ONE YEAR OF PEMA 2.0 : Rising in the land of the Rising Sun

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At the onset of the completion of one year of the second term of Pema Khandu led government in Arunachal Pradesh, a plethora of schemes and programmes were launched. While on one hand, the government has tactfully implemented the Inner Line Permit in the state in the wake of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), it has also faced the wrath of COVID-19. Northeast Today delves deeper into the year passed by to bring forth the rising of the Khandu government in the Land of the Rising Sun.

When the Bharatiya Janata Party Leadership (BJP) headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and then BJP national president Amit Shah had to take a call on who will head the BJP government in Arunachal Pradesh and whether the present chief minister of the state-Pema Khandu, should continue, the leadership had to oversee several important issues.

The issues included- whether Khandu will be able to deliver, whether he will be able to ensure that no dissidence takes place within the party, and whether he will be able to run the party and the government taking along the senior BJP leaders of the state of Arunachal Pradesh. Finally, after a few hectic parleys, it was decided that Khandu will continue as the chief minister of the state, and since then the faith of the leadership on Khandu has gone up manifolds. Khandu was able to run a very clean and efficient government, which saw innovations at every step, along with friendly initiatives.

The people friendly initiatives of the Khandu led BJP government ensured that the BJP wins a second term in the state and also managed to win both the Lok Sabha seats in the state in the 2019 Lok Sabha election. Taking into account the winning feat that includes both the Lok Sabha eat and the lone Rajya Sabha seat, Khandu scripted history by forming the first-ever BJP government in the state of Arunachal Pradesh.

In the first term of his chief ministership, though Khandu was given a free hand to take up initiatives, he faced multiple challenges at various levels, but his second term as the chief minister has been more decisive and positive.

“Right from the day of taking up the responsibility as the CM – he took initiatives in the field of education, health, agriculture, Public Works Department (PWD), etc, and everything was quite impressive. The Prime Minister himself was impressed with the steps which Khandu had initiated, and that was how things started moving with Khandu,” said a senior government official of the Arunachal Pradesh government who had worked closely with Khandu in the state secretariat.

The official candidly said that very few people get such an opportunity and many fail to stand up to the expectations of a party, but Khandu was different from day one.

“The young chief minister grabbed the opportunity with open arms, and once he was entrusted with the responsibility, he put every bit of effort to innovate and deliver. Within a short while he managed to prove that he was not just a politician, but someone who will make a mark in the development of the state. Since then there has been no looking back for Khandu,” said the official.

Implementation of Inner Line Permit

In the wake of the violent protests that the country has witnessed over the CAA, the Arunachal Government was steadfast on its decision of safeguarding the rights of the indigenous people. The state enforced all laws for strict implementation of the ILP to ensure that outsiders are not granted citizenship in the state. Moreover, it was the efforts of the state government who have been in talks with the Central Government months before the Bill become an Act. This further led to the state being exempted from the purview of the Act.

“We had proposed to the Union Home Ministry to incorporate constitutional protection for the state in the CAA, before its enactment, after month-long deliberation with all stakeholders. For this Arunachal Pradesh has been exempted from the Act,” said Khandu in a news report.

Improved Finances

One important area in which the Arunachal Pradesh government showed major improvement is in the area of tax collection. The state registered a growth of over 100% in Goods and Services Tax (GST) collection in December 2019. Arunachal Pradesh recorded an increase of 124%, the highest in the country in GST Collection. His initiatives to reach out and bring everyone on board saw an increase in the number of dealers registered with the Tax department from 6102 to 10304 within one year, marking an increase of 68%. To ensure that public investment in the district is responsive to the local requirement as well as encourage innovative projects, District Innovation and Challenged Fund have been launched wherein the Deputy Commissioners were entrusted to conceptualize the proposal for consideration.

Khandu has also ensured to maintain a balance between development and environment and has gone out of his way several times to explore sustainable solutions to uphold this issue.

Citing an example, a close aide who is also an important strategist of the chief minister said that- Khandu took initiative to get Centre’s approval on the Greenfield Airport at Hollongi. Eventually, he submitted a report to the Central Government paving way for early realisation of the dream project, but at the same time, he also amended the Arunachal Pradesh Land Settlement and Records Amendment Bill, 2018, and thereby Conferred ownership rights to the indigenous tribal people, including communities and clans possessing Land Possession Certificates (LPCs) in the state. This also gave the local populace the right to give their land on long term lease up to 33 years, which is extendable to another 33 years, making it to 66 years and locals can avail loans and maintain a livelihood and self- employment generation also.

But one of the most important initiatives under Chief Minister Khandu was the process of decentralization of government services so delivery of services could be a reality in far-flung villages. Khandu ensured Administrative Camps for decentralised service delivery in village clusters across the state under Sankalp se Siddhi Tak, an initiative of Rs. 11.50 Crores. In an effort to address public grievances Jan Sunvai Sammelan is to be organised by each Deputy Commissioner along with his District level Officers on 1st of every month to resolve Public Grievances.

“A policy research cell is to be established in partnership with Rajiv Gandhi University to conduct evidence based policy research on different areas of Public Policy including research on the gender issue, and it was a very progressive step,” said an official of the Arunachal Pradesh Chief Minister’s Office. Many people from the non-govt and corporate sector working on different areas in the state of Arunachal Pradesh and also the North-Eastern region as a whole, also pointed out that – Khandu is a good listener and is always open to new ideas.

“He is always attracted to new thoughts and ideas, and very keen to take risks and experiments,” said Pritam Dutta, CEO of a business group which operates a business in the state.

Khandu also ensures that he is very accessible to the common public and takes frequent bike rides to various parts of the state to conduct surprise checks on the several development projects, and that is something which has earned the people’s praise.

Officials posted at the Arunachal Pradesh state secretariat said that the chief minister is also exploring ways to expand the use of technology and tourism in a big way in the state.

“The chief minister is exploring ways to extract maximum benefit from the various resources which the state has, and also from the unique and diverse culture in the state and immediately after taking charge of the state for the second term in 2019, he had a long discussion with the Minister and officials of the Ministry for Development of the North Eastern Region, and proposed various unique ideas as well,” said the official.

The official also said that the Chief Minister is focusing on Promotion of indigenous culture and traditions – which could be a major boost to the tourism sector in the state. The diverse culture of the state could also attract tourists from various parts of the country and abroad.

Though the state has massive potential for hydropower generation and the state has allowed power project developers to develop projects, the Chief Minister is also equally concerned about the environment and the well-being of the people of the state.

Last year Khandu’s government terminated 22 projects worth 3,800 MW while another 46 projects worth 8,000 MW were served notices. On this issue, Khandu had said that – policies and schemes must be people oriented, and there must not be any room for disappointment and disconnect with the people.

COVID Crisis

Although the country has faced the wrath of COVID-19 much early, this part of the region remained COVID free for a considerable amount of time. However, slowly and steadily it has also seen a surge in the rise of the COVID cases. This led the state government to call for a lockdown in the capital complex. However, under the leadership of the Khandu Government, the state has embarked on robust healthcare infrastructure. From setting up COVID testing labs to procuring TrueNet machines for rapid antibody tests as the main tool for mass screening and surveillance, Khandu’s leadership determines the state government’s effort to improve the healthcare infrastructure in the state.

It is worth mentioning here that Arunachal is the first state in the country to ensure mandatory institutional quarantine and compulsory RTPCR testing for the returnees. All COVID 19 positive cases that were detected are from the Institutional quarantine facility centres of the state.

Tech Savvy Arunachal Pradesh govt tackles COVID Crisis

The biggest challenge which the Chief Minister had to face in this second term, and which is also the longest challenge is the COVID crisis, but Khandu was calculated from day one and this helped the state to fight the crisis.

The tech-savvy attitude of the Chief Minister also helped the state in its battle against the COVID crisis. It was with his meticulous planning and faultless execution of initiatives during the COVID-19 crisis which helped to maintain a low rate of COVID cases in the state.

Due to the pro-active measures initiated by Khandu, the state of Arunachal Pradesh which has a much difficult terrain managed to contain the epidemic with fewer patients.

Though initially there was fear that the state could be hit by the epidemic due to the presence of thousands of migrant and migrant workers, the ideal execution of work done by the home department and health department of the state ensured that the state was not hit by the crisis.

According to officials of the Chief Minister’s Office, Arunachal Pradesh, Khandu got into action much earlier, he had all the important information on his finger tips and just swung into action as soon as it became clear that such a crisis is around the corner.

Officials of the state government lauded his initiative and said that the Chief Minister devoted full energy and effort towards ensuring that the state is not hit by the Coronavirus outbreak, as other losses could be made up once the health crisis recedes.

Khandu also ensured usage of digital means to help all the people of the state of Arunachal Pradesh who are stuck in other states and ensured maximum usage of social media platforms –Twitter, Facebook and WhatsApp to reach out and ensure support.

“Once the state had to go into lockdown, it was immediately decided to ensure availability of money to the people of the state who are stuck outside and soon an online form to facilitate the stranded people from Arunachal in different parts of the country amidst the first phase of 21-day national lockdown was prepared,” said an official of the government of Arunachal Pradesh, who works closely with the office of the chief minister.

“There was a meeting and it was immediately decided to announce Rs 3,500 for every individual from the state who are stuck outside, and it was immediately released to the account holders,” said the official.

Another important step by the state government to ensure that the Covid-19 is kept in check is the initiation of a COVID 19 Control room in the state secretariat building to help and support the state’s people stranded across the country amid the nationwide lockdown.

The control rooms were set up for better coordination between the states in helping migrant labourers and students stranded due to the ongoing lockdown.

According to officials, the Control Room was set up basically to explore the feasibility of extensive use of digital technology in legislative and financial work, and in routine tasks such as meetings and file movements, so as to make sure that physical distancing norms are followed stringently.

As per sources, the state government is also exploring ways to develop a plan for the revival of the states economy-which, along with other states, has been severely affected due to the lockdown.

“The chief minister has directed officials of few relevant departments to prepare a roadmap for revival of the state’s economy and also for job creation, and after the Covid 19 crisis end, he will be meeting the Finance Minister and top officials of the government for a possible support package,” said a senior government official associated with the finance department.

Khandu is also meticulously working on ways to ensure that the state is able to target both the international and domestic tourists who will go for a holiday once the COVID Crisis ends and restrictions are eased.

“There is ample potential for the creation of rural tourism, adventure tourism, and also customised tourism for nature lovers who want peace amid the serene environment of the Land of Dawn lit Mountains. The state government is exploring these and will get down to implement these soon so that tourists can visit the state once the situation is close to normal,” said the official.

Achievement

The State Government has been working tirelessly to serve the people of the state. Some of the milestones achieved are as follows

  • The state government got a green signal for the long pending construction of Greenfield Airport at Hollongi and the construction work has started on the ground.
  • To impart quality education and to provide employment opportunities to the educated and deserving youths 115 PGTs and 404 TGTs have been recruited through APPSSC in 2019 – 20.
  • Mega Food Park at Banderdewa has been started which would prove to be a boon for the farmers and industries to tap the full potential of agriculture and horticulture sector of the neighbouring areas.
  • Under the state government’s flagship programme “Deen Dayal Upadhaya Swavalambamn Yojana” (DDUSY), 100 entrepreneurs have been assisted to take up self-employment under various sectors with a project cost of Rs 50.00 crore.
  • Department of Environment and Forests have received National Award for e-Governance 2019-20, for e-Forest Fire Himalayan Forest Fire Prediction by Department of Administrative Reforms and Public Grievances, Govt of India.
  • The State Government has launched the Arunachal Pradesh State Industrial and Investment Policy 2019.
  • To ensure transparency and proper utilization of funds more than 30,000 projects have been geo-tagged under the Arunachal Monitoring Application. For the implementation of this project the state has won the India Geo Spatial Excellence 2019 Award.
  • Construction of outdoor stadium at Ziro has been completed.
  • Agriculture Produce Marketing Committee has been approved by the state government for the benefit of the farmers. Moreover, the state government will provide farmers with fencing, seeds of agri and horti crops.
  • In order to check crime and sexual abuse against the girl child, the State Legislative Assembly made an amendment in the law enforcing capital punishment to sexual offenders of minors below 12 years of age.
  • A long term policy of robust infrastructure and facilities for all the 25 district hospitals in the state has been rolled out with proposed allocation of Rs 350 crore.
  • Five new ICUs established in the states in- Tawang, Ziro, Aalo, Tezu and Pasighat.