WCRC Leaders Asia editor-in-chief Abhimanyu Ghosh gets up, close and personal with Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh, as the veteran leader outlines his vision to turn the state into a magnet for industries but not at the cost of the environment
Looking at Himachal Pradesh’s (HP’s) tourism potential and the interest it has always generated among people, what are the measures and approach that have been taken to boost and promote the industry? And what about drawing higher number of international tourists to the state?
As you know, HP has vast tourism potential and is the most popular tourist destination in North India. There is “everything for everyone”. This state is a true haven for tourists. Right from adventure tourism to religious destinations, from the pristine mountains to the colonial legacy of Shimla, the state caters to all tastes and preferences. May it be the captivating Dhauladhar and Pir Panjal ranges or the serene cold deserts of Lahaul & Spiti or the majestic lofty peaks or the deep blue river water, one finds himself surrounded by natural beauty and awesome landscape.
Right now, we are focussing on promoting rural tourism in a big way to provide tourists a glimpse of the rich heritage and culture of the state in its natural environs. We are constantly upping the essential infrastructure needed for this. Health and wellness tourism is also a priority.
Tourism is being given a veritable facelift with the state government introducing several schemes. We have framed a “Sustainable Tourism Development Policy”. The objective of the policy is to establish HP as a global brand in the domestic and the international market and to ensure that sustainable tourism primarily benefits the host communities; supports natural and cultural heritage preservation; and creates an enabling environment for investment in the tourism sector. The state will also focus on diversification of tourism to other potential areas with the creation of adequate infrastructure. This will not only reduce pressure on the existing tourist destinations, it will also open up new areas for the tourists to explore. Quite a few innovative steps are being taken to this effect.
The government intends to ‘explore the unexplored’ through the ‘Public Private Partnership’ model. The state has numerous opportunities for setting up of resorts, ropeways, golf courses, amusement parks, etc. The government has created a land bank for this purpose.
The ‘Swachh Bharat’ campaign is being much talked about across India. How has HP contributed to it? What do you think will be required to make it a national success?
Let me tell you that much before the ‘Swachh Bharat’ drive launched in the country, our state had already adopted measures to polythene carry bags and steps have been taken for preservation of the environment to make it “Green & Clean”. But this is a very good initiative taken by the Prime Minister and such types of initiative are required.
HP is poised to achieve cent per cent targets under the Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM) much before 2019 in order to emerge as a clean and Open Defecation Free (ODF) state. The action plan has already been prepared by the state government which involves the construction of individual, institutional, cluster and community toilets. For this, water pipelines have to be laid in all villages, enabling tap connection in households. Measures to keep villages clean, efficient solid and liquid waste management are being put in place.
The state government has identified 477 panchayats where solid and liquid management system would be put in place in the first phase and all 3,243 panchayats of the state would be covered in a phased manner. Awareness programmes are being organised on a regular basis so as to make people aware of the benefits of cleanliness. The government has made adequate provision for funds under the Information Education & Communication (IEC) programme.
What is the government’s approach towards international investors?
It is true that HP is becoming an ideal destination for the big industrial houses of national and international repute. The government has already put in place a simplified procedure for the approval of medium/ large scale industrial projects. New industrial units of Johnson & Johnson, Cadbury, TVS, Honda, Ranbaxy, Nestle, etc., have come up in the state.
In order to ensure expeditious clearance from the respective departments for the setting up of a new unit, for each large/medium project, a single window clearance system and monitoring authority have been constituted to clear projects and to ensure speedy clearances/approval from various departments/ agencies. An Investment Promotion Cell has been created in the industries department to drive new investments into the state. Time-bound clearance is being given within a period of 90 days.
The state is also providing other incentives like concessions related to local taxes, labour laws, land allotments in industrial areas and estates, incentives for exports, incentives for productivity, quality, setting up of testing and R&D centres, manpower development, etc. The state is also offering concessions in the stamp duty payable by industry and floor area norms for the industry have been relaxed. One of the biggest advantages the state has is easy availability of quality power at one of the cheapest rates in the country. The state government is also contemplating to freeze power tariff for industries for the next five years. The government has also put in place a fast track and a simplified procedure for the transfer of land for industrial purposes. Such transfers, specially for industrial/tourism/hydel purposes take very little time. All these are bound to make HP an investor’s paradise.
The state government now intends to involve the private sector to exploit the potential of local resources-based industries. To attract industrial investment, “Industry by Invitation” has been the motto of the state government and it is being proactively followed. With the objective, we held three big investors’ meet held in different parts of the country.
Towards the end of 2012 just before the elections in HP, when BJP had completed a full term and was expected to win again, you were given the task to lead the Congress campaign. What did you do that the Congress won the elections so convincingly?
I am not a conjurer who can, by just waving a wand, do the impossible. It was just the love of my people and their faith in me and the policies of the Congress that they decided to part ways with the BJP. However, the BJP, during its rule, ruined the state’s finances and indiscriminately exploited the valuable land of the state. The people were wise enough to realise who can be their true benefactor and rejected the BJP. In just one and a half month, I addressed the issue of false propaganda which was being spread about me by the opposition. The people of the state love me and it was due to their faith in me that they voted the Congress back to power.
Moreover, the Congress has a strong cadre base at the grass root level and all the office bearers of the state Congress unit were united in their resolve to rout the BJP.
What are the plans on developments of new industrial areas in HP to promote industry and what about the infrastructure to support it?
Industrialisation plays a vital role in the economic development any nation. In an agrarian economy like HP’s, industry absorbs under-employed and un-employed workers of agricultural sector and thereby increases the income of the community. Pollution free and peaceful atmosphere, rich natural resources, uninterrupted power supply, sound infrastructure, attractive incentives and responsive administration are some of the major attractions of HP.
The state government has reduced electricity duty applicable to industrial enterprises in case of extra high tension from 17 per cent to 15 per cent, for existing medium and large industries from 15-17 per cent to 13 per cent. For new medium and large industries, electricity duty has been fixed at 5 per cent for the first five years, and so on and so forth. Going a step forward, only 2 per cent electricity duty would be charged for the first five years from an enterprise generating employment for 300 bonafide Himachalis.
Besides the industrial belt in the Baddi-Barotiwala-Nalagarh and the Paonta Sahib-Kalaamb-Tahliwal-Mehatpur areas, three state-of-the-art industrial areas are being developed in Una, Kangra and Solan districts. World class facilities would be provided in these industrial areas to entrepreneurs for setting up their ventures. Land has been transferred for developing industrial area in Kandrori in Kangra district by spending an amount of INR 106 crore. Similarly, INR 112 crore would be spent on developing an industrial area at Pandoga in Una district. Another industrial area is also being developed at Duttnagar in Shimla district.
Due to the relentless efforts of the state government, capital investment subsidy at the rate of 15 per cent on the value of plant and machinery subject to maximum of Rs 30 Lakh for large enterprises and Rs 50 Lakh to micro, small and medium sector for new industrial units has been extended till March, 2017.
Which are the key industries that the government is planning to promote and how?
HP, because of its topography, can’t be a house for heavy steel industry or similar industrial set ups. The state has received offers from pharmaceutical industry players and at present many units are operating in the Baddi-Barotwala- Nalagarh area.
There is also a vast scope for the promotion of the handicrafts and handloom sector in the state besides sericulture. Promotion of industrial activities in form of guidance policy formulation, providing training to the rural artisans and prospective entrepreneurs through Entrepreneurship Development Programmes (EDPs), Industrial Awareness Programmes (IAPs), and Industrial Awareness Workshops (IAWs) will go a long way in generating employment for rural, educated and unemployed youths. It will also motivate them to set up their own ventures.
What is the vision of this government for the next 10 years?
We want HP to be on top in every field so that it can emerge as a role model of development for the rest of the country.
What makes you one of the most successful chief ministers in the country?
I have to credit it to the love of my people whom I also love dearly. I respect them a lot and they are aware of the efforts I made for developing my state in my 50 years of political career.
HP has been able to keep a lid on environmental pollution in spite of high tourist influx. What measures have been taken and what policies have been implemented to achieve this?
The state government, in its endeavour to maintain its serene environment, has taken innovative steps to this effect. The HP State Pollution Control Board looks after curbing all kinds of pollution and is a nodal agency for planning, coordination, prevention and control of pollution. The board has always endeavoured to strike a rational balance between economic growth and environment preservation. The board regularly monitors water and air quality and compiles data on cement, textile and pharmaceutical industries. Continuous efforts are being made to fulfil the demands of emerging environment concerns, challenges and new statutes.
Last but not the least, the government has launched many awareness campaigns, including the Total Sanitation Campaign, not only in schools but also in Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs) to make the people aware of the benefits of conservation of our natural resources by preserving the environment.