How is the Chouhan government of 2020 different from those of 2003, 2008 and 2013, when you had a full mandate? Do you find it difficult to materialise your ideas for the state?
There is no difference. There is only one aim — prosperity of Madhya Pradesh and progress of its people. It was the same then and now, but there is a difference in situations and problems. Today we have a pandemic at hand, with which there are economic problems not just in Madhya Pradesh but also in other states and the central government. The commitments are the same, but the problems are different. Then, as CM, I worked with my team and didn’t face any difficulties, even today I am surrounded by the same team that loves, trusts and works as a team. My friends who were earlier with the Congress and now joined the BJP and become its workers, even they trust me. I am taking decisions as promptly as I would earlier, hence there is no problem at all.
Over the past few days, you have rolled out benefits worth Rs 60,000 crore under various schemes. How are you managing it in this economic crisis?
This is true that we are in an economic crisis, our revenue collection was down by 24 per cent last month. We received some GST compensation, but the central government is also facing problems. But with the pandemic, people need these benefits more than ever. We looked for budgets of various departments where there was money that could be diverted and utilised. Money left with different departments under various schemes that was not being utilised was taken up. We also tried to make better use of the money we were getting as revenue. Then we also borrowed money up to 3.5 per cent of the GDP. The silver lining was that we gave Rs 25,000 crore to farmers for wheat procurement. This gave a little push to the economy. I didn’t leave any stone unturned. We approached various organisations where money was stuck and pumped in money to keep essentials moving. We distributed money to all the poor and restarted Sambal Yojna, 27 lakh people were included in the PDS, scholarship to students and pensions were restarted, and we gave crop insurance to farmers. There are difficulties, but we won’t let things come to a grinding halt.
You mentioned that state revenue was down by 24 per cent last month. How badly has it been hit compared to last year’s figures between April to August?
Half of March in 2020 was alright, but soon after, positive cases were reported and everything came to a standstill. This continued in April and May, and even today few people are buying things or stepping out of their homes. Compared to last year, revenue collection is badly hit. In August it was less by 24 per cent, but in previous months it was down by 80- 90 per cent. It will take some time to get back on track. But we have tried to not let it affect things.
Do you feel the central government should be spending more?
We need to be realistic, where will the Centre get the money from? The central government also has its priorities. Today protection of borders is a big priority. We need to stay alert, deploy more forces and make arrangements for them. The central government is doing what it can. They have their own problems, and we need to understand them and work together with a realistic approach.
The farm bills are being opposed by many states. Your comment on the issue?
People are spreading myth. Why should we force the farmer to sell his produce in the mandi only? Madhya Pradesh made these changes before the Centre. We are not shutting down mandis through this Bill, they will function and trade will go on through them, but we are providing options apart from mandi. If in mandis, there is commission on vegetables of about 8 per cent, then the farmer has to make compromises. If someone buys his produce from his farm and the farmer can save this 8 per cent, why should we force him to go to the mandi? Before this Bill, grains were not allowed to be sold outside mandis, and if sold it was termed as tax evasion. Why should we do this dadagiri? Mandis need to make themselves attractive so that the farmer himself decides to sell his produce there. The trader who will have a license can go outside the mandi and buy it. If there is a price agreed on between the farmer and trader, which is agreeable to both, and the farmer gets someone to come to his doorstep to buy produce, then why should he fill his trolley-tractor and to go to the mandi? If someone is developing a ‘kharidi kendra’ or warehouse, and from there his produce is sold at a good price, then why should we force the person to come to the mandi? If there is an exporter who wants to export fruits, dal, vegetables and rice, and he is getting a good price, then why should he be forced to come to the mandi? If someone has a food processing unit and he wants to buy directly from the farmer, why should we force him to come to the mandi? If there is no one in the middle and the farmer is getting more money, why should anyone have a problem? Mandis will continue to function, but other options will also be available. Today it is easier to do e-trading. The Bill is in the commercial interest of the farmer. It will encourage competition, so we should give it a chance.
You recently announced that local jobs will only be for children of Madhya Pradesh, don’t you feel this will go against the federal structure of the country?
We need to safeguard the federal structure of the country and taking it into due consideration, we are working out a way in which it can be done and the unity of the country is not affected. We are all children of Mother India and this is what we feel. But if a factory is coming up, the local people feel their land has been taken over, and that they should be given priority for jobs, this feeling should be taken into account. We are taking a holistic approach, and the decision will be taken considering the unity of the country.
Is there a need to increase the minimum working days under MGNREGA? Also, why is the average number of women under the scheme in MP lower than the national average?
A provision has been made to increase the minimum working days to 150 days, the budget has also been substantially increased by the Prime Minister, hence in Madhya Pradesh we do not have any problems with this. There has been no further demand to increase the minimum working days by us. As of today, we have no problems providing employment through MNREGA, be it for men or women. If the need is felt in the future, it will be looked into.
A substantial number of about 14 ministers in your cabinet are those who came from the Jyotiraditya Scindia camp. Does this not give rise to internal rivalry within the BJP ranks?
There is no question of rivalry or rift in the ranks, I interact with Scindia and Pradesh Adyaksh (of the BJP, V D Sharma) on a regular basis over phone. Everyone works like friends. When this happened (22 MLAs switching over from Congress to join BJP), those who were ministers were switching over to the BJP, it was decided that they needed to be made ministers otherwise it could have been injustice to them. One has to be practical, otherwise you wouldn’t have a government. There is no problem within the BJP, we are working effectively and taking decisions regularly.
Why is there reluctance to include eggs as a mode of nutrition for children in anganwadi despite the proposal being reiterated?
Madhya Pradesh has a mindset that on the banks of Narmada there are sadhu-sants and generally non-vegetarian is not considered well. Anganwadis are frequented by those who eat vegetarian and non-vegetarian. You cannot distinguish between those who need to be given milk and those who would be given eggs. If people want to eat eggs, they can have it at home, it is their choice. I believe milk and eggs are equal when it comes to nutritional content. But making it a bone of contention that no matter what happens eggs will be given is not right.
A task force has been constituted to come up with a better alternative to PM Fasal Bima Yojana as a lot of farmers from Madhya Pradesh are falling out of its ambit?
When the Prime Minister makes a policy which gets implemented, he is always in favour of rectifying any shortcomings. We are taking guidance from him and holding discussions to make it better. Recently Rs 4,500 crore was deposited in the accounts of farmers, but it is always highlighted that those that suffer less damage don’t get enough money. It is like a blessing for the farmers, but there is scope for improvement and the PM himself thinks about improving it, and sometimes we share our inputs with him.
There are over 1 lakh Covid-19 cases in MP, which is headed for bypolls, and the state is facing shortage of oxygen. How are you looking at handling the situation?
One lakh cases does not mean there are 1 lakh active cases, presently there are about 21,000 active cases, but these numbers are growing constantly after the unlocking, which is bound to happen. We were able to curtail cases as long as there was a lockdown. Compared to other states, we hardly had any cases during the lockdown. But lockdown cannot continue as the wheels of the economy need to keep turning or else people will die of hunger. But we are increasing ICU beds, hospitals and giving importance to home isolation. Asymptomatic cases need not go to hospital. We have made a command and control centre at every district where doctors talk to the patients twice a day to check if they have problems.
For the shortage of oxygen, we are working in all directions, we have spoken to the central government which is making it available and we are also getting it from Bhilai steel plant. We have spoken to Maharashtra and the High Court has also stated that no one can stop the supply of oxygen abruptly. We are also making provisions for it in the long term and short term.
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