INTERVIEW | Setting state finances right is Congress govt’s top priority: Himachal CM Sukhu
Himachal Pradesh has a debt of Rs 75,000 cr plus a Rs 1,000 cr arrears of OROP, but govt is determined to raise revenue from additional sources like water cess & liquor biz
Published: 21st March 2023 08:47 AM | Last Updated: 21st March 2023 08:47 AM | A+A A-
Firmly in his seat after well over three months in office in Himachal Pradesh, Chief Minister Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu has prioritised his tasks; the first is to keep the state finances under control. In an interview with Harpreet Bajwa, Sukhu explains the challenges and the way ahead for him.
Your government will complete 100 days in the next few days. What have been your achievements?
First, the state has to get out of the financial crisis. From April 1, we are going to implement Old Pension Scheme (OPS) for government employees. We have to bring about a systematic change since we are not in the power to enjoy it. We have taken several decisions such as stopping exam paper leaks and dissolving the Himachal Pradesh Staff Selection Commission, we have made the tendering process transparent.
We have also auctioned the retail liquor vends putting an end to the previous BJP government’s policy of tender renewals. This has led to a revenue increase of 30 per cent. Besides, we have set up a fund of Rs 101 crore for 6,000 orphan children. We will be developing Himachal as a model state for electric vehicles in the first phase. Our focus is to make Himachal a green energy state by March 31, 2026.
What are the top priorities of your government?
The first is to solve the economic crisis that the state is facing. The state has a debt burden of Rs 75,000 crore. Then, we have Rs 1,000 crore arrears of government employees and pensioners of the Sixth Pay Commission. Besides, the DA instalment has to be given. Each Himachali owes Rs 92,000 as the population of the state is 75 lakh. Our state is blessed with natural beauty, we have to enhance it and control pollution levels.
How much will the OPS implementation add to the state’s financial burden?
The OPS will burden the state exchequer with Rs 1,000 crore per annum.
Congress made 10 promises during the elections. One of them was OPS, which your government has fulfilled. What about other promises such as the one on the monthly payouts for women?
In the first phase, 2.31 lakh women will get Rs 1,500 per month as promised. This payout will cost more than Rs 400 crore per year to the government. The pension will be given in five phases. To fulfil other promises, we are working on infrastructure to generate funds.
Unemployment is a major issue. How many jobs does your government plan to create in the first year?
In the private sector, 90,000 jobs and over 30,000 in the government sector. We are pushing for self-reliance and encouraging people to set up solar projects. The residents will be given a 40 per cent subsidy for setting up solar plants on their own or on leased land. The state electricity board will buy power from these plants and youth will earn up to Rs 15 lakh per year from a plant with a capacity of 250KW.
The state’s debt is increasing…?
We are working on a war footing on the hydro energy front. We will go in for green hydrogen and set up the industry as per the natural environment of the state.
What are your plans to improve the apple economy of the state?
We are bringing in a horticulture policy for the first time since independence. We will be setting up cold and CA stores and distilleries for apples.
Are you going to press the Centre to announce a special status for the state?
Every time we cannot beg and do our politics. We’d like the state to stand on its own two feet. We are developing tourism in a big way; thus we have increased the size of our budget. We are expanding the Kangra airport. Heliports will be constructed in all district headquarters. In the solar sector, we will produce 200 MW in six months. We are going to introduce the water cess.
BJP claims you are into revenge politics...
There is no revenge politics. The previous BJP government opened over 500 institutions in the last six months of its tenure without allocating any budget and staff. Why didn’t they introduce such schemes in the first year of their tenure?
How do you plan to tackle factionalism in your party?
There is no factionalism…We have only one faction that is Congress.