‘With the BJP in power, everything has fallen in line’

‘With the BJP in power, everything has fallen in line’

Chief Minister B S Yediyurappa is all set to present his fifth budget on March 5. Much rides on this, politically and otherwise. In conversation with Shruthi H M Sastry of DH, Deputy Chief Minister C N Ashwath Narayan speaks on what one can expect from the Budget and the way forward for the BJP government. Excerpts: 

Q. Karnataka’s share in tax devolution has reduced under the 15th Finance Commission, making the state’s fiscal situation rather precarious. Are expenditure cuts imminent in this Budget?

A. We have to wait and watch how the CM, who is also the finance minister, will prioritise expenditure. Long-term and short-term priorities will have to be considered to balance the Budget. However, what I can say for sure is that both irrigation and agriculture will be top priorities for the government. With the Centre finally notifying the Mahadayi Water Disputes Tribunal’s award, the government will set aside funds for the Kalasa-Banduri project. This has been a long-pending issue. We will begin the process and in the coming year, more funds will be allocated for it. Let’s wait for the Budget to know about everything. 

Q. Your portfolios are higher education, IT/BT and skill development. What can we expect in the new financial year?

A. All my portfolios are futuristic. We’re trying to work on the emerging areas. We are planning centres of excellence for the Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence, machine learning, among others. As for IT & BT, the overall idea is to increase investments by engaging with all the stakeholders. The government’s role is just that of facilitation. When it comes to higher education, we want to focus on improving the infrastructure of existing government and aided institutions, instead of creating new ones. We want government institutions to be on par with private institutions. We are also mulling new courses in line with industry requirements. We’re still discussing this, and it will be announced eventually. 

Q. You are a four-time MLA of a constituency in the heart of Bengaluru and have often raised issues on the city’s development. What is in store for the city? 

A. The CM is clear that we need to develop the long-pending Peripheral Ring Road (PRR). We will go ahead with it. We have recently held meetings with the farmers’ representatives too in order to finalise land acquisition issues. We’ll take their demands into consideration. The cost is likely to go up, but this is a revenue-generating project. We will do the best we can and will start work at the earliest.

Q. While the PRR promises to decongest the city, the Centre’s allocation of a mere Rs 1 crore in the Union Budget was a letdown.

A. That’s just the initial allocation. Once the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs clears it, the rest of the allocation will come through. The Centre is interested in taking it forward. Not only is the Suburban Rail project viable, but it is also crucial to decongest the city. That apart, we want to increase focus on the Comprehensive Mobility Plan.

Q. That said, Bengaluru has outgrown the available infrastructure. Isn’t it time to divert investments to other regions in the state?

A. If you ask me, Bengaluru needs more funds. Successive governments have not invested in Bengaluru commensurate to what it deserves, which has led to haphazard growth without proper planning. We need to ensure that the city has adequate infrastructure. This includes transport, healthcare, education, skill development, development of open spaces and rejuvenation of water bodies. Parallelly, we need to ensure that the city is affordable. Only then can we ensure sustainability. 

Q. The Karnataka Knowledge Commission’s tenure ended December 2019 and there is no clarity on its reconstitution. What has the government decided about it?

A. We’re thinking about it. We now have the Karnataka State Higher Education Council, the Vision Group and a Task Force for strategizing and implementation of state-level projects. We have to make sure that there is no duplication. So, we are yet to take a call on its reconstitution. 

Q. It’s been seven months since the BJP came to power and the general perception is that the administrative machinery is reeling under a slowdown. Have recent political developments come in the way of work?

A. Politics is always a dynamic process. One cannot expect the political situation to be stagnant at any juncture. We are continuously working irrespective of all the political developments. We set agendas for our respective departments and try to abide by it. The departmental work and politics have to go hand in hand. It cannot be separated.

Q. There are reports that there is infighting within the BJP and that BS Yediyurappa may not complete his term as the CM.

A. This government will complete its tenure and nothing can shake us. Yediyurappa will continue for the full term. There is no disturbance in the party. We were able to form the government only because of the newly-inducted MLAs, without whom there was no clear mandate for us. If you were to look back at the Congress-JD(S) coalition government, there was so much political instability. They were simply passing time with no sense of direction. With the BJP government coming to power, everything has fallen in line.

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