Chhattisgarh has been making rapid strides on the development path by setting new records in the past four years. It has made remarkable progress in the progress of almost every field, especially agriculture, health, education and tribal welfare. The credit for it goes entirely to the state government headed by Bhupesh Baghel. As the Chief Minister, Bhupesh Baghel has done unprecedented work by providing good governance to the state. At the recently organised 'Outlook Speakout: Reimagining Chhattisgarh' ceremony in Raipur, he talked at length to Nidhi Sinha of Outlook on the development and other issues of the state. Edited excerpts:
Your government has completed its tenure of four years under your leadership. What do you think have been the main achievements of your government during this period?
Our government has mainly worked in four directions: Increase in the income of citizens, modern education system, better health care system and preservation of our culture. Our government has primarily focussed on these four areas. Malnutrition was the biggest challenge before our government when we took over. In the state, 41 per cent of children under the age of 5 were found to be malnourished. Besides, 47 per cent of women were anaemic. The dream of a strong Chhattisgarh could not have been fulfilled with malnourished women and children. Therefore, to get rid of this problem, we worked to improve the overall health care services. An awareness campaign was also launched across the state with a view to improving the health of women and children. We made arrangements for free treatment and free distribution of medicines. Special schemes were also implemented to make Bastar malaria-free. Earlier, many people used to die from malaria in Bastar. But now, the situation has improved. Our government has been successful in dealing with the malaria menace.
Our government also gave priority to increasing the income of farmers, labourers, youth and women, and also to create employment opportunities for them. We provided relief to 19 lakh farmers by waiving off their loans. We bought paddy from the farmers at the rate of Rs 2,500 per quintal, which brought the joy back in the lives of the farmers. The number of registered farmers selling paddy increased from 15 lakh to 24 lakh during our tenure.
Moreover, those who had given up farming are now returning to farming. Similarly, to increase the income of cow herders, we chalked out a plan to buy cow dung from them. The government is now buying cow dung from the cow herders which is being used to generate all kinds of energy. Today, rural women are doing unprecedented work to produce manure and generate power from cow dung. We have also set up a cashew processing plant, and a millet processing plant which have gone a long way to benefit the farmers of the state.
Our government has also made arrangements to procure minor forest produce products from the farmers who can now sell their products conveniently.
The tribal society of the state is also joining the mainstream. The government has taken the tribal society into confidence through its policies and programmes. Today, the tribals have many opportunities. They are progressing by selling forest produce goods and their financial condition is getting better by the day. Hence, they have given up their protests against the construction of roads.
Today, the tribal society itself is using the roads to their advantage. Their children are using motorcycles and cars. The tribals are also demanding the establishment of English medium schools and banks. The tribal society is not afraid of English and the banks anymore. The government has also worked to preserve tribal culture. It has allocated funds for the restoration of tribal heritage. In this way, Chhattisgarh is working to strengthen its roots.
Are you satisfied with the kind of relationship the state government has had with the Centre during your tenure?
In the federal structure of India, any work can be possible only with the mutual cooperation between the state and the central government. During my tenure, many situations arose when it became extremely difficult to work in tandem. But somehow, we found a way out under such circumstances. For example, when we fixed the paddy purchase price at Rs 2,500 per quintal, the central government created many hurdles. But we stuck to our decision.
Similarly, the State government worked to ensure the rights of water, forest and land of the citizens of the state, especially the tribal society. However, the Centre created many stumbling blocks but we distributed land pattas by ensuring that no injustice or discrimination is meted out to anyone in the state.
Similarly, when we decided to implement the old pension scheme, the central government refused to cooperate with us. In the NITI Aayog meeting, BJP leaders asked us how we could implement the old pension scheme when it had been stopped by the central government. However, we believed that getting pension under the old pension scheme was the right of the state employees. Hence, we went ahead by implementing the old pension scheme on our own despite all the difficulties. While implementing it, we observed that Chhattisgarh would not face any extra financial burden till the year 2070. For us, it was not acceptable to delay the implementation of the old pension scheme any further in the larger interest of the employees of the State.
Would you like to say something about the reservation bill brought by your government?
When the state of Chhattisgarh was a part of Madhya Pradesh, there were provisions for 20 per cent reservation for the tribal population, 16 per cent for scheduled castes and 14 per cent for the backward classes in proportion to their population. The same reservation system remained in force even after the formation of Chhattisgarh state in 2000. But in 2011, the tribals launched an agitation to demand an increase in their quota.
They contended that 20 per cent reservation was not acceptable to them since their population had increased to 32 per cent in 2011. Then it was decided that 32 per cent reservation would be given to tribals, 12 per cent to scheduled castes and 14 per cent to backward classes. In this way, the reservation quota went up to 58 per cent. Some parties thereafter moved the High Court in 2012 and the hearing in the case continued until 2022 when the High Court gave its verdict and set aside the 58 per cent reservation system.
But the state government did not have any alternative reservation system. Then, our government negotiated with the tribals and made a quota system in keeping with the guidelines and standards of the Constitution, Government of India, Mandal Commission and the courts. We have provided 32 per cent reservation for tribals, 13 per cent for scheduled castes and 27 per cent for backward classes in our reservation bill.
Unfortunately, after the passage of the reservation bill in the Vidhan Sabha, the Governor, exercising his powers, has withheld the bill with him for an unlimited period of time. As a result, we are not able to create government job vacancies for the youth. Also, children are facing difficulty in getting admission in colleges. But I am sure that a solution to the reservation bill issue would also be found just the way we have found a way to address other issues.
What steps have been taken by the government to deal with the Naxal problem?
When I took over as the Chief Minister, I held a meeting with the state officials and asked them about the policies to get rid of the Naxal problem. Everyone said that ‘bullets-for-bullets’ has been our strategy. With such a policy, I said, we would never be able to deal with the Naxal problem. I said, if we want to get rid of the Naxal problem, we have to establish dialogue with the tribals, take them into confidence, work for their development and give them security.
Our government distributed forest rights pattas to the tribals. We bought minor forest produce products from them. We became the first government to return their land. We returned 4,200 acres of land to 1,700 farmers which were earlier given to Tata industries. It helped increase the income of the tribals and improved their financial condition considerably. Such steps helped instil their faith in the government. The government and the tribal society forged friendly relations between them. That is the reason why the Naxal problem gradually decreased in the state.
How many seats do you expect to win in the next state assembly elections?
The kind of love and respect that the people of Chhattisgarh have given to our government, and the kind of confidence that is visible in the women and tribal society of the state, I can say that we are going to win more than 71 assembly seats in the coming elections.