Those days are past when it seemed difficult to convince or force Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan to change his stand on issues. Things have changed since he first took over in November, 2010. 2014 has showed us a mellowed down CM, who is giving in to political compulsions, and doing away with his so-called ‘stubbornness’. This could be due to the upcoming elections to the Lok Sabha and later, in October, to the state assembly.
But, the transformation shouldn’t have come with a political tiff between the Congress and the NCP. On January 2, the CM was on the receiving end of some harsh words by his coalition partner NCP, when the Deputy CM Ajit Pawar threatened to quit the government. Such was the impact of Pawar’s aggressiveness that four cabinet meetings were lined up within a span of 13 days, when just one meeting would take place otherwise. The Democratic Front took almost 30 decisions in these meetings, which is also a record of sorts.
Almost all decisions are aimed at appeasing voters, but are bad for inclusive growth of the state. Take, for example, the energy sector in Maharashtra. Though the demand for power supply has gone up phenomenally, there has hardly been any significant addition to the generation capacity for many years. Nothing visible has happened in the sectors of hydropower, thermal power or captive power generation to fulfill the growing demand. The political class is unwilling to let the agriculture sector free of its crutches, for further growth. Political leadership is not encouraging farmers to pay power bills, nor does it allow the state power, utilities to work on a professional basis.
Instead, to ride on popularity wave similar to the Aam Aadmi Party government in Delhi, the state has announced a 20 per cent cut in power charges. This amount will be reimbursed to Mahavitaran. It means taxpayers’ money will be used for cross subsidy. Chavan, who was unwilling to take on unwanted financial burdens in the past, had to give in. He, along with his colleagues, may not answer a crucial question – what happened to the Congress-NCP government’s resolve to make power utilities self-sufficient within five years, after the utilities were restructured by dissolving the Maharashtra State Electricity Board (MSEB) in 2005?
At a time when the state is going through a financial crisis, yet another decision will add an additional burden of Rs 200 crore per month, apart from the power bill of Rs 606 crore. Rs 200 crore will be spent on distribution of food grains at cheaper rates to the 1.77-crore population excluded from the benefits of the food security programme.
All these decisions are populist, with an eye on the approaching elections, and are unhealthy for the state economy at large. But, for the CM, who was giving sleepless nights to the NCP with his tough posture on certain issues, it is as a huge setback. One of the decisions that he was withholding for the last two years was his approval for a rise in costs of some irrigation projects. The NCP was quite aggressive on the issue, and had their way finally.
It was also presumed that Chavan was not someone who would entertain pressure tactics. But, there is a long list to prove this wrong. First is his decision to take on a financial burden of Rs 3,500 crore, which will facilitate the allocation of Rs 10 crore each to assembly constituencies represented by the ruling party’s legislators. Each legislator will recommend a list of projects of his choice to spend the amount. Rs 2-3 crore were sanctioned for constituencies represented by opposition parties after they protested. It is common knowledge that this money is mostly spent on basic facilities such as roads and sanitation, where contractors play a major role.
Secondly, the CM is also sitting on a file to cancel the allotment of 46 MHADA plots in Mumbai, for over six months, even though it has been proved that these plots, allotted to influential political leaders, have changed hands illegally or remained unutilised for years. He is also taking time to initiate action against the 23 builders who have refused to hand over 192 flats to the state government under the Urban Land Ceiling (Regulation) Act.
Besides this, MHADA, which works under his direct control, has been slow in recovering built-up area and penalties to the tune of crores of rupees from builders who have executed redevelopment projects of MHADA buildings. Political leaders are said to be exerting pressure to stall action against builders involved in these scams.
In short, a lot has changed now and pure politics has forced Chavan to change his ways.
— The writer is Political Editor, MiD DAY