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Himachal

Welfare steps a hit, fiscal health a concern

December 27, 2020 06:01 AM

COURTESY HT DEC 27

Welfare steps a hit, fiscal health a concern
Gaurav Bisht

gaurav.bisht@htlive.com

Shimla : Three years ago, the BJP formed the government in Himachal Pradesh with a comfortable majority of 44 MLAs in the 68-member House. It did well to implement people-oriented initiatives but also had its fair share of missed opportunities.

Chief minister Jai Ram Thakur, who is popular for his down-to-earth approach, drew flak for some decisions. However, he managed to sail through rough waters, thanks to a divided opposition.

The first decision his government took after coming to power was to reduce the age cap for social security pension from 80 years to 70 years, benefitting about 6 lakh senior citizens.

The Him Care scheme to cover people left out of the Centre’s Ayushman Bharat is also a hit. The Grihni Suvidha Yojna helped make Himachal a smoke-free state with every household getting access to cooking gas.

The Jan Manch programme provided people a platform to air their grievances, while the CM Helpline at 1100 offered an alternative forum to raise issues.

Forest minister Rakesh Pathania said the present government is committed towards the welfare of the state and has taken initiatives that have benefitted every section of the society. “This is a people’s government. All schemes and projects launched in three years have been a hit among the masses,” he said.

However, contrary to the vow to curb VIP culture and wasteful expenditure, the state government bought new luxury sports utility vehicles (SUVs) for its ministers. While in the opposition, the BJP had criticised the Virbhadra Singh-led Congress government for appointing chairpersons to boards and corporations, the Jai Ram government ended up treading the same path.

The government also failed to check the worsening fiscal health of the state. Like the previous government, it resorted to borrowing to meet expenses. It raised loans worth ₹5,000 crore to pay its employees and expedite development projects.

Mounting debt burden

Covid-19 dealt a blow to the economy and losses due to the pandemic were pegged at ₹30,000 crore over seven months.

The state’s debt burden mounted to ₹55,000 crore from ₹48,000 crore when the government took charge. Though the government held a global investors’ meet in Dharamshala last year, where it signed memoranda of understanding (MoU) worth ₹92,000 crore, the Covid-19 outbreak halted their implementation.

Slip-ups on health front

While the BJP promised clean governance, the health department scam during the pandemic hit the government’s image hard. The state health director was arrested for corruption in the purchase of medical equipment to tackle Covid crisis.

The scam also led to the then state BJP chief Rajeev Bindal quitting months after being appointed to the post.

The government strategy to deal with the pandemic also came under attack. The state was on the verge of becoming a coronavirus-free state in May. However, the infection peaked in November. This was after the government opened its borders and allowed natives to return to state. The chief minister argued that he could not leave his own people to their fate. No strict implementation of safety guidelines during social gatherings and opening of schools aggravated the situation, which was brought under control in the second week of December.

Hitting out at the BJP-led dispensation, Congress Legislative Party leader Mukesh Agnihotri said that the Jai Ram government has been a complete failure on all fronts.

“Corruption is rampant and even a senior BJP leader had to resign from the party president post,” he said, adding that every kind of mafia was active in the hill state.

“Instead of celebrating, the BJP should focus on the actual development of the state,” he added.

 

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