In the last month and a half leading to the announcement of assembly elections, the Himachal Pradesh government has inaugurated or laid the foundation of 10 government colleges, two hydroelectric projects, over 100 rural road projects, dozens of bridges, water supply schemes, institutional buildings, a slum dwellers housing project, a city museum and a helipad in Shimla, and several more.
The total cost of the projects launched since September 1, if added, would work out to over Rs 3,000 crore, an assessment of the individual costs shows. This does not include projects inaugurated or announced jointly with the Centre, such as 10 health projects that Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh launched jointly with Union Health Minister J P Nadda on September 13, besides the AIIMS in Bilaspur, the IIIT in Una and the steel processing plant in Khandrori (Kangra) that Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched this month.
During this period, Virbhadra has travelled across districts — Sirmaur, Kangra, Kullu, Kinnaur, Mandi, Shimla, Solan, Una —to launch or announce projects, including a few incomplete or awaiting formal inauguration. He launched over 80 more projects online from Shimla. Of the 10 new government colleges he has announced, two became functional in September itself, within a week of his public announcements in Renuka and Shillai constituencies of Sirmaur, one of the state’s most backward and underdeveloped districts.
Of the two hydroelectric projects, one is a Rs-651-crore Unit-I of the 195MW Kashang project in Kinnaur district and the other a Rs-1,108-crore 110MW Sainj hydroelectric project in Kullu district, executed by Himachal Pradesh Power Corporation. During this time, the chief minister launched other development projects worth Rs 163 crore.
“While in Kullu, he had a list of 39 inaugurations and foundation stones in a single day. During his tours of Renuka and Shillai, the CM had 25 to 26 functions in a day. He announced several projects on the spot and these included the two degree colleges,” said a close aide who was travelling with Virbhadra.
The finance department says it is difficult to pinpoint at this stage how many of the projects were sanctioned earlier and how many were launched without prior budgetary provisions, unless the departments concerned get the details from the districts.
The Opposition has accused the CM of making hollow announcements to mislead the people. The BJP says the government has no money to pay salaries of employees; in September, it raised a loan of Rs 800 crore to meet its “ways and means” and daily expenditure, after having taken loans between April and August, too.
“In the past five years, the CM has made close to 1,600 announcements, out of which 1,300 have seen no update or budget. Given this progress rate, the state has been negatively impacted and gone 10 years behind in terms of development,” said Anurag Thakur, BJP MP .
Virbhadra responded, “I challenge him and also Dhumal (former chief minister P K Dhumal, Thakur’s father) to give me one example of a project launched without budget or sanction. If proved wrong, I will quit politics. Only those who don’t appreciate development tend to make such comments. Ask the people in far-flung areas how much they have benefited.”
In a state where the debt burden has exceeded Rs 55,000 crore, concessions have been announced over the last three months for government employees, contractual and daily wage workers and women employees, whose maturity leave was raised to 180 days from 135 days . In the last month and a half, at least four cabinet meetings have been held for decisions that will benefit tea-estate owners, industrialists, power-sector investors and religious bodies such as Radha Swami Satsang , which had lobbied for exemption from the HP Land Ceiling Act so that it could sell surplus land.