We focused on change on the ground: Himachal CM Jai Ram Thakur – UP Front News
The Covid pandemic has not spared Himachal Pradesh. Tourism in the state has been hit hard, but the apple economy has mitigated some of the damage. Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur, 56, has spoken with Group Editorial Director Raj Chengappa and Editor-in-Chief Anilesh S. Mahajan about his government’s impressive progress in immunizing its citizens and seems confident that tourism and other state industries will soon be operating at full capacity. . Excerpts:
Q. Horticulture is the backbone of your economy. Were you able to maintain production despite the pandemic? What steps are you taking to improve the situation?
A. At around Rs 4,500 crore, apple cultivation contributes significantly to our state’s economy and we did well last year despite Covid restrictions. The challenge most orchard owners face is that once apples hit the market it creates a glut and prices plummet. In addition to government agencies, we are working with the private sector to set up cold chain facilities and other infrastructure. We expect these units to be commissioned from next season and we will also have the capacity to process the fruit. We are also helping orchard owners buy hail protection nets with an 80% subsidy. Apart from that, we support them in setting up solar fences to keep wild animals away from their fruit trees.
Q. To what extent has the Himachal tourism industry been affected by the two waves of Covid?
A. It was bad. Tourism revenues were hit by about 75 percent last year. But this year, with the opening of things, revenues have picked up by about 50%. We’re just keeping our fingers crossed. We previously relaxed restrictions on tourists on producing RT-PCR tests and vaccination certificates to enter the state. We have seen a sudden influx of tourists, but this has also resulted in an increase in active cases. It was therefore necessary to put back the restrictions. We had also opened educational institutions in the United States from August 2, but we also had to close them again. We have a strong focus on vaccination.
Himachal first state to achieve 100% vaccination (first dose) among its adult population
Q. What is the status of the Covid vaccination in the state?
A. Himachal Pradesh is the first state to achieve 100% vaccination (first dose) among its adult population. Initially, we faced challenges after incorrect rumors of side effects began to circulate. So we launched a massive awareness campaign through our health workers and video conferencing. I have spoken twice to elected members of Panchayati Raj institutions and set goals for them in their respective neighborhoods and panchayats to reach out to every household. Regardless of the terrain, we have reached all corners of the state, and in many cases, healthcare workers have walked for three to four days to reach remote areas. By the end of November, our state will be fully vaccinated.
Q. How did other industries in the state behave during the pandemic?
A. Like other states, our economy has also been heavily affected by Covid. Despite the economic slowdown in 2019, we had obtained investment MoUs worth Rs 96,000 crore, but these projects were affected by Covid. They are finally innovating now. In addition, production in general is proceeding at a satisfactory pace.
Q. How are you improving connectivity in the state?
A. Some four-lane highway projects, including the highway from Kiratpur to Manali, have been delayed due to some problems. We, along with the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI), have now addressed these issues and new tenders have recently been issued. Now we are speeding up all highway projects.
Regarding air connectivity, we have two airports in Shimla and Dharamshala, but these are small airports and allude to the charge penalty, which drives up the price of tickets, and which in turn discourages travelers. As a solution, we are also developing a greenfield airport in Mandi. The agencies concerned carried out their investigations on the spot and I recently met the Union’s finance and civil aviation ministers to take the matter forward. But the problem is that the state would have to shell out the money for the acquisition of land. The land at this airport alone will cost over Rs 4000 crore. We will need financial assistance.
Q. There have been reports of several landslides – and related deaths – in your state this year.
A. This time, in addition to the normal and expected precipitation, we have witnessed extraordinary cases of landslides, even on dry and sunny days in some cases. We have raised the matter with the Home Office and requested that a scientific study of these cases be done to see if we can have an advance warning system.
Our tourism revenues were hit hard last year. with the things that are opening this year, it starts again and we cross our fingers
Q. What are your immediate priorities?
A. We are focused on rebuilding the bond with people because due to Covid restrictions, many interactions were occurring virtually. The state is commemorating its 50th anniversary this year. In addition to holding a special Vidhan Sabha session on September 17, addressed by the President of India, from October 2, we are launching the Himachal Tab aur Himachal Ab (Himachal then and now) Yatra, which will cross the 68 state assembly. segments. It will be dedicated to the population, giving them the credit for building infrastructure, health and education institutions in the state.
Q. How confident are you that you will be re-elected next year?
A. For the first time, there is no problem against the government. There may be oppositions to power, but not big problems that the opposition can profit from. When it comes to planning and strategizing for the poll, there is still time for the party to do so. In Himachal, we focused on bringing about change on the ground. This time our government has ensured that development is not hampered by not reaching the last mile. There is no regional bias (between upper and lower Himachal) in the allocation of development work. There is no vindictive politics going on in the state. My only goal is development and ensuring that projects are executed efficiently. We are accessible. All of my ministers interact with the people on a regular basis. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is a charismatic leader and has contributed to the expansion of BJP in the country. He will certainly be a factor in the ballot of the Assembly in Himachal Pradesh and the electorate will see the positive contribution of the state government.
Q. What about the next by-elections?
A. Four by-elections are scheduled, three for the Assembly and one for Lok Sabha. The constituency of Mandi Lok Sabha alone is divided into 17 assembly segments. We are confident of retaining the seat. The mandate of the assembly is just over a year away and if the delay in by-elections goes beyond November, this may discourage the Electoral Commission (ECI) from organizing these polls. We are awaiting instructions from the ECI on this matter.