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Thursday, May 06, 2021

‘Section of bureaucracy causing rift in the MVA,’ says Ashok Chavan

As the first signs of unease in the Uddhav Thackeray-led coalition government in Maharashtra become visible, state Public Works Minister talks to The Indian Express on the growing discontent within the Congress faction of Mahavikas Aghadi (MVA), the upcoming MLC polls, his battle against Covid-19 and the road ahead for Maharashtra.

Written by Sandeep A Ashar | Mumbai |
Updated: June 14, 2020 7:45:02 am
Covid-19 fight, Ashok Chavan, Mahavikas Aghadi, Maharashtra government, Mumbai news, Indian express news “We have not lost any political space. We are just making it clear that our party should get its due. Our aim to keep the BJP out of power at any cost should not be seen as our weakness,” said Chavan.

Q. The rift within the MVA is now out in the open with the Congress expressing its displeasure over not being consulted on key decisions. What are the party’s grievances?

There is no rift as such. But there is a growing feeling among senior Congress leaders and ministers that the party isn’t getting its due as a partner. All parties should be equal. After all, the government was formed because all three came together. For the upcoming MLC (Member of Legislative Council) nominations to 12 seats, the three parties had already discussed and agreed that each will get one-third share. All we have asked for is it to be implemented. We too need to accommodate some of our leaders, so that they feel they are a part of the government. Second, there is a feeling among some of our ministers that they aren’t being heard or addressed. We’ll raise these issues with the CM. I’m confident he will give us a patient hearing and these issues will be resolved.

Q. Another issue raised by your party is the unequal distribution of development funds amongst the allies. Can you elaborate on this?

It is an issue. There is some inequality in the distribution of development funds to constituencies represented by the three parties, although I do not have the exact details. Every MLA wants to push development works in his own region.

Read | Seeking more ‘effective & assertive’ role in MVA, Cong leaders to meet CM

Q. Buzz is that the Shiv Sena-led Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation wants to form an independent infrastructure board that will infringe upon your portfolio. Were you consulted? We have been told there are some other issues pertaining to your department that you are concerned about.

The power-sharing formula and the division of departments between parties was a political decision finalised by all sides. This must be respected. Anything that changes or affects it will obviously become a contentious point. It shouldn’t be done without consultation and consensus between the sides. More than the ministers, I personally feel that it is a section of bureaucrats trying to create the rift. But the political leadership is mature. The CM must put his foot down and send a clear message that this won’t be tolerated. There are also certain issues pertaining to (bureaucratic) reshuffle.

Q. This is one of the most experienced cabinets in a long time. Yet the bureaucracy seems to be overarching. What are your views on this?

These things can quickly be sorted out. Principles of elective democracy and rules for government’s functioning are well laid out. It is clear that the government vests in the minister. The bureaucrat has to act as per directives of the minister and the CM. Once these are strictly enforced, things will fall in place.

Read | Maharashtra: Rift in MVA out in open, Cong upset over fund distribution, seat sharing

Q. The Congress has been relegated to playing the third fiddle. Even Rahul Gandhi’s recent statement appeared to echo this sentiment. How do you plan to reclaim your lost political space?

We have not lost any political space. We are just making it clear that our party should get its due. Our aim to keep the BJP out of power at any cost should not be seen as our weakness. All three parties have joined hands to form this government. It should work on the basis and principles of the Common Minimum Programme. There is a six-member coordination committee of the allies in government. It must meet more often. We are saying if all of us sit together with an open mind and indulge in effective dialogue, all issues can be resolved.

Q. The BJP has attacked the MVA over policy paralysis and lack of cohesiveness. Your views?

It is unfortunate that the BJP is resorting to politics during such a time (of the pandemic). The MVA’s focus at the moment is to control the spread of the coronavirus. Our efforts are geared towards helping doctors, nurses and healthcare workers at the frontline.

Q. The Covid-19 crisis has imposed a severe cut on government expenditure. But your department is also faced with the task of pushing infrastructure works to revive growth and create demand. What are your plans?

Read | MVA not serious about Covid fight: Fadnavis joins war of words after Rajnath’s circus remark

It is a major challenge. Our budgets have been cut. There is also a spillover of past liabilities. So, we have prioritised. The focus will be on improvement and additions to the state highway network. We will be relying a lot more on off-budget borrowings to push roadworks. Among contracts issued in the past, all works that are yet to begin and those awarded after March 31, 2019, are being reviewed afresh. Another concern is the delay in national highway works, where many contractors have not adhered to timelines. I have raised it with (Union Road Transport Minister) Nitin Gadkari. The Centre should immediately look into it.

Q. Your battle against Covid-19 was successful. Would you like to share your experience?

Faith in self is key. The constant attention to the pandemic has also caused stress. When I tested positive, even I felt overwhelmed. I was faced with many questions. Fortunately, my family backed me and I recovered fully. This illness has taught me to take precautionary measures at all times, meet fewer people, maintain distancing as much as possible, keep homes and surroundings sanitised. If you exhibit symptoms, do not delay medical attention.

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