Siddaramaiah got elected as Chief Minister of the State of Karnataka on 13th May 2013. People of the State had shown great confidence in Siddaramaiah’s promise of a transparent, responsible and people-friendly government by giving the Indian National Congress a thumping absolute majority in the Legislative Assembly election. There was no doubt whatsoever that it was Siddaramaiah who had led the party in the State to victory, and electing him as the Chief Minister was a natural corollary to it.
More than four years have elapsed during which the Chief Minister has carried out several measures to stand up to the people’s choice. The recent launch of Pratibimba – a comprehensive web-based platform – was meant to showcase the government’s performance and achievements to the citizens and show to them to what extent the Chief Minister has stood up on path to fulling the promises of a transparent, responsible and people-friendly government.
Elaborating on the idea behind Pratimba, the Chief Minister himself had said at the time of its launch: “Pratibimba will help people across the state and the country to get a detailed information regarding the steps taken by us in fulfilling our promise of transparent, responsible and people friendly government.”
As LK Atheeq, the Principal Secretary to the Chief Minister describes it, “Pratibimba, which means reflection, has been developed as the Chief Minister’s dash board, and will serve as a tool to improve efficiency in governance and allow citizens to track government’s progress.”
Further, Atheeq said: “’Pratibimba’ is a reflection of the growth story and development of the State, and the dash board will reflect the works of all the departments across flagship schemes, key programmes and projects undertaken in the State.”
Summing up, the Chief Minister had said: “This (Pratibimba) will be reflection of how much we have walked the talk by showcasing the efforts made by us in meeting people’s aspiration with our achievements.”
Walked the talk, he surely has! And with such deftness that there seems to be no incumbency factor working; his core supporters even hint that his vote base might have only increased during the last four years. Undoubtedly, Chief Minister Siddaramaiah today is the biggest sore throat for the chief opposition party eyeing an easy cakewalk when the State goes to polls sometime in mid-2018. It speaks of his work and how he has gone ahead on path to fulfil his vision of a progressive and developing Karnataka, and his efforts aimed at creating a system of reporting, tracking and measuring various departmental performance on programmes, projects and promises made, so as to enable departments to become more transparent, accountable and efficient.
A vocal champion of Kannada and its heritage, Siddaramaiah seems to know what clicks and what doesn’t, when it comes to politics. The dynamic CM is not the one who minces his words, when it comes to issues of national importance. He came down heavily on the demonetization drive, stating that black money constituted hardly 0.002% of the country’s economy. Only recently, CM Siddaramaiah has put the ball back in the court of PM Narendra Modi by demanding loan waiver for farmers. Earlier, the State government had issued an order to waive loans worth Rs. 8,163 crore taken by over 22 lakh farmers from cooperative banks in the State. Likewise, the Karnataka government has constituted a nine-member committee to submit a report on the possibility of designing a separate flag for the state.
The Chief Minister is also known for his socialist, secular and people-friendly outlook. This was reflected in his staunch stand in support of holding ‘Kambala’ – a traditional annual buffalo race – holding of which was stayed by the Karnataka High Court’s division bench, on a petition challenging it in view of orders passed by the Supreme Court on jallikattu. Siddaramaiah had given his full support to people’s stir in support of Kambala. On an occasion, he had said: “We are in favour of Kambala, we are for Kambala. We pressurize the Union government to take a stand in favour of this (Kambala), similar to the way it favoured jallikattu in Tamil Nadu.”
Siddaramaiah also tried to take maximum benefit of both by-election wins in Mysuru-Chamarajangar districts of Karnataka earlier this year, which were portrayed as wins because of personal charisma of the Chief Minister. Needless to say, it was a big respite for the Congress which bucked the nation-wide trend seemed going in the other direction.
In another reflection (pratibimba) of his people-friendly policy, Siddaramaiah government recently regularized housing by STs and backward castes on private land. In an unprecedented move, the scheduled tribes and micro backward castes, who have been deprived of housing rights so far, a law was passed unopposed in the State Assembly granting ownership of houses to agriculture labourers living in over 300 unrecorded habitations on private land.
With this, an estimated two lakh people living in Lambanithandas, Gollarahattis, Vaddarahattis, Kurubarahattis, Nayakarahattis, Majaregramas, Haadis, Doddis, Palyas, Camp and Colony, all belonging to the poorest segment of society will come under the revenue department’s purview. It also fulfils in part the Congress’ 2013 manifesto promise of converting unrecorded hamlets into revenue villages, underlining the party’s image as the flagbearer of the poor, ahead of the state assembly polls in April-May 2018.
Talking about it, Chief Minister Siddaramaiah said: “This is a major revolutionary decision taken after the famous ‘land to the tiller’ legislation was passed four decades ago. Whoever is residing in hamlets will henceforth become the owners of the houses in which they are staying. These are people who have been oppressed for years. Today they are liberated.”
The State’s budget for this year had been nothing short of remarkable. Another unprecedented move in the State was the announcement for ‘Namma Canteen’ (our canteen) where breakfast will be given for Rs. 5, lunch and dinner for Rs. 10 each. Such canteens will initially be started at one centre each in each of the 192 wards in Bengaluru.
The Chief Minister also announced setting up of Saviruchi mobile canteens in all 30 districts through the Stree Shakti self-help groups, a mid-day meal scheme for 12 lakh pregnant women, milk supply to over a crore school and anganwadi children five days a week and eggs to the malnutrition-hit anganwadi children twice a week.
The school children, who were earlier getting milk three days a week under Ksheera Bhagya scheme, will now be getting milk five days a week. The caring Chief Minister wants that milk is given seven days a week in future.
The CM claims that the midday meal scheme and Ksheera Bhgya have helped contain malnutrition among children and improved attendance in schools. Similarly, the Anna Bhagya scheme has helped prevent migration of people in search of jobs, he says.
Karnataka is the second largest milk producing state in India and the State government is committed to encourage dairying as an allied activity of agriculture. Currently, the State produces around 72 lakh liters of milk per day and the target is to increase it to 100 lakh liters in two years. In a bid to encourage farmers to take up dairy farming, the Government has enhanced the incentive on one litre of milk from Rs. 2 to Rs. 5 and it is spending Rs. 3.5 crore everyday on this count. The Karnataka Milk Federation (KMF) which is now procuring 2.20 lakh liters of milk per day plans to increase the procurement to 5 lakh liters per day, in the light of CM’s special focus on the area and his promise of providing necessary financial assistance.
In a statement that will be quoted again and again in the times to come, particularly because of the great vision that it envisages, the Chief Minister said: “Darkness will not cast on the future of the land where women and children are the focus of development.”
It was amidst much thumping among the treasury benches that the Chief Minister announced laptops for 1.5 lakh students entering government and aided medical, engineering and degree colleges, and even louder cheers greeted his announcement of 49 new taluk, and also increased free rice under the flagship Anna Bhagya scheme from 5 to 7 kgs.
The most telling part in his budget was the scheme under which he announced to give LPG connections to two lakh families belonging to SC/ST and below poverty line in collaboration with the food and civil supplies department, mirroring the Ujjwala scheme and applying it more specifically to the Dalits and the poor.
The Chief Minister also announced special privileges for various tribal communities. “Assistance will be provided for the development of Jenukuruba, Koraga, Soliga, Kadukuruba, Erava, Gowdalu, Hasaluru, Iruliga, Siddi, Malekudiya, HakkiPikki, Thoda, Meda and other tribal communities and for taking up self-employment. For this, a grant of Rs 200 crore will be provided,” he said.
He also allocated Rs 100 crore for the development of tribes such as Budbudke, Gondhali, Helava, Pichakuntla, Jogi, Golla, Shikkalgar, Haavugara, and other nomadic and semi-nomadic tribes.
The CM also said: “A proposal will be sent to the Government of India under the provisions of Schedule V in the Constitution, seeking approval for constitution of Karnataka Tribal Advisory Council to give guidance and advice to the state government in formulating and implementing development plans for Scheduled Tribes.”
Other than allocations for Muslims and Christians, he has also earmarked Rs 10 lakh for Gurdwaras and Rs 5 crore for a cultural centre “to protect the culture and tradition of Sikh community” at Bidar on the occasion of 350th birth anniversary Guru Gobind Singh.
In an attempt to keep pace with fast moving states in the field of industrialization and technological growth, the Chief Minister is of opinion that Karnataka has an investor-friendly policy. “We continue to remain the No. 1 in the IT sector and Bengaluru remains the Silicon Valley and knowledge capital of the country because of that. Following our Global Investors Meet in 2016, investment inflow is much higher. In the last three months, we have surpassed even Gujarat in investments inflow. You will be surprised that we have a special impetus for industrialists from the scheduled castes and also women entrepreneurs. They are very happy with our initiatives.”
The State claims that during the last 4 years when Siddarmaiah has been the Chief Minister, 6,000 MW has been added in power generation. Special emphasis has been laid on the skilling of youth. Two lakh youth underwent skill development in 2016-17 while the targets for this year are to train 5 lakh youths. A separate department for skill development has been formed and the State’s efforts have resulted in the creation of about 2 lakh jobs (new jobs plus the filling of existing vacancies) in the government sector in the last 4 years.
The various steps of the Chief Minister suggest that he is aiming at the holistic development of the State. As the CM said on an occasion: “Our goal remains the same – the last man/woman in society, the vulnerable sections and the farmers should benefit the most. We are accountable to the people of Karnataka as it is they who have voted us to form the government, and this is one of the ways of showing our accountability.”
(Article Exclusively done for Outlook Magazine)