Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel has hailed the appointment of Charanjit Singh Channi as the first Dalit Chief Minister of Punjab, calling it a historic decision by Congress. At the same time, he has dismissed speculations about a power tussle between him and the health minister TS Singh Deo to rotate the chief ministership between him and the latter.
Baghel spoke to Outlook on issues ranging from Punjab politics to the recent arrest of his 86-year old father for making derogatory remarks against upper caste and various social and rural empowerment schemes for the welfare of the state.
The BJP and other opposition parties are alleging that the appointment of a Dalit candidate as Punjab CM is an opportunistic move to secure the votes of Dalits. What’s your take on this?
Let them say whatever they are saying. It is a historic day for the people of Punjab. The state should applaud it. I don’t think there is any substance in the oppositions’ criticism. It shows our commitment and endeavours to work for the socially deprived people.
But, of late, your own father, Nandkumar Baghel, who is 86 and a known anti-caste crusader, was arrested and sent behind bars for anti-Brahmin remarks. How will you respond to that?
I have already clarified my stand on the said issue. I don’t want to say anything about that.
But OBCs, SCs, STs and minority communities have objected to your stand as being insensitive. Your comment?
I respect my father and have great regard for him. But I have a duty as the Chief Minister of the state. Everyone is equal before the law in my state. If you take action, you face criticism. If you don’t take action, you still face criticism. So, I govern the state as per the law and not on my whims and fancies.
Your own health minister had launched a rebellion against you and had demanded that he should have been made CM for the remaining two and half year term. Has the issue been resolved?
I don’t have any differences with any of the senior leaders in the state on any issue right now. We have resolved everything and we all are working for the welfare of the state. There is no power tussle in the state. I appreciate it if you highlight our achievements and schemes rather than these speculative things.
Your schemes have been criticised for catering to the interest of forest dwellers, tribals, villagers and farmers. Your comment?
This is incorrect. After the formation of our government for the first time after 1998, 15,000 teachers and more than 1,400 assistant professors have been recruited. Now, we have put out 2,000 vacancies from the electricity board for engineers. Similarly, for Patwari, we have announced 300 vacancies recently. About 2,700-2,800 vacancies for police recruitment in Bastar, especially SC and ST areas, is another opportunity to meet the job requirements of people.
We also realise that the government jobs have a limitation, so we have also spent about Rs 52,000 crores and released around 125 MOUs with various industries and this will directly provide employment to about 60-70,000 people. And we are working very fast in this direction. We are also working in the direction of forest produce such as mangoes, 'amchoor' or 'trikur' etc and encouraging youths to be a part of that.
If you have spoken to people in Dantewada then you might have heard that we have instituted the garments brand ‘DANNEX’. We have done an MOU with companies in Bengaluru and Hyderabad. 600 women are working now through this and making garments that are supplied to other states of the country and are also being sent abroad.
But like the Rajiv Gandhi Kisan Nyay Yojana or Godhan Nyay Yojana for farmers and villagers, have you launched any scheme for educated, unemployed youth? Many, especially in South Chhattisgarh, feel that if the state government doesn't address the problem of unemployment, some might take the path of Naxals just out of frustration. Do you agree?
Look, we had a policy for farmers in 2016-17. Only about 15 lakh farmers would register. Today it has increased to 22 lakhs. This means that farming has now become a profitable business in Chhattisgarh. So in the same way when we started buying cow dung, there is an increasing trend of people moving towards dairy in every district, though we have not yet conducted the survey.
Also, people used to sell smaller amounts of forest produce earlier, but now we have set up a processing plant to provide employment to the people in that direction. Educated people now have so many opportunities to do business or set up industries. We should make full use of our state’s wealth. Government jobs are not the only solution, since they have their limit, but through that too, we have given opportunities. Apart from this, we have created employment for people through industrial development and food processing plants for minor forest produce.
A survey conducted by a private agency revealed that our unemployment rate is less than 3 per cent whereas at the national level it is more than 4 per cent.
One of the innovative schemes that your government has launched is Godhan Nyay Yojana under which you buy cow dung at Rs 2 per kg from villagers and convert it into vermicompost and super compost. How is the scheme working?
We have bought cow dung worth nearly Rs 100 crore till now. Through this Yojana, not only do people increase their income by selling cow dung but we also produced vermicompost worth about Rs 90 crores.
The scheme aims at promoting cattle rearing, protecting crops from stray cattle, conserving the environment and promoting organic farming in the state but it has also produced some wonderful benefits. The cow dung scheme is saving lives in road accidents as the number of accidents has reduced considerably.
It is also adding to our efforts to clean the city and village roads. Cow dung has become a precious object for villagers as it can fetch them Rs 2 for a kilogram. You cannot find stray cattle or cow dung on the road anywhere.
Haven’t the road accidents come down everywhere in the country due to lockdowns in the past two years?
It is up to you, how you look at it. But in 2019, every day, on average, 38 accidents happened in which 13 people lost their lives. In 2020, the daily average came down to 31 accidents with 12 deaths.
However, in 2021, till August, the daily average accidents are 22, a 30 per cent decrease from the previous year, ie, 2020. The average daily death number is 10 which is 15 per cent less than the previous year of 2020. The scheme showed its impact in 2021 when the villagers realised that cattle and cow dung can be a good source of income for them.
My government has launched many out of the box schemes to benefit people. Under the Rajiv Gandhi Kisan Nyay Yojana, 18.38 lakh farmers received financial assistance of about Rs. 6000 crore in 4 instalments for Kharif season 2019-20. The scheme is still on and financial assistance is being disbursed as per the schedule.
The Dai-Didi (Mother-Sister) Clinic Scheme is a unique women-only mobile medical facility launched with the objective of providing free health services. The Mukhyamantri Haat Bazaar Clinic Yojana aims to facilitate access to health care facilities for villagers & tribal groups living in the forest, hilly and other remote areas of the state, through Haat Bazaars.