Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Raman Singh, whose state has so far been free of farmers’ unrest and violence in the name of cow protection, says governments should take care to prevent people taking the law into the hands. In this interview, Singh also talks about Maoists, his government’s measures for farmers and his own political plans.
When your government keeps announcing welfare schemes and claims to have contained Maoist attacks, have the latest Maoist attacks in Sukma dented its image?
Development work initiated by the government has had an impact on Naxal-affected areas. One part of the state has been cleared of the Naxal problem. Sarguja, an affected area like Bastar, is 100 per cent free of Maoist rebellion. The situation is much better in seven districts of Bastar too. Their activities continue in Sukma, but road construction too is in progress. They launch one attack a year and it takes attention away from all our efforts. But we are going ahead, development work is in progress and Naxals have withdrawn a bit, because there have been intense operations not only in Sukma but also in Dantewada, Bijapur and Narayanpur since March 1.
Last April, you said demonetisation would finish Naxal funding. Did it?
The money they had been keeping underground went waste. Every year, they collect Rs 50-100 crore. A large portion lost its value as they could not change currencies. They had trouble buying new weapons and that’s why they were looting the police and the forces. Demonetisation has affected their purchasing power and recruitment. Not just demonetisation, continuing operations too will make them weaker and disable them in the future. So far, we have successfully confined them to small areas.
You have expressed concern over the pace of digitisation in the wake of demonetisation. How it going?
The central government has taken a few measures such as opening new branches of banks in Left Wing Extremism-affected areas. It is important to have bank branches or post offices for digital transactions. If there is no bank every 50-100 km, NREGA workers and tendu-leaf-pickers would face problems. I want more and more banks. After demonetisation, 36 new branches have been opened in LWE areas, but it’s not enough. We want a bank at least every 50 km.
The Congress and some farmers’ organisations have announced they will hold a protest as 12 farmers have committed suicide in the state in 16 days. How has your government handled the situation?
We have opened counselling centres for farmers in every district so they can come to officials with any problem they face. The officers and others responsible were asked to be available to sort out farmers’ issues. Sometimes, it’s not the big things but the little things that could upset them; sometimes it may not be a farming issue but a family feud or illness that leads to suicides. We have been providing loans at zero interest to farmers. Power is free up to 7,500 units for agriculture. We have procured 69 lakh tonnes paddy worth Rs 12 crore and the money has already been released to farmers. So, farmers here face no major issues. Loan recovery rate is the highest in Chhattisgarh — almost 85% is paid back.
But farmers have been demanding a paddy bonus.
We are discussing the issue. We are positive about it but a final decision will be taken soon.
The Centre has made it clear it will not provide any help on waiver or bonus.
After the states’ share in tax revenue has gone up from 32% to 42%, it has been good for the states. Besides, the states started getting a share from mining auctions, too, as additional funds for development work. I think the states will have to find ways to increase their own resources for development. You can’t keep looking at the Centre. Chhattisgarh also makes use of various institutional funds.
BJP governments have come under criticism over incidents of lynching. Why, according to you, do such incidents happen — a failure of the administration or a charged atmosphere?
In Chhattisgarh, there haven’t been any such incidents. I think the administration should be careful that no such incident takes place. No one should be allowed to take the law into their hands. I have given special instructions to all district administrations to be alert, that such incidents must not take place.
You were quoted as saying those guilty of cow slaughter will be hanged..
If there is a violation of law, there are provisions in the law to punish them. Such incidents [lynching in the name of cow protection] should not take place.
Whenever there is talk of a Union cabinet reshuffle, your name comes up as a possible induction. Now that you are completing a third term, will you be coming to the national scene?
Dilli door hai. I prefer to work in the state and face its challenges. Chhattisgarh is still a new state and it’s a huge responsibility to make it a developed state. My first choice is the state. I was working at the Centre and I was sent to the state. However, it’s not in my hands. The organisation will take a decision.
A number of human rights violations were reported in Chhattisgarh and the state government had imposed sedition charges on tribal rights activists.
I want to ask those human rights activists one question — what happens to the violation of the rights of people in Bastar? Naxals kill children, destroy bridges, schools and block all development activities. They empty villages by shooting or threatening the villagers. Have they raised their voice against these violations? Have they gone to court or have they ever told the media that the Naxals were doing wrong? They have terrorised the entire region. Why are people like Nandini Sundar silent on this? Don’t people in Bastar have any rights? Thousands of widows and orphans are living there, have they ever asked them who killed their husbands? They go by one-sided views.