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Opinion

‘It did not allow the pandemic to delay or derail our government’s initiatives’ – Jai Ram Thakur

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Three years since he was unexpectedly catapulted to the highest post in Himachal Pradesh, Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur, 55, is firmly in the chair politically. But it faces the daunting task of delivering on a string of promises in polls, compounded by a relentless Covid-19 rampage that has hit the state’s economy, already weighed down by mounting debt of 55 billion rupees. With his low-key and practical ruling style, Mandi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader, entering his fourth year at the helm on December 27, was quick to reset his priorities to mitigate the opposition’s accusation of being for below average. performance. In an exclusive interview with Ramesh Vinayak in Shimla on Sunday, Thakur exuded an air of quiet confidence in his ability to cope with future challenges. Edited excerpts:

How do you see three years of your government?

Overall, it has been a satisfactory performance. The last year, since March, has been interrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic that negatively affected the state financially and also certain large projects. But we did not allow the health emergency to delay or derail the initiatives we had taken at the beginning of our mandate … There is not a single important issue that people have against my government.

What are those initiatives?

Since its inception, Himachal Pradesh has seen two-party rule in rotation. Every five years the new government used to start its term with a spirit of revenge against the last regime … I put an end to the policy of vendetta … We also launched the Jan Manch scheme in which all ministers, together with officials , hear public complaints in a predetermined location on the first Thursday of every month …

On the social welfare front, our government lowered the old-age pension limit from 80 to 70 years and expanded the scope of the Ayushman Bharat scheme of the Narendra Modi government which benefited 22 lakhs of the state’s 70 lakh population. For those left out, we present the Him Care scheme for free treatment. Similarly, as a state version of the Center’s Ujjwala scheme covering 1.5 lakh families, Grahini Suvidha was implemented, covering another 2.86 lakh beneficiaries. Today, Himachal Pradesh is the only state where every household has a gas installation for cooking.

How is it that Covid-19 keeps increasing in Himachal, while it is decreasing in other states?

The peak in two months has coincided with the onset of winter and the wedding season … There was coincidence in adhering to the limits imposed by the government on the number of attendees. So we had to re-impose restrictions and enforce the application. The limit on social gatherings has been restricted to 50. The night curfew is in effect in the four worst affected districts of Shimla, Kullu, Kangra and Mandi. As a result, the number of daily cases dropped from 800 to 300. With 9,000 daily tests, our tests are much higher than others … the number of cases has shown a sharp decrease from 1,000 to 300 in the last week. We will review the night curfew on December 23.

What has been the impact of the Covid crisis on the state’s economy?

We have suffered an economic loss of at least Rs 30 billion. The most affected is tourism, which has been a great generator of employment and income. The industrial, agricultural and horticultural sectors were less affected. Drug manufacturing in Baddi, one of Asia’s leading pharmaceutical hubs, continued even during the shutdown.

What is your wish list for the Center?

We are pushing for projects with outside help. A 1892 crore tourism infrastructure project funded by the Asian Development Bank is in an advanced stage, but has been on hold. There has also been a hiatus in centrally funded national highway projects. We await approval from the Finance Commission on specific state projects.

His government faced criticism for a health department scam in purchasing Covid supplies that led to the resignation of the state head of the BJP. Hasn’t that damaged the government’s image?

More than the government, it was an individual case. Shortly after the scam emerged, the government acted quickly and arrested the director of health, also in the midst of the pandemic. The chairman of the state party, Dr. Rajeev Bindal, resigned on moral grounds. If he hadn’t done that … That would have hurt us more.

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