Development is not only about materialistic growth, according to many experts. No development is complete unless there is social empowerment of the weaker sections of the society. Chhattisgarh, an eastern state which came into existence in 2000, is a leading example of such inclusive growth. The state has not only progressed in terms of infrastructure such as roads and power, it has duly taken care of the Scheduled Tribes (STs), who constitute about 32 % of the state’s population. No wonder, 27 students from this tribal community recently got selected in the prestigious IIT entrance.

RAMAN SINGH, who took over as the Chief Minister in 2003, is working tirelessly for inclusive growth of all sections of society. His government took it as a challenge to ensure 24×7 power availability. And now, Chhattisgarh is one of the few states which boasts of zero power cuts. Chhattisgarh’s effective Public Distribution System (PDS) has now become a role model for other states. There are many more feathers in Raman Singh’s cap. People of Chhattisgarh have duly rewarded him by giving him three consecutive terms. The Chief Minister spoke exclusively to The Sunday Guardian at his residence in Raipur, dwelling at length on how he achieved all this and how he plans to make the state the number one in the country. Excerpts:

Q. How has been your 12 year journey as the Chief Minister? Are you satisfied with what your government has achieved in these years?

A. I have tried my best with the support of the people of Chhattisgarh to usher in an era of development. When I took over in 2003, the state’s budget was nearly Rs 7,328 crore. Now, it has gone up to Rs 76,151 crore in 2016-17. That is a big jump for the state. In these years, we have built our own strength. Chhattisgarh is the first “zero power cut” state and we are striving to make it Number 1 in the country with 100% electrification soon. The installed capacity of power generation has increased to 21,000 MW from 4,000 MW 12 years ago. This has resulted in improved lifestyle of the people of Chhattisgarh. We have given them the capacity to work 24 hours a day.

Besides, we have improved connectivity in terms of road, rail and air. In the next six years, we will be building 1,300 km of new railway lines. Our GSDP growth is consistently higher than the national average. According to a Reserve Bank of India (RBI) report, Chhattisgarh has once again stood first in financial management in 2015-16. The report states that during this period, the state’s loan burden is 15.5% of GSDP, which is the lowest in all Non-Special Category states. As per the report, just like previous two years, Chhattisgarh has done the highest expenditure in the development sector in 2015-16, which is 21.2% of GSDP as against an average of 12.2% of other states of Non-Special Category. We have achieved a lot, but definitely a lot more has to be done. I want to see Chhattisgarh as the number one state in the country.

Chhattisgarh is the first ‘zero power cut’ state and we are striving to make it the Number 1 in the country with 100% electrification soon. The installed capacity of power generation has increased to 21,000 MW from 4,000 MW 12 years ago.

Q. What is the progress on the Naya Raipur, the new capital township, project?

A. Naya Raipur is India’s first Smart Capital City. Spread over 236 sq km, the new capital city is now ready. The State Secretariat has already shifted there. Hospitals, offices of IT, Electronics companies etc are coming up there. The Raipur airport has been getting the best airport award for the past two years, in the non-Metro category.

Q. How did you make all this possible? How did you manage the finances for development work?

A. Fully aware that everything cannot be done through the state budget, we adopted the PPP (Public Private Partnership) approach. For example, a coal public sector undertaking (PSU) needs railway line for transport. We formed a special purpose vehicle (SPV) of Indian Railways, the state government and the PSU which will build the railway line. This is a win-win situation for all the three stakeholders. And this we are doing without touching the state budget. While we went ahead with development, we always put the emphasis on the social sector too. The RBI report gives Chhattisgarh the top rank in 2015-16 in terms of expenditure on schemes of social sector. In 2014-15, the state had ranked second in this field. Chhattisgarh holds the first rank in the country with its highest budget provision of 15 % of GSDP in social sector, whereas the national average is just 7.4 %.

Raman Singh with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The state government has always worked in synergy with Central schemes.Q. Public Distribution System (PDS) is a major success in Chhattisgarh. What is the mantra of its success?

A. We took PDS not only as a tool for food security but for nutritional security as well. Besides food grains, we included iodised salt, pulses, gram etc which provide nutrition to the people. As of now, over 60 lakh families are being benefited from the PDS. When I decided to launch PDS in a big way, many of the chief ministers poked fun at me. However, I was convinced from the core of my heart that PDS can actually bring about a transformation in people’s life. The first thing I did was to issue the ration card in the name of a female member of the family. The idea was to ensure that the food grains did not go out in open market. This worked. Then I went for legal reforms. We formed cooperatives to run the PDS shops. An interest free revolving fund of Rs 90,000 was given to the cooperatives or women associations. We also increased the commission three times. In order to stop leakages, uniformly coloured trucks were pressed into service for carrying PDS items, with GPS, so that their movement could be tracked. A toll-free number was provided on which anyone can complain to the respective District Collector in case the loaded truck does not reach as per schedule. Now, it gives me pleasure to tell you that not even six complaints come to us.

When I took over in 2003, the state’s budget was nearly Rs 7,328 crore. Now, it has gone up to Rs 76,151 crore in 2016-17. That is a big jump for the state.

Q. We heard your government is implementing the “second generation PDS”. What is that?

A. “Second generation” PDS gives people the liberty to buy their ration from shops of their own choice. That’s why we call it “PDS MERI MARZI”. One can go to any PDS shop and buy one’s quota of food grains as per one’s choice, using a smart card. In case the customer feels the quality of a particular item is not good, he can go to another shop. Right now, this service is limited to urban pockets. We will open more such shops in the days to come.

Q. What are your plans to ameliorate the lives of Scheduled Tribes?

A. Tribals are at the core of our policies. We have taken a number of steps to improve their living standards so that they become part of the mainstream. Electricity is a major tool for development. We have targeted all hamlets of the state to be electrified in one year and remote hamlets will be provided solar energy. This year, 351 such hamlets will be connected by solar energy in the Bastar region alone. Areas like Abujhmar  are getting electricity for the first time. This solar power is not only lighting up the villages, but also fulfilling the drinking water and irrigation requirements of the villagers, mostly tribals. More than 3,000 solar pumps have been installed in the state, mostly in the Bastar region. Besides, over 1,500 solar pumps have been installed for irrigation facilities. We are upgrading their skills through special schemes. In order to check drop-outs, we are giving them training in 32 skills like carpentry, plumbing, electrical etc. We are building residential schools in tribal areas. Over 3,750 students are getting education in 13 Eklavya Vidyalayas. Free coaching facility is being provided to students in the Prayas Residential Schools. As a result of our consistent efforts, there has been qualitative improvement in their education. This year, as many as 27 students  of Prayas got selected in the prestigious IIT-JEE.

For economic development, we have got minimum support price (MSP) fixed for minor forest produces like Chironji, Imli etc, which were initially bartered. For Primitive Tribes, we have started a 11-point welfare programme. In order to hone their sporting skills, the government has set up 13 sports complexes all over the state.

Q. Chhattisgarh is full of forest cover. What steps are you taking to ensure that there is development but not at the cost of environment?

A. About 45 % area of Chhattisgarh is covered with forests. No development is complete unless it takes care of the environment. Therefore, our government is keen to ensure that green cover of Chhattisgarh not only remains intact, but also grows with time. Keeping this goal in mind, we are working on a plan wherein one person would plant three trees this year. We intend to plant 50 crore trees in the next five years.

Q. What about the manufacturing sector?

A. The Chhattisgarh government signed MoUs worth Rs 52,000 crore in 2015-16 for coal gasification, steel, energy and defence production. In the food processing sector, we have signed MoUs of projects worth Rs 1,137 crore. The National Mineral Development Corporation (NMDC) is setting up a steel plant with an investment of Rs 18,000 crore in Bastar. An Electronic Manufacturing Park is being set up in Naya Raipur. In the coming years, we plan to set up a metal park in Raipur, engineering park in Bhilai, mega food park in Dhamtari and plastic park in Rajnandgaon. We are giving thrust on non-polluting industries in food processing and IT/ITes sectors.

Q. Chhattisgarh has been a victim of Maoist violence (Left Wing Extremism). What steps has your government taken to deal with the issue?

A. More and more Maoists are now surrendering and joining the mainstream. This has been possible because of an attractive rehabilitation package. Under the Rehabilitation Scheme for surrendered Maoists, the state government has arranged skill development training in Livelihood Colleges. In February, I handed over certificates of trained masons to 32 surrendered extremists in Bastar district. They were provided 75-day training in various trades related to building construction at Livelihood College, Jagdalpur. Besides the rehabilitation scheme for Maoists, we are also conducting similar schemes for Maoist-affected families.

Q. The Rajya Sabha has passed the Goods and Services Tax (GST) Bill. How significant would it be for the country?

A. The Bill was in true spirit of financial cooperative federalism and a definitive step towards “Sabka Sath Sabka Vikas”. Shortly, the Chhattisgarh government is going to convene a special Assembly session to pass the 122 constitution amendment bill.

To call GST the boldest tax reform since opening up of the economy 25 years ago is a huge understatement. The economic unification of the nation that this bill achieves in one stroke is comparable in importance to the political integration of 562 states achieved by Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel in 1947.

The process of political integration of India, which was initiated by Sardar Patel, is now complete with the passage of the GST Bill.

I congratulate our Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modiji for this great achievement. Finance Minister Shri Arun Jaitleyji’s commitment to compensate the states for any losses for full five years is a great assurance for us. I expect the GST to boost economic growth and contribute to ease of doing business in a big way.

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