Bangalore: The first Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in Karnataka completes 100 days in office on Tuesday. The BJP, which rode on a surge of expectations following dysfunctional coalition experiments of the past four years, is battling infrastructure woes, power outages and poor connectivity. Karnataka’s 28 Lok Sabha seats would be crucial for the BJP and the National Democratic Alliance it heads, if they hope to come back to power in New Delhi. National elections are due by May 2009.
The initial 100 days has seen a mixed report card. The BJP succeeded in engineering defections from the rival Congress and Janata Dal (Secular), or JD(S), winning elections in May by a wafer-thin margin to form the party’s first government in southern India.
But the greater challenge of scaling up infrastructure in the state, whose capital Bangalore accounted for more than one-third of India’s software exports of $40.4 billion (Rs1.79 trillion today) in 2007-08, still remains. Karnataka’s current problems stem from insufficient power, clogged roads in Bangalore and a lack of connectivity to its smaller cities that has led to a concentration of industrial activity around its capital.
Lofty ambitions: Chief minister Yeddyurappa claims in five years, Karnataka will exceed its target of power generation. Hemant Mishra / Mint
Power generation has not kept pace with growing demand. Karnataka generates only about 40% of its total peak power demand of 9,300MW, and a delay in rains in June saw blackouts that forced the government to look for suppliers and even buy expensive power from Chhattisgarh.
In Bangalore, which accounts for nearly 60% of Karnataka’s gross state domestic product, a delay in conducting elections to the city corporation is holding up the bulk of a Central grant of Rs12,000 crore to improve infrastructure.
Back from the US, where he spent the past week meeting prospective investors at an annual conferenceof US-based Kannadiga associations, chief minister B.S. Yeddyurappa spoke to Mint on how he plans to tackle these issues. Edited excerpts:
After 100 days in office, how would you rate yourself?
Whatever promises I have made to the people of Karnataka at the time of elections have been fulfilled, and we have issued government orders (to implement them). I’m satisfied with my performance.
Before elections, you had acknowledged that investments coming into Karnataka, especially Bangalore, had been affected because of political instability. Have you been able to change that?
We have already formed a task force for (adding infrastructure in) Bangalore. We are trying our best to improve. It will take one, or two years to see the change.
Will there be a change in Bangalore?
Yes, definitely. Not only Bangalore, but other cities such as Mysore, Mangalore and Gulbarga as well. We have invested about Rs100 crore (in each of these city municipal corporations). My ambition is to have airports and airstrips in almost all district headquarters in 24 months.
Will this help attract investments?
For industries, time is money. So we’ll give railway facility and air connectivity. They will readily come and invest. Everybody need not come to Bangalore only.
You are about to sign a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the Chhattisgarh government for power generation (Karnataka, on Monday, inked an MoU with Chattisgarh to build a 1,200MW thermal plant in that state at a cost of about Rs6,000 crore). How do you plan to scale up beyond that?
This is the first time we have taken such an initiative. Our aim is to increase power generation from 5,000MW to 10,000MW. We are in touch with many others (investors). When I was in America, so many persons were ready to come and invest here. Before five years (are up), we will be able to exceed our target of power generation.
What kind of investments are they proposing?
We discussed many things. Power projects, housing, airports and steel plants.
You have been reported saying that you could not take up new programmes because the state treasury was empty.
That is not correct. My statement was that we do not have money for (new) programmes, other than what we announced in the budget.
Is the BJP insecure and is that why you have invited MLAs from other parties to join the government?
Before I took oath (of office on 30 May), we had the support of six independent MLAs. The opposition parties tried to destabilize our government, but a few MLAs from JD(S) and Congress joined our party after resigning from their membership in the legislative assembly. This is a great thing, and we have nothing to worry about morally, legally and constitutionally. We are going to complete (our term of) five years.
There is a perception that this could be dangerous for the BJP in the by-elections, especially because some (from other parties) have been made ministers, while party loyalists have been ignored.
Let us wait. They have confidence that they will win again.
When will there be elections to the Greater Bangalore City Corporation?
They will be held as early as possible. It’s left to the state election commission to decide the dates.