CM Raje pushes the reforms pedal, people await results

The jury is out on the performance of the one-year-old Vasundhara Raje-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in Rajasthan. Her critics say she won hearts by announcing industry and labour reforms but performed poorly in executing large government and public-private partnership (PPP) projects.

Raje, 61, hit the ground running soon after her party won 163 out of 200 seats in the Rajasthan Assembly in December 2013. The Congress was decimated to an all-time low of 21 seats. Buoyed by these numbers, Raje in her current avatar, tried to correct her public image. Born to the royal family of Gwalior and married to Hemant Singh of the Dholpur royal family, Raje was viewed as someone who would during her previous term in 2003-2008 retire from work early and be inaccessible in the evenings.

As course correction, among the first steps she took was to launch the Sarkaar Aapke Dwar (government at your doorstep) programme to reach out to villagers across all the seven divisions of the state. She, along with her Cabinet ministers and senior bureaucrats, toured the Bharatpur, Bikaner and Udaipur divisions and received written complaints from the people.

Her programmes face a mixed response. Seven months after Raje assumed office, when Business Standard visited one of the villages in Bharatpur to take stock of the scheme and check status of complaints, many residents spoke about no change in the status. They expressed anguish over delayed pensions, discontinued free medicines in government hospitals and scrapping of village schools to upgrade the secondary schools with more manpower and facilities. The state officials blamed the previous Congress government for leaving Rajasthan in a financial crisis, which resulted in delay of payments for at least three months.

"She is abdicating her constitutional responsibilities by privatising the education, health, transport and electricity sectors. Despite a huge mandate she has failed to deliver on the ground," says state Congress president Sachin Pilot. Industry captains, however, have lauded Raje's efforts to amend the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947, the Factories Act, 1948, and the Contract Labour Act, 1970.

Appreciated for
  • Amendments to the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947, the Factories Act, 1948, and the Contract Labour Act, 1970
  • Re-launch of Bhamashah scheme to empower women
  • Single-window system clearance to 60 investment proposals worth Rs 3,829.78 crore
  • Overwhelming majority in the civic elections
Criticised for
  • Big-ticket projects such as Jaipur Metro, Jal Mahal and Barmer refinery in a limbo
  • Losses in three of four seats in by-polls
  • Ordinance to bar illiterate from fighting panchayat elections
  • Discontinuation of previous Congress government's schemes, including distribution of free medicines  
  • BJP legislators stonewalled the Rajasthan Land Acquisition Bill, causing embarrassment to Raje

The move was hailed as industry friendly and a major push for fresh investment in the state. Between December 13, 2013, and November 30, 2014, the state government, through a single-window system, provided complete clearances to over 60 investment proposals worth Rs 3,829.78 crore.

"Improving the ease of doing business is something that the Chief Minister Smt. Vasundhara Raje is personally championing, as a result of which investors have been once again attracted towards Rajasthan. The business environment in the state in now becoming a matter of excitement on a global level," the state government stated in a press statement on the occasion of one year of Raje's government.

In a recent interview to this newspaper, Raje said her government would be focusing more on PPP projects. The budget in July called for developing 20,000 km of state highways and district roads at a cost of Rs 70,000 crore with the government contributing Rs 20,000 crore. "We had a very good response to PPPs in roads (in her previous term). You have to have a good dispute management system in place," Raje had told Business Standard.

Her statement appears to be in contravention to the fact that Rajasthan's first PPP project in the tourism sector, Jal Mahal, has been in a limbo for many years now. The project was to preserve the heritage monument and lake and develop its adjacent land on the outskirts of Jaipur. The land lease was signed between a private developer and the state government during the previous Raje regime.

The project was stuck after activists moved the Rajasthan High Court against it. The case went through a legal maze and finally the Supreme Court in April 2014 ruled there were no wrongdoings and developer be issued a completion certificate within 30 days.

The Raje government, which had signed the lease in 2005, itself turned the tide against the project. It filed the review petition, which was summarily dismissed by the Supreme Court in September. The state government is now faced with a contempt hearing in the apex court and speculations are rife that the chief minister may move an ordinance to scrap the project.

Her move is anticipated on the advice of lawyers who had fought against the government in the past. It is likely to leave a bad impression among other potential investors who are betting big on PPP projects.

Like Jal Mahal, big-ticket and crucial projects such as the Jaipur Metro and Barmer refinery are mired in political wrangling. These projects were started by the previous Congress regime.

"She does not want a Congress stamp on these projects. Had her government allowed these investments, the people of Rajasthan would have immensely benefited," Pilot says.

The first phase of the Jaipur Metro with an investment of Rs 3,149 crore has already missed several deadlines, the last being December 2014. The Raje government has ordered re-negotiation of the Rs 37,000-crore Barmer refinery with Hindustan Petroleum Corporation. State officials cite unfeasibility as a cause behind the inordinate delays of these projects.

The state government's moves can be attributed to loss of three out of four assembly by-poll seats in September 2014, but an overwhelming majority in the recently held municipal elections in the state suggests Raje's popularity has not taken a hit.

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