45-day wait until results puts Himachal Pradesh to sleep

Ashwani Sharma Posted: Nov 26, 2012 at 0032 hrs
Shimla Three weeks have passed since Himachal Pradesh voted and another three are to go before the results are declared on December 20. The one-and-a-half-month gap, longest in the state’s history, has virtually halted the administration with the model code of conduct still in force.

The bureaucracy is on what can be called a paid holiday. The only activity that has been keeping bureaucrats (if they are still in the state) and political leaders busy is discussions on the outcome, some predicting a repeat victory by the BJP and others unwilling to write the Congress off.

At least two dozen bureaucrats, half the heads of departments and MDs of state-run PSUs, have either taken leave or gone on training within and outside the country. Many have, in fact, cleared their desks, as if to signify they are waiting for a change that will allow them to lobby for new positions. Only chief secretary Sudripta Roy and a handful of others are holding fort in the secretariat rooms. Deputy commissioners and SPs have become little more than custodians of EVMs.

The Election Commission can selectively relax the model code if approached, but government departments are wary of inviting tenders for fresh contracts. Some 125 detailed project reports of new road schemes proposed under PMGSY are pending approval, as are half a dozen national highway projects. New investments in power, tourism and infrastructure development had come in the past three months but investors are now holding back expansion proposals. Foreign-funded projects in forestry, roads and other sectors too have slowed down.

“Some of the projects, both under implementation and proposed, will be affected. We are trying to convince the EC to allow awarding major contracts. Some relaxations have been conveyed in certain cases but that isn’t really enough,” Roy said. At a meeting of the committee of secretaries called by Roy, the majority view was against playing any “proactive” role by inviting tenders or sanctioning new work.

Chief electoral officer (CEO) Narinder Chauhan said only specific approvals, if sent to the EC for relaxation under the model code, could be considered as the general ban on sanction/clearance remains stays in force. The gap between polling and counting was necessitated by the Gujarat polls, he says, agreeing it has been unusually long and led to problems locally.

It has also put a question mark over achieving targets under the annual plan. Of the state’s Rs 3,700 crore plan, the funds for the first two quarters, 25 per cent each, have been released but it is the third quarter that is considered crucial, besides being the “ideal season”. With no “real government” in place, ministers have shown little interest in reviewing the progress of the schemes.

The ministers, like the bureaucrats, are in fact hardly attending office. Most turned up at the state headquarters only for a day to attend a cabinet meeting after polling and have thereafter remained in their constituencies. Besides, they see no point in taking important decisions that officers are unlikely to implement till it becomes clear who will rule the state next.

The winter, when it comes, will leave several parts under snow for six months or more. That limits the working period and the working days being lost now will leave no time to complete work, says Jairam Thakur, minister for rural development and panchayati raj.

“The 45-day gap is illogical in an healthy democracy. Why keep voters guessing and let a government hang on for 45 days if it has been voted out of power? Or if it’s been voted back, why should it be stopped from functioning?” says Asha Kumari, a former minister and current Congress candidate.