Flak For Fadnavis

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The peripatetic Maharashtra CM Devendra Fadnavis is seen as a man in a hurry. He’s busy getting investment into his state and is constantly on the move. But problems at home are mounting, witness recent decisions that have raised questions about his motives and intentions. BY VIJAY NAIK

That ingratiating (and rather infuriating) little boy smile has faded somewhat after successive fumbles: Witness the clumsy removal of Mumbai police commissioner Rakesh Maria, then the state wide beef ban followed by ban on meat in Mumbai, the issue of a controversial circular on sedition and the removal of education quota for Muslims.

But if anything, DevendraFadnavis, Maharashtra chief minister, has demonstrated a stubborn refusal to backtrack despite the flak. And there’s lots of flak including his government’s handling of the drought situation. His rejection of the proposal to waive loans for farmers reflected financial prudence but he came out looking bad politically.

The Congress is taking advantage, with plans to launch a state-wide agitation over the government’s “lethargy” which it claims, has resulted in suicide by 2000 farmers. Fadnavis has done little to counter the criticism of state Congress president Ashok Chavan, that farmers have not received the Rs. 25000 per hectare compensation promised by the Centre. Not to be left behind, NCP chief SharadPawar has added to the public debate over the chief minister’s “failures”.

There was some relief for the beleaguered Fadnavis from Raj Thackeray of the MNS, who blamed 15 years of misrule by the NCP and Congress for the farmers’ plight: ‘’They are responsible for mishandling irrigation projects,’’ he has alleged.

With the average rainfall this season at 57% and water conservation at 47%, water supply is drying up in the cities. Pune and Sangli are in for 15% and 10% water cut respectively and other cities face similar cuts. The main beneficiaries will be the tanker mafia and its political backers.

WATER INITIATIVE

But Fadnavis needs to get his public and practical act together. With the average rainfall this season at 57% and water conservation at 47%, water supply is drying up in the cities. Pune and Sangli are in for 15% and 10% water cut respectively and other cities face similar cuts. The main beneficiaries will be the tanker mafia and its political backers.

The government plans to try cloud seeding over drought prone districts even though experiments in 1992 and 2004 had limited success. But it could boost farmer morale and help mitigate the current fodder shortage. The government is yet to move on a plan to open 240 fodder camps. That and the glacial pace of drought relief resulted in the Bombay High Court directing the government to submit its plan at the earliest.

The silver lining could be the innovative and ambitious “Jalayukta Shivar Abhiyan” launched in January this year to mitigate the crisis in the state’s 25,000 villages. ‘’The programme has turned in to a people’s movement,’’ claims Vidyut Varkhedkar, deputy collector of Kolhapur. “It is gratifying to see that in spite of rural distress, some farmers have come forward to donate part of their savings for the scheme, as they see it as a panacea or insurance for the future,’’ she said.

The abhiyan appears to be an extension of the percolation tanks scheme launched by the previous Congress-NCP coalition. The aim is to raise awareness about water management and conservation. But political parties being political parties, are seeking to outdo each other to score political points. The Shiv Sena has its own Shivjalkranti scheme for drought stricken Aurangabad and Jalna with the aim of conserving water in 100 villages. Congress leaders Ashok Chavan, Narayan Rane and R K Vikhe Patil, given their visible differences, have held separate briefings on the issue.

SMART CITIES

Fadnavis is evidently banking on successes elsewhere. Narendra Modi’s smart cities project has seen the CM set up a high level committee under the chief secretary to push the smart cities initiative in Navi Mumbai, Pune-Pimpri-Chinchwad, Amravati, Solapur, Nagpur, Kalyan-Dombivali, Aurangabad, Nasik and Thane.

He seems to have done a trial run of sorts with the recently concluded Simhasta Kumbh in Nasik when an estimated 100 million pilgrims took in a dip in the Godavari river. The state government invested crores in laying new roads; the river was cleaned and new ghats built; a 15000 strong police force was deployed to oversee law and order and ensure no repeat of the 2003 tragedy when 39 people died in a stampede. Rather, Nasik remained closed to all traffic from outside over three days Aug. 28 to 30.

Fadnavis must be congratulating himself over the Nasik Kumbh taking place without a single untoward incident (the last event ‘Vaman Dwadashi Snan’ took place on Sept 25 without any untoward incident reported).

But the Kumbh was an exception, basically an event. Implementing smart cities successfully will be far more challenging. Mumbai, Navi Mumbai, Thane, Kalyan and Dombivali are overpopulated, resulting in an unbearable strain on civic amenities. In fact, this is the situation in most cities in the state.

Fadnavis must tread carefully, work efficiently and transparently, and ensure his actions do not carry even the suspicion of graft.

GARBAGE, TOILETS

According to a state government publication Maharashtra Ahead (July 2015), more than 20,000 tonnes of garbage is generated daily in the state. Local journalist Kartik Lokhande argues that more efficient participation by local bodies and people is required to reduce the quantum of garbage generated and ensure proper management of dry and wet garbage.

This is becoming a political hot potato. In January this year, residents of two villages Uruli Devachi and Phursungi, refused to allow garbage generated in nearby Pune to be dumped near their homes. They residents have been complaining of polluted air and water leading to a dramatic rise in diseases. The NCP which has ruled the city corporation for long, is blamed for not doing enough.

“Over 31 lakh families out of 1.08 crore in the state do not have toilet facilities,” says Lokhande adding, “Of these, 23 lakh use public toilets, the rest defecate in the open.’’ Government is now working on a plan for a toilet in every household.

Compared to the many scams of the past, Fadanvis has been relatively lucky. His image remains clean despite allegations against Vinod Tawde, education minister, and the controversies surrounding Pankaja Munde, women and child welfare minister. But Fadnavis must tread carefully, work efficiently and transparently, and ensure his actions do not carry even the suspicion of graft. At all costs, the public perception of his government must not mirror the scandal tainted erstwhile Congress-NCP government.

Delivering Justice

The detention of Sameer Gaikwad of the Hindu extremist Sanatan Sanstha group, must have come as a relief for Fadnavis. Although Gaikwad’s complicity in the murder of veteran CPI leader Govind Pansare in February is yet to be proved, public suspicions about the role of Hindu extremist organizations is widespread (as also the suspicion that Fadnavis given his saffron background may have been stalling the investigations). Police are hopeful of unearthing links to another murder, that of rationalist Narendra Dabhokar two years

ago, since the method of killing was the same. Clearly, a break through in the investigation was vital if only to clear the impression that given the saffron hue of government in both the Centre and Maharashtra, justice would not be done.

Summary

  • The CM is under attack with the opposition claiming he has failed to provide succor to drought hit districts
  • A looming water shortage could hit supply in big cities like Pune, but the government hopes a people’s initiative will help
  • Garbage is another problem with the state government yet to deal with the problem of wet and dry garbage
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