With his Cabinet formation still on hold, Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Sukhwinder Singh Sukhu is treading the path cautiously although he is in action mode.
Known as a Virbhadra Singh baiter, Sukhu is considered close to Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi which helped him to clinch the Chief Minister’s post.
India Narrative’s Ashutosh Kumar spoke to the 58-year-old Chief Minister on the new government’s agenda for the development of Himachal Pradesh.
How big is the Congress victory in Himachal Pradesh?
Certainly, it’s a huge victory. Just look at the factors—Bharatiya Janata Party national president J P Nadda hailed from Himachal Pradesh. Prime Minister Narendra Modi dominated the campaign. Invoked his emotional ties with the state and people. Made a “double -engine” pitch, implying the same party governments at the centre and state would be useful to Himachal. I mean, the BJP left no stone unturned to keep the Congress out of power.
What really worked in favour of the Congress?
Basically, three factors– Public anger against the BJP government, unemployment, especially “jobs on sale” as exposed by Junior Office Assistant (JOA)-IT paper leak scam and bad governance of Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur.
How is the Congress or you going to make a difference
We have come to power not to enjoy “power.” I have said on day one after assuming office that we will work for changing the system. You will see lots of innovations happening in governance, delivery of services and development. Resource generation will be agenda no 1. The previous government did nothing to tap the state’s potential in raising resources or use financial prudence. The debt burden increased to Rs 70,000 cr. The governance was very poor. All this will change.
What are the areas you want to tap for resources
Tourism is the biggest revenue earner. I am going ahead with an open-door policy to cut down delays in approvals. Anybody can make an investment in the state taking approvals from DCs. New industrial investments and hydro-power sectors will also get a big push. The investors will be asked to pay money upfront and start their projects. There will be a chain of heliports in the state to improve infrastructure. Education and health sectors will see new innovations.
Congress has promised implementation of the Old Pension Scheme (OPS). Do you have enough money?
We have said a decision on OPS will be taken in the first cabinet meeting of the new government. During these 20- 25 days, I have done an in-depth exercise. I have taken feed-back from the officers in the finance department, MLAs and beneficiary employees. This is doable. Any employee retiring after our first cabinet meeting will get OPS. The financial liability has also been worked-out.
But, there is no cabinet in place
The cabinet will be formed very soon. We are going to have a new assembly session happening next week at Dharamshala. After MLAs take oath, and Governor Rajendra Vishwanath Arlekar returns from Goa—his hometown, I will expand my cabinet after discussion with Governor sahib on the next possible date.
What are the hurdles in cabinet formation. Are you under any pressure?
No pressure. The government is functioning very smoothly. There are also no hurdles of any type, political or otherwise.
There is a new controversy that has arisen over closing down of 500-plus institutions by the government .
The BJP was in power for five years. Why did it open 900 institutions, new offices, health centres, tehsils, sub-tehsils in the last six months? The officers told me that no approval of the finance department was taken. No staff were sanctioned or posted. Some institutions just had a peon. It was a crime committed by the BJP government. They thought opening these institutions will help the party to return to power.
You have put Himachal Pradesh Staff Selection Commission (HPSSC)—a job institution under suspension.
Six persons including a senior assistant of the secrecy branch of HPSSC and her son have been arrested by the state Vigilance and Anti-Corruption Bureau in a paper leak case. The examination of Junior Office Assistant (IT) was slated to take place on December 25 but two days before this, the said officer—a lady and her son were found selling question papers of the same exam through a tout at a price of Rs 2.50 lakh. We cancelled the paper and suspended the Commission. Complaints relating to eight more examinations have been received at the Vigilance Bureau. This shows how a deep-rooted racket was going on in recruitments to government jobs during the BJP time. We are determined to unearth the whole scam and take stern action.