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By 2013, every village in MP will have road links: Shivraj Singh Chouhan

Interview with Chief Minister, Madhya Pradesh

Gyan Varma  |  New Delhi 

Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan tells Gyan Varma that a delay in securing coal blocks within the state is making the power situation worse.

There is speculation that you may campaign in Charkhari where Uma Bharati is contesting, along with other places in Uttar Pradesh. Do you plan to focus joining the central leadership of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)?
I have already spoken to Uma Bharati. I will definitely campaign for her in Charkhari. I have no animosity against anyone in the party. The BJP leadership had asked me to keep aside seven days for campaigning, and I had agreed. But now, it wants me to give more time. As far as coming to Delhi is concerned, I am happy in Madhya Pradesh. There are many chief ministers who are doing a better job than I am. I want to concentrate only on Madhya Pradesh.

The Madhya Pradesh government has been demanding coal blocks within the state. The issue was raised during the national executive meeting and the chief ministers’ conclave. Is there any progress on that front, given you have been meeting the Prime Minister to raise your concern?
We are facing a great difficulty in getting forest and environmental clearances for our power and irrigation projects. This has been going on for several years now. First, there is a delay in giving environmental clearances. Second, the government has introduced the ‘Go’ and ‘No-Go’ concept of forest area classification for giving clearances to coal blocks. Our power plants are ready, but coal blocks are facing hurdles in securing clearances.

If we import coal from Indonesia or any other country, the cost of production rises. Both the environment and development are necessary, but we need to strike a balance. There should be a clear-cut policy. I don’t understand what the Union government wants. If the government knew securing clearances would be difficult, we should have been told at an initial stage, not when the power plants were ready.

The Union government had assured you a group of ministers (GoM) would be formed to work the modalities for loss of crops in the state due to frost. What is the progress on this issue?

There has been only one meeting of the GoM. But the bright side is Sharad Pawar, P Chidambaram and Montek Singh Ahluwalia have agreed, in principle, that crop loss due to frost is a natural calamity. We want a special package for Madhya Pradesh, similar to the Rs 1,400-crore package the state government had given farmers last year.

Congress leaders in Madhya Pradesh have alleged illegal sand mining was being practised in the state. How do you react to such allegations? What action would be taken?
The Congress party is troubled. It is making such allegations, as the party has no scope in the state. If there are instances of illegal mining, action is taken by the authorities concerned. It is the BJP government in the state that gave mining licences at Rs 50 crore. The Congress government gave licences for only Rs 5-6 crore.

Former Madhya Pradesh chief minister and Congress leader Digvijay Singh has yet again alleged the Batla House encounter was fake. He had targeted Ramdev of being a ‘thug’ and Anna Hazare of working for the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. Do you believe these are tactics to make a comeback in state politics?
Digvijay Singh became the chief minister of Madhya Pradesh twice. It makes me sad when he makes such statements. He can obviously make headlines, but he is losing his credibility each day. He had claimed he spoke to Mumbai police officer Hemant Karkare. Such statements are not good for him.

The draft of the communal violence Bill was described as the “most dangerous” by the BJP. What is your
I don’t think the communal violence Bill will ever come now, as it was initially being objected only by BJP-ruled states. Now, other states, including those ruled by the United Progressive Alliance, have come out against it. The draft Bill is dangerous because it differentiates between of the same country and it must be stopped.

Why do most cases of Hindu fundamentalism or saffron terror, be it Sunil Joshi or Pragya Thakur, arise from Madhya Pradesh?
Let me remind you there have been no riots in Madhya Pradesh. The are secular and believe in celebrating all festivals. If you ask any chief minister, he/she will claim minorities are taken care of in his/her state. However, even Muslims in Madhya Pradesh will tell you the same. There have been no attacks on Muslims. All festivals are celebrated at the chief minister’s residence, including Iftaar.

The literacy rate in most districts is hovering at around 30-45 per cent. The female literacy rate is less and school enrollments are also dropping. How can this problem be tackled?
The state’s literacy rate has increased 10 per cent. In 2001, the number of school dropouts was 2,900,000. Now, it is 43,000. We have launched the School Chalein Hum programme. We have asked religious groups, bureaucrats, panchayats and celebrities to assist the state government in sending children to schools. I have told I cannot do it alone, they have to play a part.

Given there are problems of power and water in Madhya Pradesh, how do you guarantee good governance?
Over Rs 26,000 crore is being spent in the state to improve the condition of roads and connect every village with all-weather roads. By the end of 2013, every village in Madhya Pradesh will have road connectivity.

Water is a cause of concern. Because of 700 different projects, there has been an increase of 10 per cent in agriculture growth. Madhya Pradesh is now the third-largest wheat growing state in the country, after Punjab and Haryana.

The power situation is also a cause of worry, as a delay in securing coal blocks is making things worse. At present, all districts get power supply for 22 hours, tehsils for 20 hours and villages for 13-14 hours, while commissionerate gets power for 24 hours. We are building three more power plants, while other plants are ready. Our demand for coal is 170,000 metric tonne, but on paper, the government gives us 150,000 metric tonne. While the actual amount we get is 130,000 metric tonne, how do we meet our demand? Though we have coal blocks in our state, we were given a coal block 400 kilometres away. The Union government has asked us to import coal and this increases our cost.

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First Published: Sun, January 29 2012. 00:04 IST