The Indian Express | 2 weeks ago | 30-07-2022 | 02:45 pm
In a major change to the BJP’s Uttarakhand unit over four months after forming the government in the state, the party on Saturday appointed former MLA Mahendra Bhatt as president of its state unit.The appointment order was issued by BJP national general secretary Arun Singh on Saturday morning. “Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) national president Jagat Prakash Nadda has appointed Mahendra Bhatt as state president of Uttarakhand BJP. The appointment is to take place with immediate effect,” read a letter issued by Singh.Bhatt, a two-time BJP MLA, has replaced Haridwar MLA Madan Kaushik. In the 2022 Assembly elections, Bhatt lost the Badrinath constituency seat. With the politics of Uttarakhand much dependent on the dynamics of the Garhwal and Kumaon region as well as Thakurs and Brahmins, it is speculated that the appointment of Bhatt, a Brahmin leader from Garhwal, is to strike a balance between the politics of caste and region.Of the state’s 13 districts, six fall under the Kumaon region, which has Nainital as its zonal headquarters. Garhwal, with Pauri Garhwal as headquarters, has seven districts and includes the capital Dehradun as well. It has 41 constituencies and is much larger than Kumaon, which has 29. Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami is a Thakur from the Kumaon region.Bhatt started his active political career with the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) in 1991 and from 1998 to 2000 he took charge as Uttaranchal Yuva Morcha state secretary in undivided Uttar Pradesh. After Uttarakhand (then called Uttaranchal) was carved out from Uttar Pradesh, Bhatt was made the general secretary of the Yuva Morcha.In 2002, when the first Assembly election for the new Uttarakhand state was held, Bhatt contested from the Nandprayag constituency and defeated Congress candidate Satendra Bartwal. He was also appointed the Yuva Morcha state president. Besides, he was made in-charge of Yuva Morcha in Himachal Pradesh and Maharashtra.After assuming several responsibilities within the party, he contested the Badrinath Vidhan Sabha seat in 2017 and defeated Congress candidate Rajendra Singh Bhandari. In 2022, however, he lost to Bhandari in the same seat by over 2,000 votes. Bhatt has also served 15 days in jail during the Ram Janmabhoomi Andolan and five days during the Uttarakhand Rajya Andolan.
Jasmine Shah has been with the Delhi government for the better part of a decade. Shah is the face behind initiatives such as the new EV policy, last mile connectivity, outcome budget, and most recently the Rozgaar initiative that the Delhi government has rolled out. The conversation will be about Delhi and what the future holds.The full conversation:Q. For starters, could we get a brief introduction of what the DDC does? Shah: DDC was set up in 2015 immediately after the AAP government first came to power. The idea was that we felt there is a need for a think tank that can bridge the gap between government and stakeholders outside the government, who can and must contribute to the process of policy-making. With the genesis of the AAP, with people who were in activism, people like me who were in think tanks in the policy world, but you always feel like there is a huge gap or a barrier in accessing government, sharing ideas contributing to policy making; you don’t get appointments for months.So, the idea was to create a commission that can bridge that gap and knowing that this is a national capital our governance issues are not trivial. Unless we are able to access the best of ideas from India, from around the world; be it from academia, be it from civil society, be it from industries, be it from cities like New York, London, and Singapore—how are we going to solve ideas in a sustainable manner? So, that was the idea of creating a body that can bridge this gap and be the policy think tank of the government.Q. We’ll start with something we identify you most with, which is the EV push in the Capital. How successful do you think it’s been so far?Shah: I would say first that when we started out putting the framework for the EV policy the targets that we laid down were something that people didn’t even believe, it seemed very theoretical and at that stage and I’ll tell you why, you know, the EV policy came exactly two years back in August of 2020. The year before that in 2019-20, EVs constituted 1.2 per cent of the newly registered vehicles in Delhi. We said we will take it to 25 per cent in three years. The average in India was less than 1.2 per cent. We believed it was possible, but it was still very ambitious. As of date, we are at around 11 per cent. This is thrice as compared to any other state or even if you look at large cities, no large city has crossed 5-6 per cent. Delhi is at 11 per cent.So, I would say there is a lot to cheer about as far as how Delhi has moved along in the EV journey. We compare ourselves with other cities like London. London has an adoption rate of 11 per cent, Paris has that. Norway as a country has around 30-35 per cent. I think if there is one city in India that can aspire to join the Global League in terms of sustainable transport, it is Delhi.Having said that, obviously, there’s a lot that as a government and as a city that we must do. There is a huge focus this year on charging infrastructure and because it’s infrastructure, because we have the issue of multiplicity of agencies in Delhi, it’s always something that takes time. But the government is cognizant of that. We are planning moves like making it mandatory for fleets to transition a part of their vehicles to EVs. No city in India is even thinking or talking about that. I think, on the whole, the glass half full I would say.Q. Has there been any pushback from private players when it comes to transitioning to EV? When it comes to charging infrastructure, there are concerns about whether you can put them out in open spaces where there is a fear of theft. Have you faced these challenges?Shah: The first question is on the private players. Fortunately, there hasn’t been (pushback). There is always a little bit of concern when you start thinking about mandates. I would say though that the way the Delhi government has approached it is you first provide the facilitating environment, rather than bringing mandates. If we had started talking about that in 2020, there would have been a huge pushback because neither the incentives mechanism was in place, nor was the charging infrastructure. Today, Delhi is far ahead of all the cities in terms of active charging points and we are still planning for more.But the last two years have given a lot of confidence to the players in the industry that the government is in fact thinking ahead of what even we ask individually for our businesses. DDC is at the centre of the bi-annual Delhi electric vehicle forum. It is a forum of around 200 stakeholders—the industry players, fleet business, all those who have some skin in the game if Delhi were to transition to 25 per cent electric. Every six months, we sit together and talk about what are the challenges they are facing. What is it that the government can do? So, I think this kind of collaborative effort and this kind of access that most people today have to the Delhi government as far as EV is concerned, has done a lot in terms of giving confidence that we will be heard.Everybody is concerned about their children, everybody is concerned about pollution and they know that vehicles do constitute a major chunk of pollution. It’s not going to be completely organic. I think the time for waiting for organic change is over. We need to push ourselves, but obviously in a coordinated fashion. Government should do everything that it ought to do, but the private players can’t sit back and just watch. That’s the message that we’re giving.Coming to charging infrastructure, we have already set up more than 2,300 public charging points in Delhi today. No major city in India would have crossed the thousand figure and we’re just getting started. The CM just opened 7 charging stations in DTC Depot. There’s another big tender that is at the implementation stage, where we are setting up 100 charging stations by and large in Metro stations, which will cumulatively add about 900 charging points. All of this is going to happen by the end of the year.Regardless, we are also encouraging private businesses, mall owners, hospitals, hotels to set up charging points. The government gives them a single window facility, net of subsidy, which has also taken off in a very big manner in the last one year. We have installed close to 500 charging points through that.So, there’s a host of efforts and I think it’s taken us two years to get here because literally everything that we are doing in Delhi is being done for the first time in India and I think that needs to be understood. We never had a public-private partnership model of setting up charging points. If you look at how charging stations are being set up all over the country or even before the Delhi EV policy, it was given to a PSU to set it but no care was taken to ensure they are maintained or functional or accessible. We innovated and created a PPP model which has today resulted in the lowest charging rate per unit—Rs 2 a unit.Nowhere in the world can you access EV charging at this rate, a single window facility where any business or RWA can go to the DISCOM website, apply and get everything facilitated net of subsidy and an EV metre installed within 7 to 10 days, nowhere in the world does this exist. We are now talking to other cities and other states who are interested in learning from Delhi’s experience. We are very optimistic about where we are headed.Q. Which states have reached out?Shah: Punjab for sure. We’re talking to Maharashtra. Haryana has just come up with its EV policy. Hopefully, more will come.Q. You don’t mind collaborating with the opposition?Shah: We collaborate regularly. I think it’s an unfair remark because if you look at the number of states that have sent official delegations to Delhi government schools, it would be 15 to 20. People come and look at how our school transformation has happened, how the happiness curriculum works. Now, how the business plaster programme works.We have had international delegations come and visit. We know as a country we have to be far ahead than we are in terms of educational outcomes, health care outcomes. Ten states are setting up or have already inaugurated the equivalent of Mohalla Clinics. They may be called by different names with exactly the same model. It is not new. Mid-day meal scheme started in Tamil Nadu, and the rest of the country adopted it. Today, there is a hesitation to say that we are learning from so and so state.Q. Which segment has seen the biggest adoption of EVs?Shah: Two-wheelers and three-wheelers are the primary targets of the EV policy and that’s when the growth is. First, if you look at the entire pollution profile, the majority of the vehicular pollution is contributed by two and three-wheelers. Trucks and buses are separate. EV transition can happen when there is almost price parity or you are approaching price parity. Incentives cannot change the market dynamics beyond a point.In four-wheelers, we have not reached that point. You will see a certain class of society that can afford a private (electric) four-wheeler. But that’s not the case for two and three-wheelers. Because the battery sizes are small and there are other economies of scale, we’re almost achieving price parity. And if you put together the fact that the running cost of EV is probably one-fifth of that of petrol or diesel vehicle, you would be stupid today to buy a petrol two-wheeler. You get fantastic models; the upfront cost is marginally high if not less because of the subsidies that you get. You will recover everything within the first few months and run it for 10 years.In terms of what has happened in Delhi, traditionally because we had the e-rickshaw subsidy always, the entire growth of EVs was in e-rickshaws. Two years ago, electric was e-rickshaw. Guess what is the largest category today? Two-wheelers. Today, they constitute the single largest category. We are registering 25per cent growth month on month in EV vehicles. Dynamics work out; you don’t need to run them for more than 80-100 km a day. With cars, it’s a problem. Two-wheelers are leading, e-rickshaws are still there. The commercial three-wheeler fleet is beginning to take off, hopefully, very soon you will count electric auto rickshaws as well.We have rolled out the scheme but part of the reason that we have not had the numbers we wanted is because manufacturers were not ready to supply electric autos. When we said we will put out 4,100 electric autos, the cumulative market in India was probably 1,000 electric autos in a year. Now the market is warming up to the fact that Delhi is willing to take the lead and I am very sure almost all categories of two-wheelers and three-wheelers, including cycles, which is a segment we are very optimistic about, will take off in a big way in the coming one or two years.Q. E-cycles are very expensive. How do you see that market growing? Shah: You are right; probably for recreational cycling it will not make a lot of sense to people. But our primary target is actually the delivery boys. For them, it’s about getting a two-wheeler which is Rs 60-70-80 thousand. With a Rs 15-20 thousand net of subsidy, you get an electric cycle. It gives you a 40 km range. The good thing is that if you run out of battery, you can pedal for 5 km. It really brings down the economics. It is a very new idea in India.Globally, cycles are taking off, especially for last-mile deliveries. We have started a segment called cargo cycles which can actually carry up to 40 kg of weight in their specially designed carriers. We provide double subsidies there. For normal cycles, we give Rs 7,500, here it is Rs 15,000.Q. What is the stance of big car manufacturers towards EV?Shah: There is a reason why Tesla is leading the world in EVs and not the Toyotas and General Motors. EV is a market where innovative models, and new-age automobile start-ups have actually taken the lead. By and large, the traditional auto leaders have been reluctant. They wanted to see how the market takes off rather than make the market. There is a grudging acknowledgement that this is going to be the future. If you talk to them, they say we have big plans for EVs.Q. The CM took a very direct approach to the Delhi government’s stance on ‘revdi‘ politics. I don’t think social welfare has ever been so polarised in the last few decades. How do you weigh in on this?Shah: We welcome the fact that today as a nation we are debating social welfare models. I think for long we have seen the national debate being occupied by all issues other than how to improve the condition of our people. In 75 years of Independence, have we achieved the kind of development that we intended to and therefore, where are we lacking? I see this discussion in that larger frame. Probably the message set in motion by the PM and then followed by BJP leaders is because it’s not that seeing the success of the AAP’s development model or the welfare mode; we do believe in investing a maximum percentage of our budget in education and health and it’s an article of faith for us because that’s core to the idea of how we see this country developing. At the same time, we do realise that there are huge inequalities in this nation.Large chunks of our population need social protection and social protection cannot be that I have given rice, wheat in PDS. AAP has offered a very distinct definition of what the social welfare model can be. It is a tragedy that when the chief minister of Gujarat buys a private jet for Rs 180 crore, nobody calls that into question. When Aam Aadmi Party decided that we will make bus rides free for women, and there is a reason behind that since when we know about the outcomes and we know the gender gap that exists in the nation today and what mobility does for a host of outcomes such as education employment, the immediate reaction is that we have given freebies. There is no question asked when the Rajasthan CM buys a private jet of Rs 200 crore. Our expense on free bus rides is around Rs 200-250 crore but it is impacting lakhs of women. Look at the kind of incentives given to the business side. We had a major corporate tax cut in 2019 just before Covid. The cumulative loss to the exchequer was about Rs 1.5 lakh crore. We know the NPA write-offs both at the time of UPA and NDA. It is close to 11 lakh crore.The question the CM asked was how do we grasp this as a nation? Whose money is this? Is there some policy to stop writing it off in the future? It can happen only if you are actually going to penalize the people. By attaching a few properties of a Mallya or Choksi here and there, you are not actually giving them any punishment. They have all managed to evade the country. How many of these people have been put behind bars? That is a simple question. You will not be able to think about even one person. I think it is a welcome opportunity to question the kind of narratives that are being put out, to acknowledge the fact that there is a wholesale write-off that is happening on public money.But the moment you are using this public money to make education free, and this we should know that education is not free in many states; Haryana charges a fee, Karnataka charges a fee. If you ask children to pay a fee, no one will say anything but if you provide free education, if you’re providing free quality health care questions will be asked. Knowing the status of unemployment, we feel unemployment allowance is a good idea.Of course, fiscal management has to happen and AAP is committed to doing that but raising a question saying this is a freebie. The CM spoke about how many developed countries are already doing this. It is a great debate to have and people need to ask what they are getting as tax-paying citizens of this country. And which model has a better chance of improving their lives?Q. What is the Delhi government’s subsidy bill as of now?Shah: The subsidy bill for electricity is Rs 3,200 crore, around Rs 600 crore is water, and around Rs 250 crore for buses. Then we have a budgetary expenditure on health and education. Rs 4,000 crore out of a budget of Rs 75,000 crore. We are talking about 5-6per cent.We did a household survey asking people which of these five major benefits are you actually benefiting from and what does it mean in terms of per month contribution to your saving. The number was Rs 2,500 per family per month. There is also an opportunity cost they are saving on. Because we have improved the quality of education, many want their children to be in government schools rather than private schools. If you add all of that, it is a substantial benefit.We are asked where this money comes from. What allows us to put out this welfare model is that corruption is a no-tolerance issue for us. The biggest source of corruption is in tax collection. When AAP came to power in 2015, the budget was Rs 30,000 crore. In the first five years, we doubled it to Rs 60,000 crore. If you look at the previous 5 years in the last term of the Congress, the budget increased from around Rs 25,000 to Rs 30,000 crores. For us, it is the BJP acknowledging that they will not be able to match welfare politics. In the history of any BJP or Congress, no government has spent 25per cent of its budget on education. So what do you do, you denounce that welfare model rather than saying we will match or better it.Q. How is the freebie discussion playing out in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh which go into polls soon? How do you counter the political narrative that free services are harmful to the nation?Shah: The advantage that BJP has in a state like Gujarat is that they are the incumbent there and access to the WhatsApp networks through which they can sync in the narratives is unparalleled. They will be the first ones to reach out with any message but AAP is there for good. I think the people of Gujarat are realising now that AAP is no fly-by-night party. We are committed to the state, to addressing the issues of the people of the state and I think you can perhaps fool people for a short duration. Has Gujarat moved out of poverty? Look at the malnutrition, at the educational outcomes of Gujarat, they are actually very poor. So, when the AAP goes and actually says we will fix your government schools, clinics, hospitals, you’ll be amazed at how people listen to it with rapt attention.You look at some of the sabhas of the AAP, 500-1,000 people in small villages are gathering to hear about it and that’s also because there’s been a political vacuum. We are firmly committed to what we stand for. We’re not going to change what we feel the Delhi model and the Kejriwal model can do for people. It’s about giving people the confidence that you will stay and if I vote for you, you will actually deliver.Q. Even before allegations of corruption were made against the Delhi government for its excise policy, things had started to go wrong with private players pulling out of their contracts. What went wrong?Shah: Let me first tell you what the excise policy was trying to solve. We have to acknowledge that even in a place like Delhi, the sale of illicit liquor was a huge business. There was a mafia. There were many people benefiting from it. Just in terms of numbers, ever since we came to power in 2015, 3,977 liquor shops have been shut down by the Delhi government. Lakhs of liquor bottles are being caught every year. Why does it happen?The first reason was that in practicality, there was always partial prohibition in Delhi. Half of Delhi—around 134 wards—had either no shops or one shop. So, that’s what promoted unscrupulous means. The duty structures were also regressive because the retail licences were given at meagre sums of Rs 8 lakh but the government would then take excise duty on the sale of liquor and therefore, you would indulge in the sale of non-duty paid liquor.The third thing was the government was dominating the sales of liquor. Around 60per cent of the shops were with the government and the experience was not the best. Brand pushing was the name of the game. You would never get the brand you wanted. We realised that despite our crackdown, a new policy was needed. The policy first and foremost brought in the equitable distribution of liquor shops as a core principle. It was the foundation of the policy that if you want to cut down on illegal sales, you have to ensure equitable distribution of shops without increasing the overall number. Then, the government exited the business and private players came in.We also designed the policy in a manner that upfront annual fees are where the government would collect revenues rather than on sales. There is no incentive to cheat. The revenue collection was historic. The estimate of the government was that from Rs 6,000 crore, we would collect Rs 9,500 crore—a 50per cent jump in one year. Forty-eight hours before the policy was rolled out—the policy was thoroughly discussed and vetted by the former L-G—everything was in place, shops were about to open, but the foundation of the policy was attacked. The LG office acting on a suo-motu basis said that in non-conforming areas of Delhi shops will not be allowed without approval from DDA and MCD. And these agencies would not allow any activity since these were non-conforming areas. Why do you think unauthorised colonies didn’t have water and sewer lines? Because they thought it was not their remit to work in these areas. Now, even earlier on non-conforming areas did have liquor shops, the LG would approve those cases one by one. Even that provision was not made. So, we actually overnight became more regressive than even the earlier regressive excise regime. So that ensured that the target of how many liquor shops open got curtailed. We are also familiar with the kind of political opposition that played out.Everywhere where a shop was opening, the BJP tried to play the narrative that too many shops were opening. In Delhi on a per capita basis, even with 849 shops in the liquor policy, Delhi has one shop for 23,000 people. Noida has one shop for 1,400 people, Bangalore has one shop for 1,700 people and I think Gurgaon has one for every 4,000 persons. In Noida and Gurgaon BJP feels free to do this but the moment it is in Delhi, they apply a different lens. No private player likes to exist in a situation where there is a constant threat of local authorities. Everybody bid high but the moment a lot of these factors combined, people started pulling out and I think today it is a prime example of how politics has managed to fail a very progressive reform which probably should have been a model for the rest of the country.Q. Why did it take the government eight months to voice these concerns? Shah: The moment many of these things happened, including the L-G’s decision, formal letters and communications were sent out. The effort of the government is always to ensure that we can convince, we can take the stakeholders along and no wrong is done. We are not that kind of a government where in the first instance we will make it adversarial or start pointing fingers. We always believed and hoped that things would settle down. That we will be able to argue and reason out with all the stakeholders, and conversations do happen between all tiers of the government.What happened unfortunately is that BJP, we do know that BJP and the Central Government, have decided to make this a political tussle. By ordering a CBI enquiry, the intent was very clear that we are not going to sit with you and figure out how this new regime, which is trying to solve for the ill of the older policy, is going to be implemented and be successful. In fact, when the policy was sent to the LG at that time, many suggestions came and we tried to accommodate them to the extent possible. Our effort has always been to see how to move forward rather than back. There are trumped-up charges and it is now sub-judice, so the courts will decide and all these factors will then be considered.Q. You showcased your governance model in Delhi in education and health, but Delhi is not a full-fledged state. Now, you have got a shot in Punjab. It has been 5 months and everything will be tested there. Finances are in disarray, law and order is not in great condition. What is going wrong there? You have also not fulfilled a few manifesto promises, such as Rs 1,000 allowance for women. Do you think you need to prove your governance model in Punjab to be able to send out a signal to the country that you have something to offer?Shah: Let me disagree with your assessment. It is your assessment that things haven’t been off to a good start. We believe that the last few months have actually laid the perfect foundation for what we hope to achieve in Punjab. A little bit of context here is important. You know, it has taken 50 years of misrule. Punjab is a state in deep debt— Rs 3 lakh crore of debt. That has not happened over the last 5-10 years, it has happened over decades together. We can’t expect that to be erased in 3-5 months.The issue of drugs—again it has not happened overnight. It happened over decades and we are seeing almost one or two generations have been lost because of that. You don’t see youth in the villages of Punjab. They have all moved out. There are a lot of other issues that have been festering for a long time. I think today for the first time if you ask the people of Punjab—the perception from Delhi may be different—but if you talk to the people of Punjab there is real hope, there is genuine hope that people do have from the AAP and that’s because they know that these people are not typical politicians, they are not here to make empty promises.I’ll tell you about some of our important wins. Within the first month of coming to power, we announced an anti-corruption action line. A few thousand calls are received every day. Tell me about any state’s anti-corruption helpline, where a few thousand calls are received. The fact that people are calling, giving evidence shows that they have faith that the government would act on it. There are a lot of anecdotes, in taluk offices, for example, the ‘retail bribes or retail corruption’ has really gone down. Corruption is endemic in Indian governance systems, but a big start has been made on that front.On the matter of drugs, in July 2,500 people were arrested on drug-related charges. The police for the first time know that there will be no political interference if we are going to catch somebody red handed and that is the faith with which we are making sure that the Punjab Police, which is one of the most capable police forces, can actually act on issues that have been festering for decades. We have announced the promise of free electricity. It is not a small promise. While we have made our promises, manifestos are for 5 years, not three months. We call these guarantees and stand by everything we have said. We’ll make sure that each of these guarantees is fulfilled. Some could happen in the first year, some in the second year.How it will happen is decided by a host of factors, one of them being the fiscal window available. This is the first year. If you look at the trend of tax collection, the last three months actually have been very good. We have some fiscal space to start introducing new schemes and policies. We have announced Mohalla clinics and are launching them on August 15. A huge revamp is planned for schools. We have announced MSP on Moong and the cultivation under Moong dal has gone up by 75per cent because of that announcement. We announced to move ahead on progressive farming practices.One of the big things that threaten Punjab’s ecology is the water table because of the paddy crop. We have incentivised the direct seeding of rice technology which consumes around 30 per cent to 40 per cent less water. Rather than just evangelising about this technology, we said that every farmer will get Rs 1,500 per acre. These are very long-term, well-meaning reforms. It is good that people are expecting things to happen; it keeps us on our toes.But if you talk to the people of Punjab and from what we hear, people are very optimistic about what the next five years hold. I feel with the kind of politics that Punjab was in the grip of the last many decades, this kind of politics where we’re not beholden to any interests, things are bound to happen in the coming few years.Q. AAP says that BJP has police control in Delhi, which they use to show their power. You have police under you in Punjab and there have been instances where the Punjab police have come to question or arrest leaders like Kumar Vishwas, Tajinder Bagga and Alka Lamba. Are you going in the same direction as the BJP?Shah: If somebody has violated a law in India, the treatment can’t be different depending on which party you are from. We have seen all kinds of corruption scams happening and BJP leaders being at the centre of them. How many of them have ED or CBI paid a visit to? Kumar Vishwas said that the CM of Delhi is out to divide this nation. Under the law, this is libel and invites prosecution.The action has to be as per the law of the land. In the cases you have mentioned, there have been severe violations of law. So far, they have been protected because one government is trying to back this. But the laws of the country should apply equally to everyone.Q. Yours is a party that originated from a movement. The Delhi CM has made several statements, which he later apologised for. In cases where someone may have gone overboard, in a democracy is there a need for immediate police action?Shah: The idea that there is some central war room where it is decided that the police need to be sent somewhere (is wrong). Punjab police and government decide on the cases. There are many other cases as well. These are political so they tend to be discussed more. The laws of the country should apply equally to everyone. If it is incumbent on me as a public figure not to make slanderous statements without any evidence, it should not be that someone from BJP has that right just because the agencies are under their control. It should be known to the people of the country that laws apply equally.Q. A new L-G has come in recently and several issues have arisen between the government and his office. Do you think he is interfering in governance? What is the relationship like?Shah: I think the people of Delhi are seeing what is unfolding. We are very clear that we are out here to deliver on the mandate that the people of Delhi have given us. If allegations are made against us, we are going to defend ourselves and we’re going to put the facts out. We have faith in the judiciary of this country. So far, 150 cases have been registered against AAP MLAs and ministers. There have been CBI raids, ED raids. Not one of them has stood the scrutiny of courts. The L-G of Delhi is a constitutional authority. Everybody needs to see what role they play in the larger governance system. At the end of the day, it’s the people of Delhi who need to realise what is happening with the mandate that they have given to the Aam Aadmi Party.Q. Why is it taking so long for the revised excise policy to come through? The revised policy was passed in the Cabinet in May but it was not sent to the L-G. Shah: I’m not privy to the timelines. We are going back to the previous regime because an environment was created for private players to pull out. As of date, we have only 468 operational liquor shops and many others said they want to pull out because the environment is not right. With every exit, the government loses revenue. We are very committed to the principles of the new excise policy but we cannot have a situation where we have scarcity for any interim duration.So with all these things, CBI enquiry etc, it may take a longer time to draft a new policy that still retains the principles of what we are trying to achieve. As a lesser evil, we decided to go back to the older regime where the government runs shops in a time-bound manner. This is only for 6 months and hopefully, all the stakeholders can come around with maturity and agree to what the new excise regime looks like.Q. Why did the government come out with the option to opt out of the power subsidy in Delhi? Shah: Many BJP leaders said that the subsidy is not needed and this will destroy the state. So we decided to give the option to all those who are against the subsidy to opt out. We created this option for bus rides for women also. It is not like you can’t go and buy a ticket. Please go and buy it if you want to. In our country targeting mechanisms are very difficult. Identifying who is poor, who is not is tough and therefore we use proxies. We said 200 units of power, why? We could have gone to the socio-economic survey that would itself have led to corruption on the basis of who was categorised as what. If your conscience does not permit you to take a subsidy, don’t take it. This option should have been there earlier.Q. You have formed a government in two states and you are fairly strong in Goa as well. How long will it take for AAP to become a strong opposition in the Lok Sabha? Shah: We believe that as a political party, we cannot decide this. We can show people a ray of hope. We can build an organisation in states and be prepared. We can make people believe that we mean well and we make good on our promises. At the end of the day, the people of this country will have to decide. Will the Aam Aadmi Party emerge as a sizeable party in the Lok Sabha in 2024 or 2029 or whenever? Probably in 2014 or even in 2019, we were not in a position to say that we are there as a viable option across the length and breadth of the country.Today, it is not so. As you yourself mentioned apart from Punjab and Delhi, we have been recognised as a state party in Goa. We have a strong organisation in Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Gujarat and Jammu and Kashmir. We will perhaps contest in Karnataka and we will be there in Assam. The AAP today exists as a viable option for a large part of the country. People have to decide if they are happy with politics as usual or do they want to try this particular option? And this is what democracy is all about. We trust the people. We know what we have achieved in places like Delhi and Punjab and hopefully, people will support the AAP model.Q. Let us talk about your most recent initiative—the Rozgaar budget. Employment is something that everyone at some point grapples with. What did you have in mind when you tweaked the budget with this in focus? What are the aspirations you have?Shah: Emerging out of the Covid pandemic, the priority that the CM put out was very clear that unemployment and the distress created because of unemployment is the single largest issue facing the nation today. It’s the same in Delhi. We have seen a large number of livelihoods go out because of Covid. Some industries have been shaped permanently because of that. There have been efforts in the past, but I think it was time to fundamentally think about the economic trajectory of Delhi. We asked ourselves, where are the next 1 million to 2 million jobs in Delhi going to come from. It was a huge exercise under the leadership of the deputy CM and the CM, where we spoke to almost all sectors of the economy. It was a four to six-month exercise. Markets of Delhi, the manufacturing sector of Delhi, and the rural outskirts of Delhi.Out of all these conversations is where the plan for the Rozgaar budget, which was announced in this year’s budget, was laid out and it was a very precise plan. There are around 13-14 initiatives. Each has been mapped out as per its potential to create jobs in a five-year horizon. Some of the highlights are the revival of the markets of Delhi. Delhi is a service-based economy and we know that people come to Delhi to visit some of the traditional markets like Karol Bagh, Lajpat Nagar Market, Chandni Chowk. Because of physical development challenges or many other issues, they say the crowds have been going down. Chandni Chowk was a good template, but we said that probably all the major markets of Delhi need to be redeveloped to a level that can sustain the growth for the next 20-30 years.Newsletter | Click to get the day’s best explainers in your inboxThere is a very ambitious redevelopment that the government has initiated. We will be having a national design competition bringing the best ideas to revive the markets of Delhi. Delhi will also have a shopping festival of a scale that has not been seen in the country before. It is a very ambitious idea. People talk about the shopping festivals in Singapore and Dubai. It’ll take a few years to get there. But Delhi has all the ingredients to pull off an international shopping festival.We are talking to some new economies of Delhi like cloud kitchens and food trucks. These are things that have been happening but in a very ad hoc manner. When we called 30-40 of the major cloud kitchen operators of Delhi for a consultation at DDC, they said they had never met a government official who wanted to understand how the industry works. They listed a litany of issues on licenses. You will see a very forward-looking, progressive cloud kitchen industry. We want Delhi to be a hub for the entire NCR. Come here and set up industrial-scale cloud kitchens and create jobs. In the electronics manufacturing space, we thought over time that maybe manufacturing has no role to play in a city like Delhi but if you look at Taiwan and Singapore, electronics is the largest industry in the world and is actually a clean industry. You don’t pollute a lot and therefore we have identified an 81-acre parcel of land in Baprola as the electronics hub. We are very gung-ho and optimistic.Q. Do you have a target in terms of the number of jobs you want to create? Shah: The entire planning was around 20 lakh jobs in the next five years. We are in the first three or four months of having announced the initiative. A lot of it is preparation for putting these plans out. I would say as soon as by the end of this year, you will start seeing results.
Aurangabad: Vinayak Mete, the five-term MLC who died in a road accident on the Pune-Mumbai expressway on Sunday morning, was considered one of the early voices rising in favour of Maratha reservation in Maharashtra.He was born in the Rajegaon village of Kaij taluka in Beed district on June 30, 1970, in a farmer’s family. After his formal education, Mete joined the Maratha Mahasangh organisation in 1986 and went on to become its all-India general secretary in 1994 with his influence growing within the Maratha community.In 1995, he founded a social forum called Marathwada Lokvikas Manch, and later Nav Maharashtra Vikas Party in 1998 with the aim to establish an identity as an independent leader from Marathwada.Mete, during the tenure of the then Shiv Sena-BJP alliance, became a member of the State Legislative Council as a Governor’s nominee for the first time in January 1996.In 2002, he formed the Shiv Sangram party while enjoying his second term as an MLC during the tenure of the Congress-NCP government in Maharashtra. His close ties to NCP chief Sharad Pawar added mileage to his political journey. The Maratha leader later joined NCP and served as its vice-president before leaving in 2014 to associate with BJP which offered him two more terms as MLC. As a BJP-supported candidate, he had unsuccessfully contested the assembly election from Beed against Jaydutt Kshirsagar, who was in NCP then.Citing the backwardness of several members of the Maratha community, Mete strongly demanded reservation for the community way back in the 1990s — much before the demand for reservation became a movement in Maharashtra. While the Maratha reservation granted during the tenure of the BJP government in Maharashtra was scrapped by the Supreme Court after a change in guard in Maharashtra, Mete frequently trained guns on the then MVA government for its alleged failure and mobilised support for the quota demand. He was also made the head of the committee formed to set up the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Memorial project in the Arabian Sea. He is survived by his wife who is a government employee, a son, and a daughter. As per the announcement made by his party, the last rites will be performed in Beed on Monday.
MUMBAI: The Shiv Sena on Sunday hit out at the 75th Independence Day celebrations, saying the complete power of the country was in the hands of PM Modi and home minister Amit Shah and there was a dark cloud hanging over the revelry. In Rok Thok, the weekly column in Saamna, it said efforts were being made to wipe out the Congress's contribution to the freedom struggle. "August 15 is the Amrut Mahotsav of Independence. Modi has asked everyone to celebrate. The tricolor is being distributed, but what is the celebration about? The contribution of the Congress to freedom struggle cannot be forgotten. Its leaders from Tilak to Nehru fought the most. They were jailed, but the Amrit Mahotsav is being celebrated by keeping the Congress aside. As a formality, Gandhiji's name will be taken on August 15, but in the last 7-8 years, efforts have been made to give the impression that the Congress had nothing to do with the freedom struggle," it said, adding people who claim India got independence after 2014 were in power. This week, the column didn't feature Sanjay Raut's byline.
MAHARASHTRA CHIEF Minister Eknath Shinde allocated portfolios to his 18 Cabinet ministers on Sunday, a week after they were sworn in.Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari approved the portfolio distribution in the evening.The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) ensured that the majority of important portfolios were allocated to it with deputy CM Devendra Fadnavis managing to keep both Home and Finance departments. CM Shinde kept the Urban Development Department (UDD), which he handled in the previous MVA government. He will handle Information and Technology, Public Works (Public undertakings), Transport, Marketing, Social Justice, Relief and Rehabilitation, Disaster management, Soil and water conservation, Environment and Minority Affairs.Apart from Home, and Finance, Fadnavis has Law and Judiciary, Irrigation, Housing, Power and Protocol.The portfolio distribution shows that despite nine ministers each from both sides, the BJP has managed to hold on to the majority of important departments.Newsletter | Click to get the day’s best explainers in your inboxShinde has restarted the tradition of CM holding the UDD portfolio, which was stopped by then CM Uddhav Thackeray. Thackeray had appointed Shinde as the UDD minister, unlike his predecessors. He has also kept Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation (MSRDC), which is involved in some of the biggest projects in the state, including the multi-thousand crore Nagpur-Mumbai super communication highway.Among the 18 Cabinet ministers, Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil will handle Revenue, Animal Husbandry and Dairy development. Maharashtra BJP’s former president Chandrakant Patil will be Higher and Technical Education, Textile and Parliamentary Affairs minister while former finance minister Sudhir Mungantiwar will be Forest, Cultural Affairs and Fisheries minister.Dr Vijaykumar Gavit will be Tribal Development minister while Girish Mahajan will handle Rural Development and Panchayati Raj, Medical Education and Sports & youth welfare portfolios. Suresh Khade will be the new Labour minister and Ravindra Chavan will handle Public Works department (PWD); Food, civil supplies and consumer protection. New entrant Atul Save will handle Cooperation and OBC department portfolios and former BJP Mumbai chief Mangal Prabhat Lodha will be the new Tourism, Skill Development and Woman and child welfare minister of Maharashtra.Meanwhile Fadnavis, who was seen as on the backfoot after the party asked him to accept the Deputy CM’s post, has managed to emerge stronger. Not only did he secure important departments, he also successfully upstaged senior BJP leaders such as Patil and Mungantiwar who were given comparatively less important departments. On the other hand, Revenue portfolio to Congress-turned-BJP leader Vikhe-Patil puts him on a bigger rank than others within the BJP.In a shocking demotion in Shinde camp, former agriculture minister Dadaji Bhuse was given the charge of Ports and mining portfolios only. Gulabrao Patil has kept his earlier Water supply and sanitation department. Controversial minister and former forest minister Sanjay Rathod will be the new Food and Drug Administration minister. Shinde loyalist Sandipan Bhumare has got the Employment guarantee scheme and horticulture. Uday Samant will be the new Industries minister of Maharashtra while Tanaji Sawant is being given the responsibility of the Public Health department. Abdul Sattar is the new Agriculture minister while Deepak Kesarkar will be the new School Education and Marathi Language minister. Shambhuraj Desai will handle the State Excise department.
THANE: CM Eknath Shinde said on Saturday that he rued the fact that he did not defy the Shiv Sena's orders and align with the BJP instead of being part of the MVA in 2019. Speaking at a Q&A session, he said, "Balasaheb (Thackeray) had said he would shut shop (Sena) but won't collaborate with the Congress and the NCP. That is exactly what we did. I feel I should have taken this step 2.5 years ago. When I met PM Modi and home minister Amit Shah, I asked them about the closed door meeting in 2019 over the CM seat-sharing formula. They denied having made any such commitment." Defending the BJP, he dismissed theories of it having triggered a split in the Sena. "Modi and Shah told me that if the BJP supported you and Nitish Kumar as CM despite having the majority, then it would definitely have honoured its commitment (to Uddhav Thackeray) if it was made," he said. Remarking that it was the BJP that had elevated an ordinary Sainik to CM's post, he justified his rebellion, saying it was only to keep "Balasaheb's Sena from being overpowered by its newfound allies". Targeting NCP chief Sharad Pawar, Shinde claimed that many from rival camps were keen to align with his group but had been rejected because the government had the numbers. On stalling projects okayed by the MVA, he said most decisions had been taken when the MVA was in a minority.