Devendra G. Fadnavis, Maharashtra's new chief minister, is a down to earth man who became a BJP corporator when he was barely 22. Now 44, Fadnavis is Maharashtra's youngest chief minister after Sharad Pawar (He was only 38 when he became the CM of the state in 1978), and the second Brahmin to preside over the state's affairs after the Shiv Sena's Manohar Joshi. He was elected to the Maharashtra assembly for the first time in 1999. He won for a fourth time this year. Respected for keeping his word—a rare trait in politics—and a sound understanding of business matters, armed with a law degree and a post-graduate degree in business management, Fadnavis can speak with authority on any topic. Explaining his idea of new Maharashtra and of his vision to steer the state towards progress, talking to our correspondent Rajesh Prabhu Salgaonkar, Devendra Fadnavis told Organiser, “Antyoday and infrastructure development in every sector will be my priority.”
Despite currently heading a minority Government (at the time of the interview, as he has yet to prove his majority on the floor of the house on November 12), he is confident enough about the tasks and ways he will be adopt to run the administration effectively.
Here are excerpts of the most awaited interview of the youngest chief minister in the country:
- Talk about your 'Vision Maharashtra'?
I have worked on every sector, whether it is finance, employment, infrastructure, or whether it is healthcare or social sector; there is a 'Vision' for every sector. After taking charge, I have started taking stock of the situation of every sector and started explaining my vision to the administration in that sector, so that the 'vision' which our BJP team has prepared can be implemented in letter and spirit.
- Do you think it is really possible (to implement it)?
Yes, I think it is possible because the vision prepared by us is based on ground reality. For the past 15 years we’ve been working on ground, so we are aware of the difficulties and have developed perspectives based on our understanding. Now being on the 'this side' of the table we know what are the constraints too. Everything that’s mentioned in our vision is workable. Nothing in it is non-workable. For example police reforms. To improve law and order situation, you have to enhance the rate of conviction which is very low in the state. It is possible through better investigation, good forensic input, good forensic laboratories and forensic equipments, by promising legal aid to the police at the time of the investigation and to fulfill the need for good prosecutors.
In my first cabinet meeting, I took a decision to have a “right to service act”. Now-a-days, state, local or municipal governments have become service providers. And people's anger towards government stems from the fact that they do not get efficient services. Through the implementation of this act, every department will notify what services they provide, what is the time for each and, what papers are required. If they don't comply then like in RTI, there will be an institution which will offer an efficacious remedy to the concerned citizen. Currently, there is no legal recourse for the citizens if they don't get service from any department. This will bring accountability in administration. We are determined to do it.
- Your’s a minority government for now, considering this, do you think the bureaucracy will co-operate with you?
I don't think there will be any problem. We will prove our majority on the floor of the house by the time you publish this interview.
I find a different sense of enthusiasm in the administration, because they feel, after 15 years they have got a government which will allow them to work. I would say 75 percent of our officers want to work freely without wasted interests, which they could not under the previous governments. They are co-operating wholeheartedly.
- What are the priorities of your government?
Well! There’re many to list. But my first priority is to improve the finances, because corrupt regimes of the previous government have given us a bad legacy. The coffers are empty. If the announcements, the previous government made while exiting has to be implemented, the additional loan of 52 K crores has to be arranged. And this year, the revenue deficit could go up to 26 K crores, which will be the highest in the history of Maharashtra. So it's a challenge to improve the finances to fulfill our promises.
Second, we need to create a lot of infrastructure-roads, bridges, air ports, boats, electricity and irrigation. We will be concentrating in creating this basic infrastructure so that our economy starts booming and in turn, an increasing GDP and employment is created. Our state is going through a demographic dividend – average age of Maharashtra is 27 years, and 50 percent of the population of the state is below the age of 25. We need good education, employment and skilled man power; hence, skill development will be a thrust area.
- You are talking about CMO (Chief Minister's Office). Does it indicate you’ll be favouring centralised power over decentralisation?
No. I totally believe in decentralisation. And CMO is the model where administration is decentralised and the CMO just monitors. It will work to build capacity wherever something is lagging behind. Basically, it’ll act as a support system, not a power center. Accountability will be ensured.
- How are you going to deal with the corruption issues of previous government considering that NCP is offering you outside support. What will be the constraints?
We never asked for the support of the NCP. Whatever be their decision, it would not affect our decision making. Because after becoming chief minister, when I met Modi ji, he told me that don’t run a government to save the government. Run your government for betterment of people and people will save your government. And if it goes their way, they will vote you back. I think that is the Mantra.
We are determined to act judiciously, without malice towards anybody but without favour or fear.
- This is Pandit Deendayalaji's birth centenary year. How are you going to integrate 'Integral Humanism' in the governance?
'Integral Humanism' is ultimately about upliftment of the last man of the society – it’s all about 'Antyoday'. I feel, for any government, the focus has to be 'Antyoday'. Because unless the last man of the society is empowered, development can't be achieved. There are certain principles of ‘Integral Humanism’ which we would try to blend with our administrative set up. I would also like to follow the good practices carried by MP, Gujarat, and Chhattisgarh in taking forward the principles of Integral Humanism.
- Is there any special team working for it?
I think there is no need for any special team. We’ll build up the capacity of the people, empower them and then hold them accountable.
- What will be the infrastructure initiatives?
Mumbai is one city where infrastructure is very critical, as it accounts for larger GDP, which in turn creates resources for state as well as for nation at large. Coastal road, trans harbour link, metro rail project, housing, creating smart cities in MMR region, more highways, rural connectivity, more infra in power, good irrigation facilities-all these will be the focal point.
- For last many years Maharashtra is lagging in many sectors like energy, roads and harbour infra. What are your plans to improve these sectors, mainly the energy sector?
There are two things about energy. There is energy deficit, due to which there is load shedding. Of the installed capacity, we generate only 50 to 52 percent. That's why power tariff is high and we have to do load shedding. As a solution, we are going to enhance the efficiency. The inefficiency is partly due to mismanagement and partly due to erratic procurement of coal. So, when I recently had a meeting with coal minister Piyush Goyal, he offered to accept our demand that the coal linkages should be rationalised. The basic problem is, until we get the coal from the nearest mines, the cost of transportation will remain high. It’s so high that it has an impact of around one rupee (per unit) on generation. So we are trying to reduce this cost through rationalisation of linkages. And at the same time, we are also trying to improve the distribution infrastructure.
- Are there any plans for non-conventional energy set-ups like solar or wind power energy?
Yes, we’re looking at non-conventional sources to enhance power generation capacity. A solar corridor along the Mumbai-Pune expressway is being considered.
- What about atomic energy?
See, atomic energy is the future and I am not against its rightful use. At present there is no alternative other than the atomic energy, as the fossil fuels have their own limitations. The disposal of nuclear waste seems to be again a grey area. We’ll have to work more on it.
- What about improving public transport system?
So far as Mumbai is concerned, I am fast tracking the Metro rail projects. We will try to create corridors for transportations, for smooth movement of transport. As public transport is the key, we will try to improve it in all major cities.
- What will be your base idea for industrial policy?
Maharashtra has always been a favoured destination for industries. Of late, the industries are not coming to state because of the regulatory frame work. To start an industry in MIDC, 76 approvals are required. It takes more than two years to procure all these permissions and some time more than that and so industries are not able to set up new plants. I have started an exercise to bring down these permissions to odd 20 approvals and also trying to bring it on a single IT platform.
- We are also lagging on human resource development front. What are the plans to improve this sector?
The problem in Maharashtra is that there is a skill mis-match in all the sectors. And for growth, it’s necessary to have a skilled man power. Earlier government established a high power committee for skill development under the leadership of the former chief minister. But for four years there had not been a single meeting. No skill policy was framed to stop urbanisation.
Fadnavis wins trust vote 'unopposed'
The 13-day-old BJP government headed by Devendra Fadnavis on November 12 won the confidence motion in Maharashtra Assembly by a voice vote, amid protests by former ally Shiv Sena. Assembly speaker Haribhau Bagde called a voice vote. Even when the new ‘Opposition’ Shivsena and the Congress leaders presented an angry posture before the press outside the house, the fact remains that no one had actually opposed the trust vote. Although present in the house, the NCP remained neutral as speculated. And Congress-Shivsena combine joined chorus to create pendamonium in the house not actually registering their 'Nay' (negative) response. Experts say technically the speaker was correct to declare the trust vote as won by Fadnavis. During post lunch session, Sena-Congress combine proceeded to oppose the inaugural address by Governor C Vidyasagar Rao, even to the extent of blocking the his car inside the campus of the assembly premises. The Governor is said to be hurt in the incidence and five Congress MLAs have been suspended for two years.
In ancient India, the villages were self sufficient. They imparted skills, which in turn provided employment.We would like to restore it.
- If you are going to restore the (ancient) system, it might be considered as a regressive posture?
I don't think so. Because ultimately if somebody calls me regressive about these concepts, he will be calling Swami Vivekanand, Mahatma Gandhi as well as all social economists who have finally agreed that it is a sustainable model, regressive.
- What will be your agricultural policy and how will you balance industry and agriculture sectors?
Basic problem in Maharashtra's agriculture is productivity, which is very low. To increase the productivity, we will use new technology but blend it with the traditional ancient knowledge. Water distribution and optimum use of water is the key. Organic farming, use of materials manufactured from Gomutra has shown excellent results. So we would also use this age old knowledge and blend it with modern science. Agro-processing industries will be a thrust area too.
- Is there any plan to revitalise the co-operative movement?
Yes, we need to revitalise the co-operative movement. Of late co-operation has become synonymous with corruption. We want to bring in more transparency; infact, we want to inculcate more trusteeship in this sector.
- What will be your social welfare initiatives or policies?
For the upliftment of socially vulnerable groups, there are many schemes. But there is a lot of corruption in these schemes. So instead of starting new schemes, we would like to make schemes more target oriented, more beneficiary oriented and, we would like to measure the physical and tangible results of these schemes.
- Barring Mumbai, the entire state is lacking good health care system. Are there any plans in the offing?
I think there are two aspects. One is to create health care infrastructure. And the other is to create a network of health care workers and doctors. As far as infrastructure is concerned, you can use the technology. You can create the infrastructure for diagnosis and create a pool of various diagnostics centers and connect them through cloud technology at one center so that one specialist doctor can cater to many centers. Same way you can do it through tele-medicine. We would try to ensure that it reaches the last person.
- Since you assumed office, there has been hue and cry in media over the new rates of blood in the blood banks?
Basically, every facility has a cost and so I think that although we should find mechanism to keep everything affordable, at the same time those who can pay should be asked to pay.
- How would your government decide who can afford?
There is a mechanism. If you have a public-connect, you can understand what is affordable and what is not. Also there are parameters of income to determine affordability.
- There’s been government control over religious bodies like Siddhi Vinayak Mandir or Shirdi Sai Baba Mandir. What will you do?
See, basically I feel, it's not the business of government to control the religious endowments. It can make certain rules, so that these places are not mis-managed.
I don’t have plans to gain control over religious bodies, but at the same time, I am also not in favour to roll back the existing systems.