|“Water to the fields, power to the people, health, education and village development our priority” – Vasundhara Raje|
“When we assumed power, the situation was very bad in Rajasthan,” says Smt Vasundhara Raje, the Chief Minister of Rajasthan.
In less than two years, the BJP government in the State has made a remarkable change in the lives of the people of Rajasthan. Development, transparency and financial discipline are the keywords. The initiatives taken by the Chief Minister have touched every corner of the State, every segment of the society. The State is fast emerging as one of the major investment and tourist destinations of the country. In an exclusive interview to Organiser correspondent Deepak Kumar Rath, the Chief Minister underlines her achievements and priorities. Excerpts.
Smt Vasundhara Raje with student on
the occasion of Independence Day 2005
Your government would soon be completing two years in office. What have been your experiences as Chief Minister of Rajasthan?
When we assumed power, the situation was very bad in Rajasthan. So, to put Rajasthan back on the track of development, we took everyone?be it farmers, students or government employees?with us. In the process, maintaining transparency was of prime importance. In Bikaner, the government has spent Rs 12 crore on the maintenance of small canals and people are very happy about it. This year we have covered about 19,000 villages to make people aware of the importance of education, health, etc. We encouraged school drop-outs to continue their study and in the mid-day meal programme, we added another dimension that all the people?whether they are from administration, police department or from political parties?who visit the schools would partake of the mid-day meals with the students so that they would come to know about the quality of the food. For the mid-day meal programme, the government and NGOs are working together.
At present, we are spending about Rs 200-300 crore on the scheme but we are trying to further improve the quality of the mid-day meal by spending Rs 4 per head. Therefore, for raising funds for the scheme, we are making efforts to bring in industrialists, religious organisations and temple trusts. For health check-ups, we are issuing cards to the children. And the cards will bear all the data pertaining to the check-ups of the children and this data will be fed into a computer. Thus a data bank of the children'scheck-up will be created in Rajasthan. To discourage the incidence of drop-outs, which is very frequent among tribals, we have announced that those tribal girls, who do not drop their study in the ninth class, will get a bicycle each and those girls who secure over 75 per cent marks in the 12th class will get a scooter each. We are also exploring the field of bio-diesel and making efforts to involve the tribals in this area.
At present, we are spending about Rs 200-300 crore on the mid-day meal scheme but we are trying to further improve the quality of the mid-day meal by spending Rs 4 per head.
What are the new initiatives you have taken to overcome the hurdles created by the previous Congress regime?
When our government came into power, the State was faring very badly in the field of finance.
Therefore, to improve the situation, we undertook several schemes to reduce the debt burden, to increase revenue and to rationalise the tax structure. At the same time, we did not increase tax anywhere in the last two years. Even the Centre has praised our finance policy, which is evident form the fact that we have been receiving incentive to the tune of Rs 60,000 crore from the Centre for the last two years. So there has been a common perception among the people and finance experts that our government has been able to rein in the dismal scenario, which the past Congress government had left for us. We never let anyone feel that the government lacks funds for developmental works. The last Congress government during its entire tenure used to claim that the government could not undertake developmental works owing to the paucity of funds. Therefore, during the Congress regime, no developmental work was undertaken in the field of road, electricity and water.
We are conducting health check-up programmes for children and discouraging the incidence of drop-outs in schools. Next year we will take up the issues of agriculture and irrigation so that an all-round development of the villages can be brought about.
Furthermore, John Draves, who runs an NGO and works with Sonia Gandhi, has written in his report that the national food for work programme was studied in six different states of India and it was only in Rajasthan that the programme has been found to be working properly. So, it is a very big compliment from an NGO. Secondly, the World Bank has said that if one wants to see the success of Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana, one should go to Rajasthan. For the first time, we have involved NGOs in the schemes for providing water to the common man. We think that if we have to establish a water users? associations, then the payment will be made when there are our people among the contractors and in the committees. That is why NGOs have been involved in the schemes.
As I mentioned earlier, this year we covered about 19,000 villages for providing quality mid-day meals. We are conducting health check-up programmes for children and discouraging the incidence of drop-outs in schools. Next year we will take up the issues of agriculture and irrigation so that an all-round development of the villages can be brought about. We have also taken a very important step for our craftsmen, i.e. establishment of Haat Bazars at various places. Likewise, we have instituted the Amer Development Board for the development of Amer as a living monument. We have also formulated schemes for the development and beautification of historic monuments in the State through their adoption by industrial organisations. Also we are exploring the opportunity whether we can get another ?Palace on Wheels?. So, in a nutshell, there is something happening in every department.
Gangaur procession in Jaipur
What are the major problems facing Rajasthan and what are your priorities?
The major problem of Rajasthan is water. One of the largest States of the country possesses the least water, i.e. about one per cent of country'swater resource. The population of Rajasthan is about six crore and the water problem is turning very grim. Unfortunately, no government in the past has addressed the issue. Now our government is faced with this problem and that is why so many water movements are going on in the State. Had the past governments done something to solve this problem, the situation would not have turned so dismal today. Yet we are formulating schemes to address the water problem, notwithstanding the Rs 60,000-crore debt burden left by the previous government. Unfortunately, those political parties that should have worked to solve the water problem are now politicising the issue, which will only harm the interests of Rajasthan. How can they expect us to do in just two years what was not done in the last 50 years? Though, we are doing our best to address the people'sproblems.
Punjab and Haryana receive surplus water and you recently demanded that Rajasthan should get water as mentioned in the agreement. Comment.
It is an irony that Rajasthan, being one of the largest States of the country, receives the least water. Here it is worth mentioning that it was because of the constitution of the Bhakra Beas Management Board that water was brought in here. Otherwise, this water would have gone to Pakistan. It was because of the recurring droughts and desert condition of Rajasthan that Pt Nehru and the World Bank signed an agreement, which routed water to Rajasthan. But I am sorry to say that the volume of water, as mentioned in the agreement, is not being awarded to Rajasthan. We raised this issue before the Centre but no one is listening to us. The matter is pending in the court and we are following it up. Secondly, if the water of three states is given to only one state, then others will demand a fair distribution. So we say since Bhakra Beas Management Board was constituted for the purpose of fair distribution of water, it should be done so. It means that the management of water distribution should be under the Bhakra Beas Management Board, not under Punjab. And the man agement should comprise of one director each from Rajasthan, Haryana and Punjab. But this is not being done and naturally the people of Rajasthan are perturbed over this issue. Although we raised the issue before the Prime Minister, he did not take up the issue with as much seriousness as it deserves.
It was because of the recurring droughts and desert condition of Rajasthan that Pt Nehru and the World Bank signed an agreement, which routed water to Rajasthan. But I am sorry to say that the volume of water, as mentioned in the agreement, is not being awarded to Rajasthan.
What steps have you taken to make administration more responsive to people'sdemands?
One thing that our government has decided is that there will be some administrative changes in the State. The division commissioner, who covers five or six districts, will conduct at least one meeting per month, which will also be attended by the secretary, MLAs and local MPs. In the meeting, the problems of the common man will be sorted out. We are also endeavouring that all these people should work during the nights. Likewise, collectors, ADMs and SDMs should go on night-outs, so that they become aware of the problems directly from the villagers.
The Opposition has been levelling charges that you are making changes in the education and cultural policy of the government. Comment.
We are only infusing the spirit of patriotism in students and making them aware of their glorious past. They learn yoga in schools. So what is wrong with that?
You recently went abroad to attract investments in Rajasthan. How far did you succeed?
During my foreign visit, I watched a presentation of the Jordan Educational Institute at the World Economic Forum and I was really impressed with the project. In that project all the IT majors like Microsoft, HP, IBM, Cisco, etc, decided that they would help in spreading education in Jordan. They said they would provide computers and other assistance and help bring children to study. The project is doing fairly well in Jordan. Now we want that such a project should also be started in Rajasthan. In size, Rajasthan is larger than Jordan.
Since no such project is on anywhere in the entire country and we lay emphasis on education and health, we want that such a project should be initiated in Rajasthan too. If people of Rajasthan are educated and healthy, Rajasthan would lead all the other states of India. So we took an initiative in this regard and talked to the people concerned. I am confident that by this November, we will sign up for this project. Once the project is signed, Rajasthan will get international attention in the field of education.
We have started programmes to discourage the incidence of drop-outs and are encouraging those students who had dropped their study to again start their study. We have included about 13 lakh girl children in schools this month.
What steps has your government taken for the extension of the knowledge corridor?
Gurgaon is now getting overcrowded. So, for the extension of the knowledge corridor, the next step forward will be from Gurgaon to Jaipur. We have started making attempts to extend the knowledge corridor to Jaipur. NIIT is soon going to establish a university here. New schools and colleges are opening up. Besides the knowledge corridor, we are also working on the concept of a knowledge city. So on its own, Jaipur will soon become a very happening city.
What initiatives have you taken particularly for the uplift of women in Rajasthan?
We are very particular that there should be adequate arrangements for girl schooling in Rajasthan. We are making every effort to attain this goal. We have started programmes to discourage the incidence of drop-outs and are encouraging those students who had dropped their study to again start their study. We have included about 13 lakh girl children in schools this month. As I mentioned earlier, tribal girls are also being encouraged to continue their study. We have also provided concession to women in taxation like stamp duty. If an immovable property is in the name of a woman, then only 5 per cent stamp duty will be charged in place of 11 per cent. Those women who are in small-scale industries, are charged interest rate at one per cent lower. So we have taken a lot of steps for the uplift of women.