A World Bank report on Monday was for many a status report of the implementation of a 98-point action plan intended to push India up the list of countries ranked on the ease of doing business. For the Jharkhand government, it became a status report of itself.
The 132-page report became the first pat on the back for the Raghubar Das government, which managed to pull the state up by its bootstraps from 29th on the list in March to third by the time the report was prepared.
Installed in December last year after a campaign where his party promised the sky, BJP’s Das has had to face criticism for not being able to show tangible results to date.
“Next? Next we go for 75 (percent compliance). We lead,” said Chief Secretary Rajiv Gauba on Tuesday. Jharkhand currently has 63.09 percent compliance: no state has made the 75 percent cut-off required to be called a leader.
Gauba is among the many who believe that Jharkhand fell into a vicious cycle of negativity. “We are as good or better than most states when it comes to online infrastructure for example, but we are not as good as other when it comes to publicising our achievements,” was how a bureaucrat who did not want to be named reacted to the report’s findings. Gauba had similar observations to make: “We are hoping that this buoyancy will pay rich dividends to the state. That is only possible if this is captured and projected in the media.”
The CS enjoys unprecedented backing from the CM’s office: a press note provided by the former’s office notes how he “personally led” the restructuring of government departments and reducing them from 43 to 31 with the “backing of the Chief Minister….” That Das, known for his temper, brought Gauba on board after first alienating and then having a public spat with predecessor Sajal Chakraverty was an early indication of how badly he wanted to appoint the Bihar cadre officer.
Gauba, then an Additional Secretary handling the Left Wing Extremism desk in the Home Ministry, was considered an internal security appointment being pushed by Delhi along with DGP D.K. Pandey – returning from a stint as ADG (Operations) of the CRPF. However, Das has seemingly been able to delegate authority to Gauba, letting him worry about the nitty-gritty.
Gauba talks of the his efforts at rationalising the Agriculture Produce Marketing Committee, “which had forgotten the reason for its existence.” Seeing that the body that was supposed to bring farmers and buyers together was more interested in setting up checkpoints and levying taxes on coffee, milk powder and tea, Gauba waded in. There was bureaucratic resistance, then political opposition. “I keep telling my colleagues that we have to think before taking decisions,” he says, quoting from the book How to Help an Elephant Make a U-Turn.
“Some people you convince, some you overrule,” says Gauba cryptically when asked how he managed to abolish the taxes being levied by the APMC and make them charge only for services rendered. There were more to come – when the government decided to give its bureaucrats real financial power for the first time by letting departmental secretaries sanction schemes of up to Rs. 5 crores, it also pacified ministers by fixing their sanctioning powers at Rs. 5 to 15 crores.
“Urban development, land (allocation)….” Gauba trailed off and preferred to concentrate on the positives when asked on possible areas of improvement by the time the World Bank releases its next report. More needs to be done if Jharkhand needs to realise its “potential,” as glossy pamphlets always term it: scores of projects that are yet to get off the ground, no infrastructure to speak of, public apathy towards industries, to list a few.
The CS thinks he has the ball at his feet. He talks of having the right leadership at the moment. “We have to use this opportunity to drive change.”