A chequered first year in office for Himachal chief minister

December 30th, 2008 - 11:41 am ICT by IANS  

Bharatiya Janata PartyShimla, Dec 30 (IANS) As the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in Himachal Pradesh led by Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal got down to celebrate its one year in office Tuesday, it faced no threat, unlike this city’s historic Ridge, which may literally crack beneath the strain of this afternoon’s public rally to mark the anniversary.For Dhumal, who took over reins of the state for the second time Dec 30, 2007, the year has been one of “remarkable achievements” even though the opposition Congress would want everyone to believe otherwise.

To join the celebrations of the Dhumal government’s one year in office, BJP’s prime ministerial candidate L.K. Advani will be here to personally pat Dhumal at the ‘Vijay Sankalp (victory oath) rally’ this afternoon.

“Of course, this (the rally) will be the occasion to present the balance-sheet of government’s performance before the public,” Dhumal told IANS.

“In the past one year, we have achieved milestones in the fields of hydropower generation, industrialization, education, infrastructure development and giving monetary succour to government employees,” he said.

But not everything has been as hunky-dory as the ruling BJP wants to put it.

The controversy over the allotment of a multi-million rupees power project to an international company, the launch of the compact fluorescent lamp (CFL) scheme and its contract controversy and reviewing the appointments of more than 10,000 teachers appointed through various parent-teacher associations (PTAs) by the earlier Congress government, have rocked the political circles here in the last 365 days.

While the awarding of a hydro-power project to Holland’s Brakel Corp by the previous Congress government was controversially reviewed by Dhumal’s government and the matter ended up in court, a contract for purchase of 7.2 million CFL bulbs led to accusations that certain companies have formed a cartel. The government was forced to invite fresh tenders.

What has helped Dhumal in tackling the controversies is a divided Congress which has not been able to nail the government on major issues.

Within the BJP, Dhumal showed political shrewdness in getting his bete noire, former chief minister Shanta Kumar, to fall in line by arranging a private company to fund Kumar’s dream project of setting up a super-specialty hospital in his home-town Palampur in Kangra district.

Even though senior Congress leader Vidya Stokes accuses the BJP government of “political vindictiveness”, Dhumal has been able to stamp his authority on his government’s functioning. While he controls the ship in the state, his son and MP Anurag Thakur and cabinet minister Gulab Singh, who is Anurag’s father-in-law, are notable power centres.

“Dhumal is only promoting his clan and certain loyalists. His focus is just to promote Hamirpur and Jogindernagar (represented by Anurag Thakur and Gulab Singh) constituencies. Most of the top posts of the boards and corporations have been filled from these two constituencies,” Dhumal’s detractors from within BJP point out.

Dhumal has his priorities set for the future.

“Since the state has vast hydro potential, the government wants to set up a single-window clearance system on the pattern of industry for speedy sanctions of small hydropower projects,” he pointed out.

“The Atal Bijli Bachat Yojana will help conserve electricity worth Rs.1 billion (Rs.100 crore) every year.”

He said the government has imposed a unique, voluntary ‘green tax’ to generate a fund for combating climatic changes.

“The environment fund will be utilized for protecting nature from certain death and making the state a carbon-neutral state,” Dhumal told IANS.

The challenges before Dhumal now are to get the special industrial package extended till 2013. The current industrial package, which gives tax concessions to industrial units set up in the hill state, will expire in 2010.

“The government has created such an atmosphere that investors have started shirking to invest in the state,” said Stokes, a former power minister.

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