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‘We received debt as dowry’

Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu was state President of the NSUI from 1989 to 1995. He was General Secretary of the state Youth Congress from 1995 to 1998 and its President from 1998 to 2008.

Statesman News Service |

Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu, a four-time legislator, was born on 27 March 1964, at Bhavran village in Nadaun tehsil of Hamirpur district. He started his political career at the age of 17. Sukhu did M.A., L.L.B. from Himachal Pradesh University. He was state President of the NSUI from 1989 to 1995. He was General Secretary of the state Youth Congress from 1995 to 1998 and its President from 1998 to 2008.

Sukhu was councillor of the Shimla Municipal Corporation twice from 1992 to 1997 and from 1997 to 2002. He was General Secretary of the Himachal Pradesh Congress Committee from 2008 to 2012 and President of the Pradesh Congress Committee in 2013. He was elected to the state Legislative Assembly in 2003, re-elected in December 2007 and remained as the Chief Whip of the Congress Legislature Party from 2007 to 2012. He was re-elected to the 13th Vidhan Sabha for a third term in December 2017 and was nominated as a member of the Public Undertakings, Privileges and Business Advisory Committees. Sukhu was again re-elected to the 14th Vidhan Sabha in December 2022.

In an interview with Pramod Kumar, Sukhu talks about various problems confronting the state and how his government proposes to tackle them.

Q. On the very first day of the Himachal Vidhan Sabha session, the Opposition BJP created a ruckus on the closure of about 9,000 institutions by the Congress government. Is it revenge politics?

A: See, the Congress Party does not believe in revenge politics, it always believes in a fraternal, friendly, working ideology, whether we are in the Opposition or in power. In the history of the Himachal Pradesh Assembly, such kind of vendetta had never been seen earlier.

Q. Your government has approved the Old Pension Scheme (OPS). Will the state face a financial burden?

A: Our government provided the budget for the Old Pension Scheme (OPS) not for political gains, but to redress the grievances of people. We did that on humanitarian grounds. In the present scenario, many children do not stay with their parents, so they need a secure amount from the government. However, the government owes Rs 11,000 crore to government employees and pensioners and Rs 4,500 crore as arrears of the Sixth Pay Commission.

Q. How do you propose to get rid of the state’s financial debt of Rs 75,000 crores?

A: See, this is not Rs 75,000 crores, but this is a debt of Rs 91,000 crores given by the previous government as dowry. As in the old times, people used to give dowry in the form of TVs and refrigerators. Similarly, our government has been given a huge debt by the previous government as dowry. But, for its recovery, we are coming up with several policies to attract investment. We have also decided to end the VIP culture by ensuring that everyone will have to pay the same rent for staying in government accommodation. We are also trimming unnecessary government expenditure.

Q. How do you plan to enhance Himachal Pradesh’s apple economy?

A: We are planning a lot of measures for apple farmers and other farmers. We will build infrastructure at the local level to help the farmers get better prices. We will develop good food processing and controlled atmosphere and cold storage facilities.

Q. You are doing a lot for the betterment of orphans and downtrodden children. How did these social ideas come to your mind?

A: After becoming the Chief Minister of the state, instead of going to the Secretariat as per the tradition, I visited some of the ‘Anath Ashrams’. Over there I realised, these children should be supported. As a result, Chief Minister Sukhashray Sahayata Kosh was formed and people from all walks of life have donated to it generously; about Rs 2 crores so far. I have also donated my one-month salary. Our government has provided an amount of Rs 101 crore for this scheme. Apart from that, we have decided to provide Rs 10000 for clothes for festivals for such children. The government will also give Rs 500 to such children at various festivals so that they don’t feel helpless. The government will also bear all expenses for such children who aspire to become doctors and IITians. Such children will also get an opportunity to tour off and on. They will be provided with all facilities on tours, like travelling by flight or by train and staying in a 3-star hotel. The government will bear all the expenses for such children till they turn 27. The government wants to take such decisions in the coming Cabinet meetings.

Q. Recently, you met Union Minister for Road Transport and Highways Nitin Gadkari to discuss ongoing NHAI Projects and Ropeways under the Parvat Mala Project. What are the issues you talked about?

A: We discussed various issues fruitfully with Nitin Ji and he showed his generous approach towards the hill state, especially the ongoing four-lane projects being operated by the National Highway Authorities of India and other national highways. I also requested the Union Minister to expedite the projects like MandiPathankot, Nalagarh-Swarghat, Mubarakpur-Amb-Nadaun, KiratpurManali, Parwanoo-Shimla and Chakki-Mataur-Shimla. I also urged him to release funds for the repair work of national highways as the tourism season is starting soon. Various issues related to centrally-funded schemes being executed in the state were discussed with the minister.

Q. How do you plan to strengthen the dairy sector in Himachal Pradesh?

A: The present government has so many projects to boost the dairy sector in the hill state under the National Programme for Dairy Development (NPDD). In this regard, I met Union Minister of Fisheries, Animal Husbandry & Dairying Parshottam Rupala in New Delhi recently. The Minister assured funding of the project once a detailed project report is received in the Ministry. The dairy sector and husbandry play a significant role in strengthening the rural economy. I also requested the Minister to release the pending amount of about Rs 15 crore to Himachal on account of the Livestock Insurance Scheme. Our efforts will be to set up chilling points at cluster-level villages for the farmers to transport to various districts through refrigerated milk vans.

Q. Truck operators have been on the roads in Himachal Pradesh since a cement factory was closed last December. What is the Himachal Government doing to resolve the ongoing issue?

A: The Himachal Government is always for the truck operators’ welfare at any cost. We have a soft corner for this industry. We cannot leave our truck operators on the roads helpless. I am talking to the operators along with Minister Harshwardhan. Q. How do you look at the 2023- 2024 Union Budget? A: A very disappointing budget that was presented recently without any proper vision for the interest of the general people. It is a pro-corporate Budget and has nothing special for the people and the middle class. The budget was presented keeping in mind the upcoming 2024 Lok Sabha general election and coming state Assembly elections.