A role model for development

Print edition : February 10, 2006

Interview with Virbhadra Singh, Chief Minister, Himachal Pradesh.

In his fifth stint as Chief Minister of Himachal Pradesh, Virbhadra Singh has great plans to take the State on the growth track. Excerpts from an interview he gave Purnima S. Tripathi.

As the Chief Minister of Himachal Pradesh, what were the goals that you set out to achieve and how much have you been able to achieve so far?

Himachal is known as a successful model of hill development in the country. Our goal is to make Himachal the most progressive and developed State in the country, and ensure socio-economic justice to all sections of society with speedy economic uplift of the poor. Our efforts in this direction during the last two and a half years have yielded encouraging results. During this period we have provided a transparent, fair and effective government committed to the welfare of its citizens. It is our endeavour to promote industrialisation and tourism activities to generate employment for the youth. We have provided social security to the aged, widows and the physically challenged besides ensuring reasonable minimum wages to the working class. It has also been our aim to ensure that the delivery of health and educational services reach the door-steps of the masses. Energy sector development is one of our priority areas.

Several surveys and the Planning Commission have lauded Himachal Pradesh for its development initiatives. What are the key areas that the government has identified for special attention and what are the policy measures taken to boost development?

Our initiatives in the social sector have been lauded in the country. In a survey conducted by a well-known magazine, Himachal Pradesh has emerged as the `most progressive' State in the country. The survey notes that social progress has been achieved by giving impetus to the development of the social sector. By achieving a high level of development in various fields, we have been able to distribute the gains among a majority of the people. The initiatives have helped the State achieve first position in education, and second in health and infrastructure in the year 2005. In overall performance, the State has been ranked third amongst both small and big States. The Development Report of the Planning Commission also speaks high of the development the State has achieved in the areas of education, health and infrastructure-building.

Himachal Pradesh has great tourism potential. What is the government doing to boost tourism in the State? What is being done to promote newer areas of tourist interest? Has tourism been accorded the status of an industry?

Himachal Pradesh is indeed a paradise for tourists. Lush green valleys, the snow-clad Himalayan ranges, a serene, calm, hospitable and conducive environment and a rich cultural heritage are attractions that tourists will hardly find elsewhere in the country. The State's enormous tourism potential is being exploited and developed in many ways - such as village tourism, pilgrimage and tribal tourism, eco, health, wildlife, adventure and cultural tourism. Many projects were implemented in the State in the last three years on this basis.

Hydel power is the main source of power generation in the State. What measures have been taken to increase power generation and improve transmission and distribution? Are private parties being involved in these activities?

Nature's gift in the form of perennial rivers is the main source of revenue in the State. The five river basins have a total identified potential of 20,386 MW, of which 6,040 MW has so far been harnessed by various utilities. With a view to harnessing this potential, the power generation sector has been thrown open. The State, joint venture parties, central public sector undertakings and independent power producers are working simultaneously for the development of our energy sector. At present projects aggregating to 10,000 MW are at various stages of execution. It is expected that the State will have about 11,000 MW of actualised potential by 2010. Work on various hydel projects having a total generation capacity of 4,388 MW is in an advanced stage. This includes 429 MW in the State sector, 2,351 MW in the public sector, 400 MW in the joint sector and 1,208 MW in the private sector. Once this total identified potential stands harnessed, abundant and cheap electricity will be available for entrepreneurs in the State, which will help give a big boost to industry here. Even today, entrepreneurs get uninterrupted power supply. We are hopeful that not only Himachal but other northern States will reap the benefits of our power sector development.

Recently we decided to set up a Special Economic Zone in Kangra and Una districts at a cost of Rs.5,040 crores, which would give a big boost to economic activities in these areas.

Given its unique topography, which are the industries that the government is promoting on a priority basis? What has been the industry response so far?

Given the unique topography and congenial environmental features the State enjoys, emphasis has been laid on many areas including infrastructure development. Priority is being given for the setting up of information technology, biotechnology, hydro-power, agriculture, tourism and local raw material-based industries.

The State's new industrial policy and the Union Government's incentive package for industries has laid the path for Himachal Pradesh attracting investments on a large scale in the past two years. Projects worth Rs.17,500 crores have been approved, creating employment opportunities for 2.25 lakh workers.

A number of incentives have been provided to the entrepreneurs. A "Single Window Clearance and Monitoring Authority" has been set up directly under the Chief Minister, which ensures clearances to the entrepreneurs for setting up their industrial units in the shortest possible time. In order to encourage entrepreneurs, fiscal incentives are also being made available to the industrial units in the form of subsidy, tariff concession and deferred payments. Besides, the Union government has given a special package of incentives to Himachal Pradesh which includes 100 per cent exemption from payment of Central excise duty for five years, followed by 25 per cent and 30 per cent exemption for individuals and companies respectively for the next block of five years and a 15 per cent capital investment subsidy on investment in plant and machinery subject to a ceiling of Rs.30 lakhs.

In your endeavour to develop the State, what has been your biggest challenge so far? Have you been able to overcome it? How satisfied are you with your performance?

I can say it with conviction that the last 59 years stand witness to a systematic planning with a major thrust on creating basic infrastructure so as to achieve socio-economic development with a human face. It won't be an exaggeration if I say that the literacy percentage has touched a new high of 77.13. All the Census villages had been provided with electricity way back in 1987. Ninety-eight per cent of the villages were provided safe drinking water, road length has increased to over 27,000 km, and 14,531 educational institutions are engaged in spreading education. Fruit production touched a new high of 6.85 lakh tonnes. More than 3,800 health institutions are there to take care of public health. The government has brought more than 2,12,482 people under the fold of the Social Security Pension Scheme.

My government endeavours to make Himachal Pradesh the number one State in every sphere of development. I am satisfied that the policies and programmes started by successive Congress governments has yielded results that has made Himachal the most progressive State in modern India.

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