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Roadblocks to GST are getting gradually removed: Shivraj Singh Chouhan

Interview with Chief minister, Madhya Pradesh

Sanjeeb Mukherjee  |  New Delhi 

Shivraj Singh Chouhan

The government of Madhya Pradesh is organising its fourth Global Investor Summit from October 8 to 10, in its commercial capital of Indore. This is at a time when the investment scenario has improved following the change of government at the Centre. In an interview to a select group of journalists, Shivraj Singh Chouhan, the state’s chief minister, said they’d aim to take full advantage of the changed business environment. Edited excerpts:

In the previous investor summit, held in 2012, memoranda of understanding (MOUs) worth Rs 2,00,000 crore was signed but many did not materialise on the ground.

We aren’t making the coming one an occasion to only sign MoUs. After the earlier GIS, MoUs worth Rs 2,00,000 crore were signed, of which investment related to around Rs 1,15,000 crore is already on ground, which means around 58 per cent of the MoUs materialised. We reviewed all and cancelled those where no substantial progress was made. In those which did not materialise, there were some in which forest and environment clearance was not granted by the previous central government. In such a case, neither the state or the investor can do anything.

What has changed between the earlier investor summit and this one, which has made you hopeful of attracting large-scale investment in MP?

Foremost, a change in the approach of the central government. This (new) government wants to work quickly. In the previous regime, investors were scared and people’s faith was dented; they thought there was no point in investing in MP or elsewhere. This atmosphere has changed. There is clarity in the central government’s approach and those who were investing outside India are coming back, including in MP.

What is the state’s approach to the Land Acquisition Act, now that the new central government has shown interest in reviewing it?

We need a balanced view, to ensure not a single farmer suffers, while it should also not be so stringent that purchasing land becomes difficult for industry. In MP, we have created a land bank of 20,000 hectares for industry; more, we will reserve land for industries. Investors want infrastructure in industrial areas, which the state is providing. In some areas, we are giving a share of the developed land to farmers, so that he also gets some profit. We should not restrict ourselves to only plan acquisition of land for industrial purposes.

Some states like Rajasthan have adopted a very aggressive approach to attract investment, such as changing labour laws to make it investor-friendly. Are you willing to adopt any such measure?

Labour reforms are being talked about the world over. Our approach is that it should be balanced. We cannot completely negate reforms because we need to ensure industry is in a position to run freely, while we also cannot create a situation that overlooks the human angle.

I’m in favour of making labour laws practical, protecting both interests. When an industry closes, the biggest loss is of the labourers. The approach should be that labour laws are not made so stringent that industries close down, while they should not be so lax that workers suffer.

MP has been one of the most vocal critics of a national goods and services tax (GST). With the change of government at the Centre, what is your stand?

MP never opposed GST; we were opposed to the form in which it was being presented to us. We had said the revenue collection power of states and Centre should be such that states’ interest is protected…everything should not be in the hands of the Centre, with states getting nothing. Also, there was a dispute over who collects the revenue. Our experience with the previous central government was very bad on most of these issues. Like, they talked of compensation but it never came. Due to all these factors, we had suggested some amendments to the proposed GST Act — it was not only MP’s concern but those of other states as well. I now feel the roadblocks to a GST are getting gradually removed and all the issues between Centre and states will be addressed by the current government.

How hopeful are you of a GST rollout? Finance Minister Arun Jaitley had talked of reaching out to states to sort all contentious issues. Has he approached you?

I feel a consensus is evolving on GST and the outlook of Jaitley and Prime Minister Narendra Modi is very positive on the states concerns. By the next financial year, we might have a GST in India.

The Centre has said it will limit its foodgrain procurement from states which announce a bonus over the (Centre’s) minimum support price (MSP). MP has been among the foremost states which has regularly announced such a bonus.

We have met all the top officials in the Union food ministry and they have very carefully listened to our concerns.

Are you going to announce a bonus over MSP this year?

At this juncture, all I can say is that we have kept our side’s view with the Centre and they have listened to it very sympathetically.

The infant mortality rate (IMR) in MP is among the highest and its maternal mortality rate (MMR) is also very high.

When we took charge, IMR, MMR and malnutrition were all in bad shape in the state. There has been significant improvement in recent years, though we are still below the national average. In MP, the IMR has come down from 79 per 1,000 to 54-55 in the past few years, the fastest drop recorded in any state in the country. In the case of MMR, it has come down from 330-340 per 100,000 live births to 212 per 100,000 live births.

What about crime against women, in which MP is among the worst?

I would not defend any crime against women but I also monitor on every Monday that if there is any report of such a crime, a First Information Report (FIR) should be compulsory lodged. Due to this, many times it has happened that FIRs go up, which gives the impression that crime against women is the highest in MP. The easiest way to reduce crime against women is to stop registering FIRs. In some states, crime against women is more than here but it is never reported.

That apart, if any such incident happens anywhere in the state, it is unfortunate and we are working continuously to bring it down. We also need to change the mindset of people, which we are doing through programmes like Beti Bachao Abhiyan.

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First Published: Thu, September 11 2014. 00:48 IST