Govt. seeks Rs. 4000 crore assistance for development of hilly towns

New Delhi: Himachal Pradesh Government has requested the Central Government to sanction special package of Rs. 4000 crore for ensuring overall development of all the 52 towns of Himachal Pradesh. The demand was made by Himachal Pradesh Urban Development Minister Kishan Kapoor during meeting with Union Minister of State for Urban Development Ajay Maken.

Kapoor told the Minister that State Capital Shimla is witnessing heavy rush of tourists and rapid urbanisation during last few years as a result of it the queen of hills is facing worst problem of century due to extreme pressure on basic infrastructure of the town. He told that State Government has formulated an ambitious plan of Rs. 2900 crore for improving basic service of Shimla town and told that Government has submitted the detailed project report of 11 projects worth 119.64 crore with Central Government and requested Union Minister to approve all the pending schemes relating to Shimla town.

The Minister also stressed the need of development of Dharamshala town and told that international dignitaries visit Dharamshala to pay respect to His Holiness Dalai Lama and it has acquired international eminence due to seat of His Holiness Dalai Lama. He told that importance of Dharamshala has increased due to holding of Winter Session of Vidhan Sabha by BJP Government and added that town is fast developing and needs huge investment in infrastructure development.

Maken assured the Minister that Central Government will provide liberal financial assistance to the State Government for improving basic infrastructure in the State and develop the towns as model towns in the country.

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  1. ‘HP has Rs 1,50,000 cr in forest wealth, yet we are in debt. We should be compensated for our forests’

    P.K. Dhumal, the 16th chief minister of Himachal Pradesh, began his political career with the Bharatiya Yuva Morcha in the 1980s and has thrice been an MP. He has recently launched an Atal Bijli Yojna in his state, under which every consumer will get four CFL lamps. The idea is that the eventually the state will end up saving 100 MW, which means the Rs 80 crore invested in the project will be repaid. He also intends to revive micro-hydel projects and attract industry so that the state becomes economically viable. In an interaction moderated by ENS National Editor Shishir Gupta, Dhumal shared his plans for the state with Express staffers

    Prem Kumar Dhumal at the EXPRESS

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    •SHISHIR GUPTA: In the last Himachal assembly elections, you felt the impact of the BSP and now enjoy the support of one BSP MLA. Do you think BSP will be a force to reckon in the forthcoming Lok Sabha elections?

    BSP has contested elections in Himachal for quite a few years but has never had any impact there. For the first time they have won an assembly segment, but that is an individual victory and not that of BSP. So I don’t think BSP has a role to play in Himachal Pradesh. In Himachal, politics are bipolar with clear alternatives: it has to be either BJP or Congress.

    •SHISHIR GUPTA: What about the national level?

    With the national parties not getting a clear majority, regional parties have grown. However, even at the national level, BSP will not have a large number of MPs.

    •SUMAN JHA: You and Shanta Kumar, although rivals, joined forces during the assembly elections, one of the reasons why BJP did so well in Himachal Pradesh. How was it decided that he would come to Delhi and you would be chief minister?

    This is a misconception. Shanta Kumar and I have been working together in Himachal Pradesh for a decade. We have fought every election together against the Congress. Each political party has a number of leaders but everybody cannot become the CM or an MP. One cannot have a single-leader party. BJP has a number of leaders of equal status. Any one of them can be the CM and anyone can be in Lok Sabha.

    •D.K. SINGH: BJP leaders at the state level want to function in an autonomous manner. But BJP believes in a centralised character for the party. How do you reconcile the two positions?

    We have the most democratic set up and I work autonomously. No one interferes with my work. Narendra Modi consulted the state unit when he made the list of candidates for the assembly elections. It was okayed by the high command. In Himachal Pradesh, we went with a list of candidates to the central leadership and not a single one was changed. So there’s no such central intervention. Whatever the state governments say, the high command accepts. That is the most democratic way of working.

    •SHEKHAR GUPTA: Unlike in most states, there is no tradition in Himachal of political parties filing cases against each other (when there is a regime change).

    No, we don’t do that. But when there is a problem with some documentary proof, we do inquire into it. So we don’t believe in this formula. We cannot afford to lose time in useless vindictive actions. It should be put to use for development works.

    •SUMAN JHA: You enjoy a special relationship with Narendra Modi. Do you think in the post-Advani era, Modi will be the BJP leader?

    Narendra Modi is a very dear friend. We have worked together; he was in charge of BJP in Himachal Pradesh when we had just seven MLAs and no MP. He has done very well in Gujarat. What the future holds in store can only be known when the time comes but I wish him all the best.

    •D.K. SINGH: Your strategy in Himachal has never been centred on the Hindutva movement.

    We have always thought that development is the main issue. We don’t depend on these slogans. We work for the common man.

    •D.K SINGH: What is your stand on SEZ (Special Economic Zones)?

    We welcome SEZs if they don’t disturb our farmers, if they don’t require the acquisition of agricultural land. Area wise we are bigger than Punjab, but our agricultural land is limited. As it is a hilly region, not much land can be brought under agriculture.

    •ZEENA NAZIR: Himachal Pradesh has been actively wooing industry by offering a liberal tax duty regime. But how do you reconcile the need to increase industry by lowering taxes with the need to improve infrastructure?

    •SHEKHER GUPTA: Also, there are complaints, especially from Punjab, that this tax relaxation should be withdrawn, as all industry is moving to Himachal Pradesh.

    Mr (Atal Bihari) Vajpayee announced this special industrial package on December 1, 2002. In the past, we have suffered a lot from the indifferent attitude of the Centre. On November 1, 1966, Punjab was reorganised — certain hilly areas were included in Himachal Pradesh, and Haryana was separated from Punjab. Under the Punjab Reorganisation Act, it was decided that in proportion to the population transferred to the states, concerned assets and liabilities would also be transferred. So 7.19 per cent of the population was transferred to Himchal Pradesh, and we paid the liabilities, but we never got 7.19 per cent of the assets.

    The Bhakra dam generates 1,380 MW but we get less electricity than Chandigarh does from it. In the case of the Pong dam, 380 MW electricity is generated. As many as 16,500 families have been uprooted, who have not been rehabilitated so far, and we don’t get a single unit of electricity from there. Then, there’s the Beas-Sutlej link: from Pandoh dam near Mandi, the Beas river water has been taken to Sutlej river near Sarapad: 990 MW electricity is generated from there of which we don’t get a single unit. No royalty either.

    For these reasons we pleaded for the special industrial package. The then chief ministers of Jharkand and J&K joined hands with us and we got the package for 10 years. However, the UPA government reduced the concession from March 31, 2013, to March 31, 2007. Later, it was revised and will now be extended till March 31, 2010.

    Unfortunately, we haven’t got what we should have. Figures given in the Parliament by the Centre show maximum investment and employment in Uttarakhand and J&K. Himachal Pradesh remains a poor third. There is a problem here: you give a Rs 10,000 crore package to the northeast because of insurgency and terrorism; you don’t bother how much you spend in J&K. However. Himachal’s case is different: with a population of only 6 million we contribute the largest number of soldiers to fight at the border. We lose the maximum number of soldiers to insurgency and terrorism. We lost our best land when dams were constructed. Is this the reward you give to the state that is peaceful?

    •SHEKHAR GUPTA: Many industries are shifting their manufacturing units (motorcycle units, vehicle assembly units), but Himachal Pradesh is environmentally very fragile. A huge amount of steel is bought in HP and taken away from there just for the tax benefit. Is the state benefiting from this or is it paying a greater price?

    Environment is the most important thing for us. The industries are situated at the periphery of the state, close to Punjab in Baddi (just 22 km away from Punjab). So, our environment is not endangered at all.

    •MANU PUBBY: We have been hearing a lot about the industrialisation. Is tourism taking a back seat in Himachal?

    Mr Badal (the Punjab chief minister) and I have decided to have a ropeway in joint venture from Anantpur Sahib to Naina Devi. Anyone going to Naina Devi will go to Anantpur Sahib too and vice-versa. Also, in Kullu, from Bhunter to Bijli Mahadev, another ropeway is coming up. We are trying one from Panchang to Rohtang, too. But the problem is that tourists who go to Rohtang, pollute the place with polythene bags. This increases pollution and the snow melts very fast. We have also planned ropeways from Dharamshala to Driund, Palampur to Lugal. A large number of devotees go to Baba Balak Nath in Dyotsidh. So we have planned another ropeway from Shahtalai to Dyotshid. For the winter sports, there is a 300-metre skiing stretch at Manali. We are making a ropeway there as well, which should be ready by June. Baba Ramdev has promised to set up a Patanjali Peeth in Himachal. People will visit it and that will help boost tourism.

    •JAIKUMAR: The government is exploring the possibility of an international airport in Mandi district. Are you going ahead with the project? You said no agricultural land would be acquired for any project so will no land be acquired for this too?

    As far as the international airport is concerned, the survey has been conducted by the Airport Authority of India, the report is ready. I don’t think the people will oppose it. If the people give their land with their consent, we will facilitate the things to go ahead.

    •D.K. SINGH: There is a large community of Tibetan refugees in HP. Is there any solution to their problems?

    To be a refugee is a big curse. Unless they go back they will have to stay here because of Government of India policies. It is for the Centre to decide what is to be done. We won’t turn them out. We cannot stop them from any economic activity. They too have to survive. Certain problems have been there, but we have tried to stick to the policy of Atithi Devo Bhava. I have been meeting the Dalai Lama quite often – he’s a very true saint. For China, I feel the best thing for them would be to find a solution soon as possible — the Dalai Lama is the only leader in whom people have so much confidence.

    •D.K. Singh: Shimla is becoming a concrete jungle. Are you thinking of some kind of regulations for this?

    We have already imposed certain restrictions: one cannot construct more than four floors, for example. But Shimla as the capital has to develop. There are political compulsions too: whenever we shift any office, people oppose it. Even in Manali the Mall Road is too small, Rs 2 crore has been allocated for it. We have stopped cars from going to the mall.

    •ZEENAT NAZIR: You had launched a scheme for women self-help groups who would be made authorised franchisees for the collection of electricity bills. How is the scheme doing?

    We have been trying to strengthen women and ours is the only state where women have a holiday on Karva Chauth, Raksha Bandhan and Bhai Duj. Also, they don’t have to pay any fare if they travel in HRTC buses on Bhai Duj and Rakhi. We have recently enacted a law that gives 50% representation to women in Panchyati Raj associations and urban local bodies. We are also going to raise an India Reserve Battalion that will be totally a battalion of women.

    •SONU JAIN: In the recent column you wrote for The Indian Express, you said that if the government is to compensate you for your forests you will accept that. But if it happens, will you say no to all the industries coming to the state?

    Himachal has at present Rs 1, 50,000 crore worth of forest wealth. And we are always called a debt-trapped state. We have to pay approximately Rs 22,930 crore as debt. If we are to sell we can earn a lot. At times one doesn’t get permission to cut forests even to perform the last rituals as per the rules. Till 1976, these decisions were with the states. From the time the Centre has taken over, we have no rights. We cannot cut trees, we cannot impose a tax on power generation. Even if we could impose a tax of 10 paise per unit we would increase our resources. And, if we have proper resources we do not need polluting industries.

    •SHEKHAR GUPTA: So you mean you should be compensated for your forests?

    Yes. Our natural resources are being used. Wood worth thousands of crores is being exported. So illicit felling is taking place. We want forests (as they are regulated) not jungles. Sometimes for the growth of the forest we need felling, which we do not have the right to do. The Forest Conservation Act 1980 really needs an amendment. The court has declared that every land that is not agricultural land is a forest. How can a barren land be forest land? So we should be compensated. We have an income of Rs 3,000 crore only. And we have to pay Rs 2,000 crore as the interest on the loans that have been raised. Rs 1,000 crore goes as the installment of the loan repayment. Then Rs 5,000 crore goes in payment of the salaries and with the Sixth Pay Commission it will be Rs 2,000 crore for pensions. So we have to take more loans to repay previous loans, salaries, interests, and pensions. All these things have to be looked into.

    •DEEPSHIKHA BHARDWAJ: The standard of education has really gone down as far as the government schools in villages are concerned. Don’t you think it should be compulsory for the teachers to serve in remote, areas, the interiors, for two or three years?

    We conducted a survey and found that we had 1,964 primary schools without a room. And 2,070 schools were there with only one room. So we started with Saraswati Bal Vidya Sankalp Yojna. We provided 13,672 rooms in the state primary schools. Within three years we raised a loan of Rs 126 crore from Nabard and this was followed by Sarva Shiksha Abhyan for middle and high schools. For teachers, a provision has been made in this year’s budget for the recruitment of 18,000 teachers in the state. We have also come up with a transfer policy: everybody will have to serve in hard areas for at least three years to qualify for the next promotion. So teachers, doctors and nurses, will be available in remote areas. For doctors we are making appointment, institution specific. They can draw a salary only after serving in hard areas.

    (The transcript was prepared by Deepshikha Bhardwaj.)

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