and 8th Standards will be covered through virtual education.
Separately, we also announced the distribution of tablet devices worth Rs 8,000 at a subsidised price of Rs 1,000 to four lakh Class 12 students, who enrol into colleges and polytechnics for higher education. These tablets will be pre-installed with massive online open courseware, allowing students to access study material of global standards.
Q: Before you took charge; there were some reports of water crisis in a few districts and villages in Gujarat. What steps has your government taken to tackle the water crisis?
A: Ensuring security of water in an arid state like Gujarat is an uphill task, the foundation of which was laid by Shri Narendrabhai Modi during his tenure as the Chief Minister. Since the revolutionary initiative of water management, we have come a long way. Formation of WASMO, constitution of Pani Samitis at gram sabha level and elimination of water-tanker mafia, are all part of the long journey. One of our key projects presently is Saurashtra Narmada Avtaran Irrigation Yojana (SAUNI), which will ensure adequate water supply in the Saurashtra region. The SAUNI Yojana represents a leap forward in water management for both Gujarat and India, as it was envisioned as a multi-purpose project. The state government has allocated 1 MAFT (Million Acre Feet), i.e., 43,500 Mcft (Million Cubic Feet), of the overflow of the Narmada river, to the Saurashtra region. Upon completion, the project will connect with all the 115 dams in the region and will help strengthen the irrigation facilities of more than 10 lakh acres of land. We have consistently received the necessary clearances and approvals from the Centre on time for the first phase of the project. As a result, Link 1 is now active and was inaugurated by Prime Minister Modi last year on 30 August.
‘We announced distribution of tablets worth Rs 8,000 at a price of Rs 1,000 to four lakh Class 12 students.’
Q: In the single-largest recruitment ever done by the Gujarat police, the state recently gave appointment letters to a record 18,217 new police recruits. What can the other states learn from Gujarat’s recruitment process?
A: Yes, we appointed more than 18,000 police recruits, including over 4,500 women recruits at one go, which is a record. The recruitment drive helped us offer employment to the meritorious youth, while also strengthening the law and order infrastructure of the state. I believe the key reason for our success in enforcing the rule of law has been the non-interference of the state government in the work of the police. By doing so, it reduces the confidence of the criminal elements in the state. But what is also important is maintaining the morale of the police. The rule of law within the state can only be maintained if the police are treated with dignity and respect, and that is what we have ensured.
Q: How prepared is the business community in the state for the rollout of the Goods and Services Tax (GST) from 1 July? Can you give an idea of the number of businessmen who have enrolled with the GST network and what are the further steps being proposed by your government to ensure that the GST rollout process in the state is smooth?
A: The current progress of the Goods and Services Tax Bill, since it was finally passed in the Lok Sabha in April, is a testament to the indomitable will of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Despite the numerous political and legal hurdles his government faced in passing the bill, they managed to reach a consensus with the state governments and all political parties, which ensured that the best possible format of the GST could be passed.
In support of the Central government, a special one-day session of the Vidhan Sabha was held, during which the GST Bill was passed in the state. Our state is fully prepared for the rollout of the GST Bill. This can be seen in how our government has organised special seminars to create awareness among people about GST. In addition, we have also organised special seminars for MPs and MLAs as well, so that they can carry forward the message of GST, to their constituents. The passage of the GST Bill has already generated a great deal of enthusiasm amongst the business community in Gujarat and we have over 5 lakh registrations from both small and big entrepreneurs.
Q: Earlier this year, you were quoted as saying that the Patidar quota agitation in Gujarat had “run out of steam” and that the community would support the BJP in the Assembly polls. Are you still confident of the community’s support? Is there any specific plan in your mind vis-à-vis the Patidars ahead of the Assembly polls?
A: The BJP’s agenda is not based on the perpetuation of caste or religion based politics, our mandate has been won on the back of our commitment to the growth and development of the state. We have always strived to stay to the vision set out by Hon’ble Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi, and continue to develop our great state.
All communities within Gujarat are a part of what made our success possible, and the Patidar community is no exception to this. They have always supported the development achieved under our government. It is only a few misguided elements, who diverted the attention of a section of the community last year. But now, things are totally different as the peace-loving and progressive Patidar community is supporting us unanimously as earlier.