Millennium Post

Architect of modern india

In the sixty five years following India’s independence from colonial rule, the country has witnessed some great revolutions and albeit also a few scams. We have seen the green revolution taking place in the country. The telecom revolution that took place at the turn of the 20th century was no less significant. Our strength in the United Nations has grown and we have become an envy for the greatest technocrats of the world. All this has happened because of the visions of a few great leaders, noteworthy among whom is the former Congress government minister Sukh Ram. This man, who rose from his home town in Himachal Pradesh to command centre stage in national politics for years, dreamt of an India that was free from poverty. After years of working for the development of the nation, ‘Panditji’ as he is fondly called by people not only in his home state of Himachal Pradesh, but also the entire country, retreated in to self-imposed oblivion. B JOLLY in a conversation with the former minister, convinced him to share his experiences in politics with
Millennium Post

When did you join politics?

It was in 1962 that I fought an election for the assembly as an independent candidate and never looked back after that.

Please tell us about the various portfolios you have held down the years.

In 1967, I fought assembly elections as a Congress candidate. After being elected, I was given the major portfolios of Finance, Taxation, PWD and Power. In 1979, I had worked as the chairman of resource generation. I had seen the youth of our nation being unemployed and since I felt their plight keenly, I worked on different schemes to generate employment, in the fields of forest and Angora farming, power generation and horticulture. In 1984, I joined the Central government after being elected to the  Lok sabha from Himachal Pradesh. Between 1984 to 1996, I was in charge of  major portfolios like defence production, planning and programme implementation, non-conventional energy resources and telecommunications.

You have been a visionary ahead of your times. Please tell us something about the major projects that were undertaken during your different ministerial tenures.

As minister of defence production, I had advised the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, who was an accomplished technocrat, to allow private corporates to enter the field of high technology defence production. As Minister of Planning, I was able to implement the plan to grant equanimous financial status to Himachal, as was being done for the north eastern states.

You were among the coterie of close advisers to Indira Gandhi. Did you enjoy the same status with Rajiv Gandhi when he became the Prime Minister?

(Pandit ji was lost in momentary nostalgia, upon the mention of Rajiv Gandhi’s name). I still remember, I got a telephone call in the middle of the night from the then prime minister Rajiv Gandhi. He said that he would like to give me a challenging task on the basis of my experience in Himachal Pradesh. Next morning, I went to the Rashtrapati Bhawan, to be assigned the new, but challenging portfolio of Food & Civil supplies. And I distinctly remember that out of 30 states and Union territories, 23 were facing acute drought and that resulted in fodder shortage also. There was a proposal to import food grains to which I did not agree. I directed the officers of the department to transport available foodgrain from the godowns of the Food Corporation of India. I personally supervised the process. I could arrange the fodder from the non-drought states. And it was satisfying to find that there was no mortality due to food shortage in the country. In 1989 the efforts were praised in the International Conference of Food Ministers at Cyprus.

As minister of non conventional energy resources, you had prepared various schemes for cheaper power to be made available to the hill states from hydel power projects. Why couldn’t they be implemented?

On 2 July 1992, I had prepared a scheme for generation of hydel power from perennial streams in the state of Himachal Pradesh. I had been able to convince Rajiv Gandhi that unless cheap energy source is provided to the poor people of Himachal Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir there will soon be a problem of soil erosion in states like Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Delhi, because the poor people will start cutting down trees for fuel. Rajiv Gandhi had agreed to give a 50 per cent grant for power generation from streams in the state. Of the remaining 50 per cent needed for production, a loan of 25 per cent was to be given to the Himachal Pradesh government to enable power generation at a cheaper rate of 15 to 20 paise per unit. This scheme would have ensured jobs for unemployed engineers  and cheaper power for the people. However, it is a matter of great regret that my successor changed this policy. The scheme for power generation from perennial streams emphasised captive power as Malana project, but for some reason this project was given to an entrepreneur from Rajasthan, with an agreement that the power generated would be transmitted to his factory in Rajasthan for 40 years and thereafter he would be free to sell the power generated to
anybody from anywhere.

The  people of India will always remember you as the father of the telecom revolution in India. Please tell us about your telecom vision.

I assumed independent charge of the Ministry of Communications on 18 January 1993. I had framed the National Telecom Policy in 1994, on the basis of which cellular operators were to be selected on the basis of tenders only. The same policy is still a reference for all decisions in this sector. The central govt has levied 12 per cent tax on billing on all operators, which comes to around Rs 17,000/- crore for one quarter. Accordingly,  the total revenue which the central government  receives per year is to the tune of Rs 68,000/-crore. This is the figure raised as revenue for future times, to the government of India, without a penny being spent by the public. As far as my information goes, Delhi is the first in density of subscribers, followed by Chennai and Himachal Pradesh in the the third place.

Who would you say is your inspiration?

I would like to name Rajiv Gandhi, as my inspiration, who with his broad technological sensitivity, was able to comprehend & understand my aims and my vision for India. I wanted to make India at par with the most technologically advanced nation of the world.

The telecom revolution initiated by you has been a foundation for India’s growth.

I can’t comment on that. All I can say is that Rajiv Gandhi was my inspiration and also the catalyst for all my visions. Of course, India has become a global player since.

You are known as someone who never sits idle and is always working on your visions for Himachal Pradesh and India...

I am thankful to Congress for having always given me an opportunity to help the people of my state. The party has always identified with my vision for India. A man always has two reasons for doing
anything: a good reason and the real reason. And I have done my duty for my people.
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