Himachal Pradesh Governor BANDARU DATTATRAYA’s journey from the rough-and-tumble of politics to the rarefied realm of gubernatorial office changed many things. He has sought to compensate for replacement of his past political innings’ hectic schedule with the placid routine of the Raj Bhawan by occupying himself more in travel, interactions, reading, writing, morning or evening walks and yoga. However, the elaborate protocols of his high constitutional post have not changed the essential approach of this two-time ex-Union minister from Telangana with regard to work in public interest.
With roots in the RSS, Dattatraya, 73, was credited with bringing in “labour-friendly” legislations as Union labour minister. He is still fond of interacting with people for gaining first-hand knowledge about various matters in order to continue making his contribution to the development process. He has stayed in touch with people during the Covid19 pandemic and has been pro-actively giving inputs to the state government on dealing with issues related to health, education and supply chains. In an interview with ARCHANA PHULL soon after completing his first year as HP Governor, Dattatraya spoke candidly on a variety of issues. Excerpts:
Q.How do you look at your first year in office as Himachal Governor?
A. I was more in public life earlier. In my home state, my role was mostly limited to being in the Opposition. I have all along been a social activist. When I came here, most of my friends told me that I won’t be able to speak out or do much and Raj Bhawan would be like a jail. But I didn’t feel like that. It is only that I am now in a more disciplined and restricted life. But there is so much work here and it’s my habit to do hard work. I have visited the entire state to meet and talk to people, except for tribal areas where I could not go due to the pandemic. I found people of Himachal contented and less political. I try to identify issues and contribute maximum for the state’s development by acting as a link between the state and the Centre. My first year as Governor of HP has been fruitful.
Q. Don’t you think it is unusual for a Governor to have media interaction on completion of one year in office? But you did so, why?
A. I wanted to share my report card. I just reviewed what all I did. Let everyone know what the Governor has been doing and what his priorities are. The Governor has an active role to play in development.
Q. Do you think the Governor’s institution has got really activated during the Narendra Modi regime?
A. Yes. The approach of the present central government is totally different. We don’t have any written instructions, but it is understood that the Governor’s institution would not be a mere spectator now. It has to be performing and transparent. In the Governors’ conference, there were clear instructions to focus on empowerment of different sections, central government schemes and tribal issues.
Q.Most of your tenure here so far has overlapped with the Covid pandemic which continues to rage.How do you assess the HP government’s handling of the pandemic?
A. The Himachal Pradesh government adopted a proactive approach to handle the pandemic. It went for lockdown one day before the country in March. The instructions given by the central government geared up the state machinery more. The work done by the health department, police, Panchayati Raj institutions and NGOs is laudable.
Q.What should the state government do next to handle the pandemic situation?
A. There is a need to check migration to handle the pandemic. Six months after the lockdown, the government will have to take several new initiatives with new technology and government machinery will have to give them wider coverage. The system should be reversed and the supply chains should be taken to people rather than people coming out. A good example is the postal department which distributed pensions at the doorstep. There should be more mobile vans for health care. The government should identify new Covidprone areas in the state and restrict the movement of people from outside at border areas. HP certainly has an advantage as it has more rural areas than urban localities.
Q. What should be the action plan to get things back on track in Himachal amid the pandemic?
A. The government needs to remove fear psychosis from the minds of common people and help them rework future strategies. Everything slowed down due to Covid-19. We need to work on special projects and plans. The major challenge for HP now is economic revival and employment generation. The government now needs to help people become self-reliant at village level, so that they stand on their feet and stay back. Why should the youth of Himachal go out for salaried jobs? Let them work out sustainable options for income in their homes. Covid has actually done one good thing by making the younger generation know the value of their homes and healthy food. We can have an action plan at block level for this. The ground is ripe to switch to natural farming also by getting the youths engaged with agriculture back home.The tourism sector should be revived with incentives to different players like taxi operators, hoteliers, etc. The problems faced by industry should also be identified for smooth functioning in the midst of the pandemic.
Q.What is that one piece of advice you would like to give to both the government and the Opposition in Himachal?
A. I think there should be better mutual understanding between the government and the Opposition in the interest of the state for better handling of a crisis like Covid. They should have more intellectual maturity and the standards of debate and suggestions should be higher. There should not be any communication gap between the government and the Opposition.
Q. You held a meeting with officials on the situation in the HP border areas along Tibet after the Galwan incident.What is your concern?
A. Yes, I discussed the issue with officials at length. The tribal belt of Himachal Pradesh along the international border with China needs attention. The youth from the area go out for jobs and settle outside. Mostly the elder generation is living in their native land. We need to do infrastructure development, strengthen basic facilities and create employment opportunities in the border area by ensuring local youths’ skill development in order to stop them from going out for greener pastures. It will take care of security issues. I had taken it up with the chief minister and even written a letter to defence minister Rajnath Singh.
Q.What in your view is the USP of Himachal Pradesh, which, if harnessed imaginatively, could propel the state on to the global stage?
A. Tourism, especially ecotourism, can take Himachal Pradesh to the international stage. Himachal has bounty of natural beauty and has clean and green environment, which could be of great attraction to tourists from across the world. Domestic and foreign tourists do come to HP in good numbers, but so far they visit places like Shimla and Manali. There is a lot of scope for tourism and ecotourism development in Himachal Pradesh and the government should involve the private sector in it. Why can’t the guest houses in the state be privately managed from a tourism point of view? The Shaktipeeths in HP can be brought on the world map with proper planning, development and projection. I am already working on a plan for linking North and South in this regard.