Raman Singh has headed the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in Chhattisgarh continuously since December 2003. In this e-mail interview to Frontline , the three-time Chief Minister speaks about the challenges facing the State and the issues that are still being addressed. Excerpts:
How do you view these 12 years in power?
It was a great opportunity and a big challenge to lead a State that has tremendous potential and also faces pressing problems. At the end of the 12th year and in my third tenure, some of that potential is still untapped and some of the issues are still being addressed. However, I must say that at the end of the day I sleep with the satisfaction that everyone in this State is getting two square meals a day. The State, once known for starvation deaths, malnutrition and a high infant mortality rate [IMR], is now ranked far higher and has been praised even by our opponents. The State has been appreciated by no less than the Supreme Court of India.
But the BJP government under your leadership has not been able to resolve the Maoist insurgency in the southern belt of the State. With the BJP in power at the Centre, can a fixed time frame be expected to completely end the insurgency?
We are moving strategically and systematically. There is no silver bullet to the problem. As I said in the Budget speech, naxalism will be wiped out through a two-pronged effort—development and security measures. Our approach is for holistic development in the tribal areas, with special focus on education, health, nutrition and agriculture. We provide food and nutrition security to all tribal people. We have established Livelihood Colleges in naxalite-affected districts, namely, Sukma, Bijapur, Narayanpur, Dantewada, Kondagaon, Kanker and Bastar [Jagdalpur]. A large number of tribal youths and surrendered naxalites are undergoing vocational training in these colleges and enhancing their employability. The government is running Prayas residential schools in five divisional headquarters of the naxalite-affected areas where students of Classes 11 and 12 are given special coaching to appear for engineering and medical entrance examinations. Chhattisgarh spends 36 per cent of its budget on tribal-populated areas; tribal people constitute 32 per cent of the State’s population. In other words, Chhattisgarh spends a greater part of its budget on tribal areas in comparison to its population ratio. Additionally, we are working to reduce the isolation of Bastar by improving road, rail and air connectivity and the telecom network there.
In the past six months, four journalists have been arrested by the police in Bastar. One journalist was forced to leave Jagdalpur. A recent report of the Editors Guild of India says that the media work under tremendous pressure in Chhattisgarh. Why are the media not being allowed to work in a free and fair manner in the State?
We are committed to ensuring the freedom of the press and we will never allow any attempt to suppress any dissenting voice. Freedom of the press is very close to my heart. The moment this incident came to my notice, I held discussions with several senior editors. If there has been any aberration, I am committed to setting it right.
I would like to underline that there is a huge battle raging in Bastar. There is a sense of anger among the people against the naxalites and the way they are not allowing development and denying even basic facilities. There is a rise in the number of people killed by the naxalites. The development on the economic and industrial fronts in the rest of Chhattisgarh has increased our resolve to empower the tribal people of Bastar. We will do everything possible, within our powers, to deliver food security, dependable health care, and equal educational opportunity to every tribal family of Bastar.
The moment the unfortunate attack on Soni Sori [Adivasi leader] took place, a first information report was filed and a special team was constituted to investigate the incident. I personally directed our Resident Commissioner in Delhi to visit her at the Apollo Hospital there. The Principal Secretary [Home], along with the Collector and the Superintendent of Police, also visited her home at Gidam to reassure her family members about their safety, and security was immediately provided to them. Soni Sori was given ‘Y’ category security. She contested the last Assembly elections on the Aam Aadmi Party ticket.
Politics and elections have their own dynamics, hence we provide security to MLAs and politicians whenever necessary. But she declined the offer. We are committed to providing Soni Sori the security she wants and needs at all times. We have also offered security to Bela Bhatia [activist] so that she can do her work [in Chhattisgarh] unhindered. I condemn the attack on the Central Reserve Police Force personnel in the strongest terms. This dastardly act shows the desperation of the naxalites as they are rapidly losing ground.
Chhattisgarh was recently in the news for farmers suicides. The National Crime Records Bureau report ranked the State fourth among the States with high rates of farmers suicides. Has your government not been able to fulfil the needs of the agricultural sector?
We have taken decisive, coherent and concrete steps for the welfare of the farmers. Chhattisgarh is known as the rice bowl of the country. During my tenure, the State government has ensured that each and every grain of paddy is procured from farmers, paying the minimum support price. We have taken effective steps to provide remunerative prices to farmers against paddy procurement and we have also been providing bonus for the same.
The various irrigation projects and schemes implemented by the BJP government has helped increase the area under irrigation from 22 per cent to 34 per cent. About 3.62 lakh irrigation pumps have been electrified in the past 12 years. In view of the scanty rainfall last year, 117 of the 146 tehsils have been declared drought-hit. We have spent nearly Rs.450 crore by way of relief to farmers. In the upcoming kharif season, we will be distributing a maximum of one quintal of paddy seeds free of cost to farmers of drought-hit areas. We have waived off land revenue in the drought-hit areas, and we have also doubled the financial aid under the Mukhyamantri Kanya Vivaah Yojana, that is, we are providing Rs.30,000 for the marriage of each daughter of a drought-hit farmer.
Chhattisgarh ranks fourth in the country in terms of paddy production. The State has received the National Krishi Karman Award three times for rice production and once for pulses production. The credit of this achievement goes to our hardworking farmers and our farmer-friendly policies.