Nod was also given to restructure Kasumpati, Sunni, Nerwa and Matiana Divisions of Jal Shakti Vibhag in Shimla district to facilitate the people in a better way.
Hailing from a humble apolitical background, four-time MLA from Nadaun (Hamirpur), Thakur Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu (59), the Chief Minister of Himachal Pradesh, had a long and arduous journey into politics. The struggle for his survival in politics eventually paid off leading to his own calling. The Congress high command recognised his hard work, loyalty, and organisational acumen. With a maximum number of MLAs supporting him as their leader, he was rewarded with the Chief Minister’s post in December 2022. He coined the slogan ‘Vyavastha Parivartan’ (changing the system) which reflects his determination to usher in a change in the Himalayan state. Mounting debt and unprecedented devastation due to rain-induced floods during the monsoon season and his health issues failed to dampen his spirit and determination to prove his mettle.
In an interview with BHAWANI NEGI, Sukhu talked about the challenges, achievements and priorities on his completion of one year in office.
Q. How do you analyse your first year in power in the light of the fact that you represent a change in the Congress and became Chief Minister for the first time?
A. The first year was of ‘Vyavastha Parivartan’. We changed the rules. We changed the principles of governance. The tendering process has been made transparent. We have plugged the corruption in the system. I dissolved the Himachal Pradesh Staff Selection Commission (HPSSC) which was notorious for selling question papers during the BJP regime. VIP culture has been done away with by bringing the common man on par with an MLA.
Q. What was the biggest challenge you faced that your predecessors never encountered?
A. The biggest challenge was the worst economic condition our government inherited from the previous government. Never had I known before becoming the CM that the state was reeling under such financial distress with a debt of Rs 75,000 crore. We then faced a colossal devastation during the monsoons which led to a loss of over Rs 12,000 crore.
There was extensive damage to roads, power and water supply was affected, and thousands were rendered homeless. However, we handled the crisis with dogged determination and ensured that the affected people got suitable relief. We amended the rules to enhance compensation. As no special relief package was forthcoming from the Centre, we even rolled out a Rs 4500-crore Special Relief Package from our side. Rescue operations were meticulously handled for the evacuation of 75,000 tourists.
Q. The Opposition has been gunning for your government over unfulfilled poll guarantees. What is your take?
A. In the first year itself, we approved the Old Pension Scheme (OPS) which benefited 1.36 lakh employees. We have started the first phase of the Rs 680-crore Rajiv Gandhi Startup Scheme to provide employment opportunities to the youth. Going beyond the promise to start at least four English-medium schools in every constituency, we have decided to introduce English as a medium of instruction from Class 1 in the next academic session.
The BJP has nothing else to say. The Opposition is a divided house torn between the Jai Ram and Bindal camps. They have resorted to such insinuations for their survival. Where have we mentioned in our manifesto that the poll guarantees would be fulfilled in the very first year of governance? BJP should not forget that we have four years to deliver on the remaining poll promises.
Q. What are your five major achievements in the last 12 months?
A. We have brought uniformity in the governance system. Earlier, MLAs used to think they were superior in protocol. Orphans have been declared as the children of the state. The state will take care of their educational and financial needs till 27 years of age. Paper leaks in the HPSSC were suitably handled. Our government has already planned to make Himachal a green state by 2026 and is promoting e-vehicles in this regard. We have already embarked on making the state ‘Atamnirbhar’ (self-reliant) by bringing the economy on track in the next four years by reducing dependence on loans and generating additional income resources. We will generate additional revenue of Rs 1,100 crore by March 2024.
Q. Any accomplishment which defines you as a person…
A. Having risen from a humble background, the characteristic that depicts me as a person is empathy towards the lesser privileged. The ‘Mukhyamantari Sukh Aashray Yojana’ initiated by our government aims at providing comprehensive support to orphans, specially-abled children, destitute women and elderly persons.
Q. What are the plans of your government for the next four years?
A. Our first budget is a reflection of our vision. We have fixed our priorities to generate income from hydropower, tourism, food processing, and renewable energy. When we talk of the industrial sector, we want to promote green industries that will help the state grow without damaging the environment.
Q. Any hope of getting a relief package from the Centre for the damage caused due to monsoon fury?
A. We have lost hope of any package. Now, we are just asking them to give us what is earmarked in the Union budget for flood relief. Despite the resource crunch, we will make Himachal ‘Atamnirbhar’.
Q. When can we expect cabinet expansion? Considering the fact that Kangra has given 10 MLAs, will it get fair representation?
A. The cabinet expansion is on the cards. It will take place soon. Kangra will get its due, not only in ministries but in development too. We aim to transform it into a tourism capital.
Q. What are the lessons learnt from the recently concluded assembly polls in five states where Congress won just one and failed to retain power in two of the five states?
A. Winning and losing is a part of democracy. There are lessons to be learnt and rectify mistakes.
Q. How are you going to tackle factionalism and dissent within the HP Congress?
A. There is no factionalism in the HP Congress. There is no dissent from party leaders. We are united.
Q. Congress has lost all four Lok Sabha seats consecutively to the BJP, first in 2014 and then in 2019. How big will the challenge be in 2024 for the party?
A. We consecutively lost twice in the Lok Sabha polls. When the dates are announced for the parliamentary polls next year, we will go to the people with issues relevant at that time.