Exclusive interview with U’khand Chief Minister
By Arun Pratap Singh
Dehradun, 21 May: Pushkar Singh Dhami was born in Tundi village of Pithoragarh district and his father was an army man. He received his higher education in management and law from Lucknow University. It was in Lucknow that he became involved in student politics, joining the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), the student wing of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in 1990. In 2001, he also served under the then Uttarakhand CM, BS Koshyari, as his advisor. After the fall of the BJP Government in 2002, he was appointed as State President of the BJYM and continued to be so till 2008. As a result of an agitation led by him, the then government brought a law to reserve 70 percent of jobs for local youth in the industries of Uttarakhand.
Dhami was given the party (BJP) ticket for the first time in 2012 and won from Khatima Assembly constituency. He was again elected from Khatima in 2017. It was on 3 July, 2021, less than a year before the assembly elections, when the young Dhami, who was just 45, was chosen as the tenth Chief Minister of Uttarakhand. He was brought in to replace Tirath Singh Rawat, at a time when the BJP High Command realised that it was not going to be an easy battle for the party in the assembly elections due next year. There was an anti-incumbency factor working against Trivendra Singh Rawat and, to offset it, Pauri MP Tirath Singh Rawat was inducted as CM, but he too was unable to create a positive impression during the short four months of incumbency. The party high command was forced to rethink its strategy and it was then that Dhami emerged as the surprise choice of the party.
Dhami was able to offset the anti-incumbency factor in a state like Uttarakhand, which had never voted back the same party to power in its twenty-two year old history. Although Dhami could not win his own personal election from Khatima, he was able to bring the BJP back to power with a very comfortable majority. Despite his personal loss, the party decided to retain him as the CM. He was later elected from Champawat in a by-election following the resignation of sitting MLA Kailash Gehtodi.
In the one year period since the last assembly elections, Dhami has faced challenges in the form of natural disasters and scams involving recruitment, etc., but his image has remained undented. It is for the first time that the government has taken on the recruitment mafia and got dozens of accused arrested.
In an exclusive chat with Garhwal Post, Dhami frankly responded to the questions and also shared his plans for his remaining term. Here are some excerpts:
Recently, two events related to G-20, including one of Youth-20, were successfully hosted by Uttarakhand and there are two major G-20 events coming up in the state. What will be the impact on the state of hosting these events?
If we exclude Y-20, then one major event related to G-20 was hosted successfully by our government in Ramnagar. It was a very interesting summit of Chief Scientific Advisors of the participating countries, at which various issues and challenges related to science, health and environment were discussed. The countries decided to work out a collective policy to deal with these issues. The way the event was hosted and organised, proved that events of any grand scale can be successfully organised in Uttarakhand and, of course, elsewhere in the country. The highlight of the G-20 Summit held in Ramnagar was the public participation in the event. The local people had lined up on the roads to welcome the delegates. The state’s efforts were duly appreciated by the Centre and by the guest countries, too.
Now the preparations are complete to host the next G-20 Summit at Narendranagar-Rishikesh in the coming days and this will be followed by another G-20 Summit in June. All these events will have a positive impact on tourism and event management in the state. A positive image of the state will go across the world which will boost our tourism too. As a result of hosting these events, our roads also were repaired, beautified and cleaned up. We shall try to maintain them as such.
Recently, you had directed strict action against religious encroachment in the state and that action is still continuing. Many illegally constructed mazaars, etc., have been demolished. Obviously, these encroachments did not happen overnight! Do you also plan to hold officials accountable during whose tenures these encroachments happened?
We are very clear that such encroachments will not be allowed on government property at any cost. Our first priority is to ensure that all such encroachment is removed or demolished. Later, we shall see what else needs to be done to prevent such encroachments in future. If need be, we will mull action against the officials. We are presently very clear that the government will take strict action against encroachment on government land in the name of religion. There is no discrimination and we are ensuring equitable action in this regard. We will not stop till all encroachment is identified and cleared.
There is a buzz about alleged efforts to change the demography of the state. Even you have expressed your concern on this issue. How do you plan to prevent the change in demography about which many organisations have started speaking?
Yes, this is an issue of concern. Uttarakhand is Devbhoomi, which has its own unique identity, cultural, social and religious traditions. There have been attempts to change this. Such a change, if not prevented, can lead to undesirable consequences with respect to preservation of the culture, traditions and the natural or historical identity of Uttarakhand. Our Government has constituted a committee to suggest means and ways to prevent this undesirable change. We are working in mission mode to ensure this. During the first phase, the focus is on demolishing illegal structures, to remove all encroachments. Then we may mull action against the officials responsible. We are determined that we will not allow the cultural, social and religious identities of the state to deteriorate. We shall also not allow forced or mass conversions for which there have been some efforts.
Do you plan to bring a law to prevent purchase of property by outsiders as many organisations have been demanding this?
Well, the committee constituted will give its suggestions and recommendations in this regard. I have already directed the district magistrates and the local administrations to ensure proper verification of every property transaction in the state. An ordinance is being brought to make the background check of the person purchasing the property mandatory. A manual will be prepared in this respect and only those who fit the eligibility norms will be allowed to buy the land. We have constituted a high-level committee for formulating the land law in the state. The report is already with the government and we will soon be considering its recommendations to see what needs to be done and to bring in necessary amendments in the land laws.
There has also been, allegedly, a lot of settlement by criminal elements from UP in the plains of Uttarakhand. How do you plan to control it?
Uttarakhand currently ranks among the leading states in terms of law and order maintenance. We are aware of the danger of criminals from other states taking refuge here. We will ensure whatever is required to prevent our state from becoming a refuge for criminals. Special vigil is being done by the Police in sensitive districts.
There has been the land subsidence incident in Joshimath and in some other places. The government has taken steps to grant compensation or to relocate the affected families. But the opposition and a section of the national media have claimed that not enough has been done in Joshimath to prevent further subsidence and on rehabilitating the affected families. What’s your opinion in this regard?
The allegations are not true at all. From the very beginning, the government has taken this incidence of land subsidence in Joshimath with utmost seriousness. We have identified the affected families and the affected buildings where cracks were noticed and are in the process of paying compensation as per the affected families’ demands. A lot of people have already been paid adequate compensation. The affected families are also being relocated and provided alternate accommodation. Their children have been admitted to good schools near their place of relocation.
We are constantly monitoring the situation. Even Prime Minister Narendra Modi has his eyes on the Joshimath situation and I have briefed him regularly in this regard. Such disasters are a result of natural phenomenon. Teams of various scientific organisations are working to find solutions to this problem. We have also allocated an amount of Rs 1,000 crores in the state budget for the current year to deal with this. A proposal has also been submitted to the Centre for assistance.
You will soon be completing two years as CM of Uttarakhand. What in your opinion have been your achievements and challenges and what are the plans of the state government for your remaining term?
We had made certain promises in the BJP’s manifesto for the elections to the people. We are very sincerely making all efforts to fulfil these promises. We had promised a Uniform Civil Code (UCC) and have constituted a high level committee that will finalise its report by June end. We will soon become the first state to implement the UCC, which is focussed on inheritance irrespective of the religion.
Many central and state schemes have been started in public interest with the help of the Union Government and we are regularly monitoring the implementation of these schemes. I hold regular review meetings in this regard. Physical verification of the progress of various projects and schemes is being done to ensure that these are properly implemented and the projects make timely progress. We have a good track record of rapid progress in implementing projects. Progress in projects like redevelopment of Kedarnath, Char Dham Roads, has been good despite challenges like the Covid pandemic, etc. The law and order situation is satisfactory. We have taken strict action against the recruitment and copying mafia and made rules for strict punishment of the guilty in such scams. We are committed to promoting organic and natural farming, as well as cultivation of millets, and we are making good progress in improving the financial condition of farmers.
Next year, the country will see general elections to parliament. Uttarakhand in the past two elections has chosen to give all the five Lok Sabha seats to the BJP. How do you plan to face the challenge of ensuring the repeat of this performance in the next general elections?
Well, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has special affection for Uttarakhand and the people here are well aware of this fact. As the Prime Minister of India, Modi has managed to revive and strengthen the economy of the country and ensure its unprecedented influence at the global level. Innumerable schemes and projects have been launched by Modi to ensure that the last person in the queue also gets benefitted by these schemes.
Many grand projects in Uttarakhand have been approved and are being implemented because of the special attachment of Modi for Uttarakhand, whether it is the Char Dham Road Project, Delhi-Dehradun Expressway, Rishikesh-Karnaprayag connectivity, and establishing the second AIIMS in the state. Ropeways projects for Yamunotri, Mussoorie and Hemkund, redevelopment of Kedarnath and master plan for redevelopment of Badrinath are also in the pipeline.
People of Uttarakhand will like to see Modi again leading the nation in the greater public interest and will extend all support to him. BJP will again win all the 5 Lok Sabha seats in Uttarakhand. They will also like to see that the Rishikesh-Karnaprayag railway service begins during Modi’s term.
What are the reasons for the hold up in the Dehradun metro service project?
The work is underway and soon a Complete Project Report will be prepared. There were some reasons for the delay, such as acquisition of land including that belonging to some central government agencies. However, once the DPR is approved by the Centre, things will make rapid progress.