Boosted by handsome royalty from oil facilities at Barmer, the Rajasthan government has spent nearly Rs 30,000 crore on various social welfare schemes in the last four-and-a-half years. Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot tells Business Standard’s Mayank Mishra that the state’s better performance on various socio-economic indices is a result of that. The excerpts:
States that have shown above average economic growth have managed to reduce poverty quite substantially. However, Rajasthan has been one of the few states that has seen below par growth, yet, did well on reducing poverty. How did you manage that?
It is a result of a combination of initiatives that we have taken in the last four-and-a-half years. Through these initiatives we have not only boosted the purchasing power of the people but have also reduced the cost of living. High inflation was a big concern for the people. We decided to provide wheat at Rs 1 a kg to the people living below poverty line. Our track record on implementing the rural employment guarantee scheme has been the best in the country. Our scheme of distributing free medicines and providing free tests has been a huge success. Additionally, we have a scheme called the Mukhyamantri Jeevan Raksha Kosh that takes care of the entire medical expenses of 38 million BPL people. We provide free medicines for animals also. We give interest subsidy on farm loans up to Rs 1.5 lakh. And, Rajasthan is the only state that offers input subsidy to farmers. With a total cost of nearly Rs 30,000 crore in the last four-and-a-half years, we have boosted the income of the people and reduced their cost of living. Poverty levels, therefore, reduced significantly.
But this model is not sustainable -- low growth, high subsidy burden. Is it?
It is not true that our growth has been below par. The agriculture sector has shown impressive growth. We had record production of pulses in 2010-11 for which we got the Krishi Karman Puruskar from the government of India. Our gross state domestic product grew by a whopping 15.28 per cent in 2010-11. The state’s per capita income grew by 13.36 per cent the same year, which was the highest in the country. Our revenue growth has been far more impressive. And our fiscal deficit has been falling consistently. The simplification of value-added tax has resulted in the end of the inspector raj and has ensured buoyant tax collections. And this has happened despite the fact that we have exempted essential items such as wheat, rice, pulses from VAT. We have lowered the VAT on petrol and we don’t charge VAT on enhanced prices of diesel. It is true that we have benefitted from the royalty on oil fields in the state and we have been blessed with good monsoons in the last four years.
About the free medicine and free test scheme, I have seen reports about long queues at hospitals. Many people have complained about not getting benefits because of a demand-supply mismatch.
We have increased allocations systematically for construction and equipment. It is true that there are queues at hospitals. But we are working on expanding capacities at all levels. I expect the pressure to ease.
Critics also say most of the welfare schemes you have launched are very much present in many other states. What have you done differently?
The difference is in the implementation. Thanks to many years of experience in drought relief schemes, we have a robust mechanism in place to ensure that our welfare programmes are implemented properly. What we have added is a monitoring mechanism to ensure that the compliance level is very high. Records of how we monitor schemes are there for all to verify. For me, good governance means being transparent, accountable and responsive.
What are you doing to attract investment at a time when other states are going all out to woo big investors?
While others make tall claims, we believe in getting things done. Take the case of Gujarat. It holds mega-investor summits where lakhs of crores of investment proposals get announced. And the actual investment is less than 10 per cent. Others talk about single window clearance. But we have a single window clearance act passed by the state assembly.
We have a Japan Industrial Zone at Neemrana. It has been a huge success. A Korean Industrial Zone is soon coming up in the adjoining region. We have investment proposals worth Rs 52,000 crore and they are actual proposals that will come, not mere announcements.
What is the status of the proposed oil refinery at Barmer?
Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Ltd is going to start an oil refinery at Barmer. The project has got clearance from authorities concerned. It is going to be an ultra modern refinery with state -of-the-art petrochemical complex with a capacity of 9 million tonnes. The total investment will be to the tune of Rs 37,230 crore. The foundation stone will be laid in a few weeks and the project is likely to be operational in 48 months. And just look at the benefits it will bring to the state. The state will get Rs 3.17 lakh crore in the next 30 years as tax revenue and more than 300,000 new jobs will be created.
In the last 54 months, you claim to have done many things. But what are the things that you would have done differently?
The power sector is one area where I would have liked much more progress. It is true that we have added 6,300 Mw worth of additional capacity, which itself is a record. But we had planned much more. We had a plan in place to make the state power surplus. We had planned six super critical plants. However, because of various bottlenecks, we have managed to award just two -- one to Larsen & Toubro and the other one to BHEL. I am not satisfied with the progress in power generation.
Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi has challenged the United Progressive Alliance government on the latter’s track record of development?
(<I>Interrupts</I>) What Gujarat model? Someone talks in a high tone and you notice it and quiet performers are ignored. Modi got a set of dubious certificates from Atal Behari Vajpayee in 2002. L K Advani gave him another certificate just after his elevation as the Bharatiya Janata Party campaign committee chief. The BJP, under Modi, is a party without any ideology. It has become a party controlled by an individual.
But don’t you think that the Congress needs a new leadership, a new approach, perhaps?
Rahulji has a new model that is aimed at strengthening the party organisation at the grass roots level. New faces are joining the party and the organisation is getting strengthened. After his elevation, we have had four meetings with him and we have an agenda for the future in place.