By Dr Abhay Bang
In what capacity do I write to you? Though I don’t share your party’s Hindutva ideology, I am your admirer. In you, the state has got a youthful, studious chief minister with a clean image and transparent sincerity. People of Maharashtra want you to succeed. But succeed in what?
I have a small wish list of two.
Vidarbha and Marathwada regions in Maharashtra, with nearly 45 million population, deserve your highest attention. Farmers’ suicides — largest in the world, Naxalism and tribal unrest, child malnutrition and mortality, water scarcity and drought in these regions are manifestations of the underlying imbalance in political power and economic development of five decades. You have openly stated your commitment to undo this injustice. How?
A Constitutional amendment, Article 371(2), protects the welfare of Vidarbha and Marathwada. Under this, the governor of Maharashtra appointed in 2011 the high-level Kelkar Committee to suggest solutions for the problem of imbalance in regional development in the state. You, as the leader of all party MLAs from Vidarbha, made an impressive and convincing presentation before the committee. It is still fresh in my memory.
The Kelkar Committee has recommended several deep structural and financial reforms. These include devolution of administrative and financial power to the regions, a fund allocation formula to correct the development deficit in Vidarbha and Marathwada, measures to encourage the growth of industry and agriculture in these two regions, solutions to the problem of water scarcity and the irrigation deficit, creation of new districts and talukas with a tribal majority, and implementation of the PESA Act empowering the tribal villages.
Your government has a singular opportunity to solve multiple problems in one stroke. Lead the state in implementing these recommendations. Even the Shiv Sena, hopefully, will not oppose them because this might be the only way to avoid the otherwise inevitable division of the state.
Another problem is insidiously eroding Maharashtra’s main capital — the human capital. The state population is known for its intelligence, culture and enlightenment. However, it is celebrating the New Year with a week drowned in alcohol. People annually drink liquor worth Rs 50,000 crore. The state is unofficially governed by an alcohol empire which has permeated the political power in villages and towns, in the sugar industry, in political parties and finally made even the state government dependent on the revenue earned from liquor. In a recent debate on Zee TV, your excise minister replied to me that this year he hoped to collect Rs 21,000 crore from the sale of alcoholic drinks. No government should be proud of this dubious achievement.
The Global Burden of Disease study counts alcohol among the top four causes of diseases. Women are insecure if men are drunk (remember the Nirbhaya episode). The youth has started drinking at the age of 15 years.
I am sure you do not want the state to go the Punjab way. I hope the voices of women from different parts of the state — Chandrapur, Yavatmal, Buldhana, Ahmednagar, Satara, Kolhapur — loudly protesting against liquor are reaching you. What should you do about this corrosive problem?
The World Health Assembly has resolved in 2009 that the member countries should institute policies and measures to reduce the harm caused by alcohol. France, Italy and Russia have introduced the measures and reduced consumption. Recently in India, the states of Kerala and Bihar have announced a decision to introduce prohibition. What will the enlightened state of Maharashtra do?
I suggest that Maharashtra should adopt a policy which protects the long-term welfare, health and development of the people. Adopt a policy of incremental reduction in liquor availability and consumption in the state. Twenty percent reduction per year will give everybody the required time to adjust.
Moreover, the three districts — Wardha, Gadchiroli and Chandrapur — where the government has already introduced prohibition should see an effective implementation. You have already approved such a plan for Gadchiroli district. I congratulate you for that.
In the end, a personal request. Do take care of your own health. You are young, but your inhuman time schedule and excruciating pressures worry me. Maharashtra needs you for a longer innings.