Chhattisgarh chief minister Raman Singh proudly lists the reform of the public distribution system as his greatest achievement. For him, all other social indicators are linked to food security—“If a person is struggling to find food two times a day, how will these indicators improve?" is his argument. He believes the state is a hot investment destination, having already attracted 1.6 lakh crore ( 1.6 trillion) so far. But a lot remains to be done, especially with regard to connectivity and skill development, he says in an interview.

Edited excerpts:

As the chief minister of Chhattisgarh, you have championed the cause of social security and introduced a number of schemes, including a refurbished public distribution system (PDS). What are the other key areas of social security that the state government is focusing on?

We started with the public distribution system because the biggest challenge was poor families facing malnutrition, which also resulted in migration from the state.

The other challenges were IMR (infant mortality rate), MMR (maternal mortality rate) and malnutrition. If a person is struggling to find food two times a day, how will these indicators improve? So, we have tried to change food security into nutrition security. We are now giving channa and salt free of cost.

We have managed to reach 60 lakh families in the entire state. Now, we have decided to go beyond food security and nutrition security and focus on health. And all families in Chhattisgarh—APL (above poverty line), BPL (below poverty line)—have been given health security. We are providing smart cards to people under these categories so that they can go to government and private hospitals for treatment.

Secondly, to promote institutional delivery (of babies), we are providing ambulances to people. We are also focusing on labourers, especially those involved in construction work and we have also included farm labourers in this scheme. We launched a scheme through which facilities for education of their children, scholarships for their children, jobs and marriage will be provided. Skill development is an area of focus. We are also providing people with sewing machines and cycles. For labourers registered with us, their children will get scholarships for higher education; medical colleges, engineering colleges, ITIs (industrial training institutes) and nursing colleges will be free. We are trying to work for the development of labourers, farmers and people below the poverty line.

The law and order situation has improved in the state. How do you plan to invite investments to the state now? What steps are being taken by the state government to boost the prospect of setting up businesses?

It is correct that the law and order situation has improved. We are in the top four in the Ease of Doing Business report published recently. The state policy and state industrial promotion board (SIPB) provide better facilities for industries and have helped build a positive environment in the state. We believe Chhattisgarh is the hottest investment destination. The state has tremendous potential for investment; we have got investment of 1.6 lakh crore so far; the best in the country. We now want to go beyond core sectors. Earlier our focus was steel, coal, cement, power and aluminium. Now we have made policies to develop newer sectors. The other sectors we are focusing on are information technology (IT), electronics, automobiles, herbal, agro processing, infrastructure and the services sector. We are putting up three food processing units, along with the central government.

We are building a large IT facility in New Raipur. Manufacturing units for laptops and tablets are coming up there and we expect more such industries will come to Chhattisgarh. We are also promoting BPOs (business process outsourcers).

We hope these steps will create jobs for the youth.

The 2014 policy has identified these sectors as being crucial for the state. Chhattisgarh has the cheapest power in India for industry and agriculture; skilled manpower and water is also available. Chhattisgarh is becoming a destination of choice and we hope our growth will be faster now.

The NDA government at the centre has a keen interest in the Make In India initiative. What are the areas that the Chhattisgarh government is looking at? What are the benefits that the state can get from this initiative?

We have the raw material to take Make in India forward; we have started value-addition within the state. We are going to start large-scale production of steel, aluminium and cement. This will also lead to employment generation. A steel plant is coming up in Bastar.

Now, our focus is to improve railway connectivity so that we can bring more industries to the state.

In the next three years, we are going to add 500km of railway connectivity through the PPP (public-private partnership) model. We want to provide rail and road connectivity, which are the basic necessities to bring investment so that there is no problem of transport.

How do you plan to bridge the divide and bring in more inclusion to ensure that social conflict decreases in the state?

The reason there was social conflict was because people had no food, no rice to eat, no employment opportunities. In Bastar, where there were a lot of such problems, we are trying to promote skill development among youth. We have set up a livelihood college. Even Prime Minister Narendra Modi had come to see the college. We are providing them skill development and now the students are skilled and prepared for jobs.

We are making special efforts for employment generation in Bastar and Surguja. We realized that during state-level competitions, students of these two districts were unable to compete. We have provided employment to 8,000 youth and another 20,000 are being provided skill training.

There is no problem of labour conflict in the state. Bhilai steel plant has been working for 50 years, not a day has been lost. We have public sector and private sector industries in the state. We have no labour problems. The state has never seen communal riots. Chhattisgarh has not faced caste violence. Except for the Naxalite threat, Chhattisgarh is an island of peace.

Chhattisgarh has always been in favour of the goods and services tax (GST). How do you see the delay in its implementation and how will this delay affect the state?

If GST gets implemented, it will be a good step for the country. We had some issues about it earlier, so we spoke to the government and finance minister Arun Jaitley has assured us our concerns will be addressed and the government will compensate revenue losses due to GST rollout. Implementation of GST is a major step for the country and there should be no delay because of political reasons.

What is your view on the recommendations of the 14th Finance Commission? Apart from the share which the state government has got, the recommendation also calls for strengthening of smaller cities. How are you looking at firming this up?

We have been attending NITI Aayog and finance commission meetings. States should get the power to plan. They should get the funds and be allowed to plan and implement programmes according to their needs. Programmes should not be made in Delhi and implemented in Chhattisgarh. Every state’s demands are different. We need roads, many areas have not been electrified in the state. Planners in Delhi don’t understand Chhattisgarh. So, we asked for funds. Our funds have increased 10% because of the 14th Finance Commission’s recommendations. We got more money and the decision-making process will now happen locally. Funds will now go directly to the panchayats. We talk of cooperative federalism. This step will strengthen it. Prime Minister Modi’s initiative of building Team India for development of states is historic.

With a deficit monsoon this year, a lot of states are faced with the critical issue of farm distress. As a farming state, Chhattisgarh is also affected. How serious is the situation in the state and how do you plan to address it?

Farmers of Chhattisgarh are in deep trouble. Around 93 tehsils (sub-districts) got less than 50% rainfall, so we declared them drought-hit. We have made a special plan for these areas. We have allowed 150 days of work under MGNREGS (Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme) and district collectors will monitor this.

We are giving one quintal of rice to every panchayat, so people don’t remain hungry, and people are not forced to migrate. We have given subsidy for pumps for drinking water; 10,000 new hand-pump connections have been sanctioned.

Thankfully, we have had good rainfall in the last five days because of which our dams are full. The drinking water problem has been solved, water is available for irrigation. We hope that the losses will be undone. The government has set up monitoring cells in every district. With rainfall improving, we expect a better yield.

What are the key initiatives that the state government wants to bring in to promote skill development?

We started the first livelihood college in Dantewada in 2010, which was our first initiative in skill development. Now, these livelihood colleges are functioning in 27 districts. After carrying out initial counselling, we give three months’ training to youth. We have good vocational training providers who train people in trades like electricians, fitters, machine operators, air conditioning technicians, security guards and horticulturists.

We are now taking livelihood training to the block level from the district level. In Chhattisgarh, it is the right of the youth to get skill development training. District collectors monitor the programme. We have a budget of 200 crore for the project.

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