Government is functioning in accordance with its debt-bearing capacity and keeping people’s interests in mind, says Tamil Nadu Chief Minister
In the concluding part of an interview with The Hindu,Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami highlights various achievements of his government that, he hopes, would help the AIADMK secure a majority in the Assembly election. Edited excerpts:
What do you consider to be your major achievements as Chief Minister, and why?
It is the Amma government that has, through a series of steps and legal battles, established Tamil Nadu’s right to Cauvery water, which is the mainstay of the State, and got the Cauvery Water Management Authority and the Cauvery Water Regulation Committee constituted. The Amma government has safeguarded farmers by declaring the Cauvery delta districts a protected agricultural zone in order to allay apprehensions that their land would turn into a desert in the event of the establishment of industries in the Cauvery basin.
To help government school students realise their ambition of joining medical courses through the National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test (NEET), the Amma government has issued an historic order providing them with 7.5% horizontal reservation. As a result, over 400 students joined medical colleges this year. The government is paying fees for their education. Tamil Nadu is the only State to come up with such a measure.
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Through the ‘kudimaramathu’ scheme, tanks, ponds, and ‘ooranies’ [waterbodies meant for drinking water], where silt had not been cleared for years, were cleaned so that not a drop of rainwater goes waste.
The establishment of the Water Resources Conservation and Augmentation Mission, 11 government medical colleges in a year, creation of six districts, a research centre on livestock spread over 1,600 acres at Thalaviasal in Salem district, six new law colleges, 2,000 Amma mini-clinics…, one can go on, mentioning innumerable achievements.
It has been nine months since the outbreak of COIVD-19. What key lessons have been learnt by your government from the crisis?
Lockdown was enforced to prevent community transmission of COVID-19 in Tamil Nadu. People of the State responded to my appeal — “Be Vigilant, Stay Safe, Stay Home”. To insulate people from the disease, the Amma government, by following proper guidelines truthfully and honestly, took several steps on a war footing. The State government has been conducting RT-PCR tests on 70,000 people every day and accounted for the highest number of persons tested.
I have held discussions with Collectors and medical experts on 13 occasions. The Chief Secretary [K. Shanmugam] has conducted 14 meetings with the Collectors. As a result of the monthly consultation meetings and implementation of the measures by the district administrations at the government’s advice, the spread of the disease is much less in Tamil Nadu than in other States. One can notice that the daily tally of fresh cases is now less than 1,000. Besides, after I have gone around Tamil Nadu and held consultations with the Collectors, the spread of the disease has been brought under control. This has also been possible due to the selfless service of doctors, nurses and conservancy workers.
What follow-up action has been taken by your government on the Rangarajan committee report?
The committee was constituted to suggest ways to minimise the adverse impact of the pandemic on the State’s economy and livelihood of the people. The committee opined that steps could be taken to improve the livelihood of the people. It is on this basis that I ordered the provision of ₹2,500 in cash, along with the usual gift hamper, to help the people celebrate the Pongal festival with gaiety. I would like to mention here that Nobel laureate Abhijit Banerjee, too, advocated cash transfer as the best way of reviving the economy. The government is paying attention to the committee’s recommendations, and follow-up action is being taken by the departments concerned.
The finances of the State governments are under severe stress. This year, your government has been forced to borrow heavily, thanks to the pandemic. What kind of support do you expect from the Central government and the RBI to ensure that the States do not face any huge fiscal crisis?
The State government has, till now, spent ₹7,544 crore on the containment of the spread of COVID-19, treatment and relief. Despite several financial constraints in the last few years, the government has been ensuring that the fiscal deficit is within 3% of the Gross State Domestic Product (GSDP). The outstanding debt, as a percentage of the GSDP, is expected to be 21.94% in 2021-22 and 21.98% in 2022-23, which will be within the norms of the Tamil Nadu Fiscal Responsibility Act, 2003. The government has been functioning in accordance with its debt-bearing capacity, which is part of fiscal management, and keeping people’s interests in mind.
We have made the following requests to the Government of India. Besides permitting the additional borrowings by the States, [the Central government] should provide an aggregate amount of ₹1 lakh crore as a special grant to the State governments to combat COVID-19 and its aftermath. This needs to be in addition to the other forms of financial transfers to the States envisaged in the Union Budget, and can be financed by the Government of India borrowings from the Reserve Bank of India. The funds can be distributed in proportion to the size of each State’s GSDP to the national GDP since the expenditure out of this grant will also boost the economy and lead to the revival. I have requested that Tamil Nadu be given a grant of ₹9,000 crore under this special dispensation.
How many more projects are expected to take off in the next couple of months? Will your government present a White Paper on the investments as demanded by the DMK?
This year [2020-21] alone, 74 memoranda of understanding were signed, envisaging an investment of ₹61,514 crore and generation of one lakh jobs. Besides, foundation stones were laid for a ₹5,000-crore IT park of DLF, a ₹1,500-crore Ascendas Radial IT park, a ₹250-crore Tidel Park at Pattabiram and a ₹250-crore project for an aerohub at Sriperumbudur’s Aerospace Park.
The guidelines are being provided by a high-level panel, with myself as the head, which has been continuously reviewing every industrial project. As a result of my direct review of 62 major projects costing ₹39,941 crore, clearances have been issued immediately.
Read the first part of the interview here.
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