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Did not let Covid derail my development priorities: Jai Ram Thakur

Did not let Covid derail my development priorities: Jai Ram Thakur
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Completing his three-years in the office, Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur faced multiple challenges to maintain pace of development, do some political balancing acts and deliver on the promises. The global pandemic ,Covid-19, has hit the state's economy, disrupted development schemes and delayed several projects. Next two years happen to be more crucial for the Chief Minister to gear up himself for a performance chart and fight back Congress in bid to regain the power in 2022.

Ahead of the celebrations (to be done in virtual mode) slated for December 27–to mark his three-year, Chief Minister spoke to Ashwani Sharma of Millennium Post in Shimla.

How has the pandemic impacted Himachal Pradesh?

Covid-19 has hit the whole world. India too is impacted badly and we had to go through a lockdown situation.Himachal Pradesh, like other states, has faced a bad phase.Several development schemes got disrupted and projects suffered delays. The economy of the state largely dependent on tourism, industry and service sector was severely hit. Our officials tell me the loss is almost worth Rs 30,000 crore.

How is the situation now? Have you been able to revive the development, economic activity?

There were two challenges before us. One to prepare the state to cope with Covid-19 spread, capacity building and then proper strategy to deal with the disease. I feel, barring a recent spike seen by the state in November, Himachal Pradesh has managed the Covid-19 spread in much better way than any other state.Second, we did not allow the priority areas of development to suffer or come to a halt for a long time. We used technology and virtual platforms to revive the pace of development and launch some new schemes and projects. We facilitated the industry, particularly the pharma hub at Baddi-Barotiwala to function. Tourism is also back in business though yet slow.

But, the opposition Congress says the government failed miserably to handle Covid-19, resulting in near 1000 deaths and high infection rate

It's very unfortunate that the Congress instead of helping the government tried to play politics. The Congress leaders rather made a joke of themselves trying to create panic, confusion and distort facts for their political mileage. It's because they don't have any other issue against the government. Sometimes, they tried to give an impression if the Covid-19 was brought to India by the BJP. I can remind them that Himachal Pradesh's Covid-19 management was better than many Congress ruled states like Punjab and Rajasthan, where such experienced Chief Ministers could not do anything.

If the management was so good then how come a biggest spike in November 2020 with highest fatalities?

Different states had Coronavirus spurt at different times. Our's came late. Moreover, the people were also to blame as they were careless. There were a lot of weddings in the hills. A very large gathering, DJ parties and community feasts induced the infection. The people not wearing masks or following the protocols of social distancing resulted in community spread.Now, things were very well under control as the government imposed tough measures and restricted gatherings to just 50 persons. The fine for not wearing masks was raised and night curfew was implemented in four hotspot districts. The numbers are coming down.

Apart from the Covid, how do you feel about three years as first time Chief Minister?

Very satisfying. New introduced a lot of new innovations for public outreach. 'Janmanch' a programme I started has become the most effective platform to redress public grievances. Welfare of the underprivileged, women, SCs/STs and disabled got a biggest push. We have done on healthcare, Grahani Suvidha –to provide a free LPG connection to women, have become very popular. We did not allow major development initiatives to suffer by the Covid-19 for a long time.

Politically, you find yourself much more stable than at the time when you took over the reins?

Yes. When the party chose me to head the government, things were little complicated as someone else was projected for the leadership. Nevertheless, the party reposed faith in me and extended full support.We won the Lok Sabha poll with the highest vote percentage in the country. Thereafter, we also won two bypolls. Now, we are going to win the panchayat polls slated for January 2021. We have delivered well on the development, infrastructure, welfare schemes and law and order. I am enjoying full support of the cabinet, party MLAs and high command.

What you feel has been your biggest achievement?

I have said it so many times and on almost all platforms, I have been able to change the political culture in the state. During the last three years, not even a single case was filed against political opponents. Earlier, it had become a trend to book political opponents in vigilance cases and other criminal FIRs. Every time, a new government coming to power did almost similar things. Huge money from the exchequer, energy and valuable time of the government got wasted without any gain. I have stopped this trend. One factor was that the state has seen a generational change and new leadership must set some new rules of the game.

With J P Nadda as BJP's National president and Anurag Thakur, MOS (Finance) –both MPs from Himachal Pradesh. Is there any advantage of this combination?

Nadda's rise to the party's top rank is a matter of pride for Himachal Pradesh. We have worked together in the party and state government in different roles. Anurag Thakur is also a dynamic young leader from the state. Above all Prime Minister Narendra Modi treats the state as his second home. I am very lucky to have their backing from the Centre, both at the party level and government. The combination is ideally suited to me.

Have you recovered from Covid crisis and are you ready to fight back the Congress in bid to regain power in next polls ?

The BJP has started working on the 2022 agenda (elections) right from day one. We have a strong organisational structure and cadres working on a daily basis upto the booth level. The Lok Sabha polls were won with a record margin. The Congress could not win in a single assembly segment in 2019. Two assembly bypolls were also won by the BJP, and now our "Mission Repeat 2022" is all set. The BJP will create a history in the state to return to power on basis of its performance and beating all its earlier records. The Congress should stop dreaming of forming the government.

Can you list any of your failures or tasks you could not do in the past three years?

I could not make much success on my plans to improve air connectivity in the state which is a paramount need for boosting tourism and also required for strategic needs.Railway expansion plans have also not worked much. Some National Highway projects are also delayed. I will try to push these projects with the Centre's backing in the next two years.

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