Fighting inequality by focusing on inclusive growth
Interview with Vijay Rupani, chief minister, Gujarat
Vijay Rupani, chief minister of the west-Indian state Gujarat in an interview with Biz@India talks about the challenges faced by the state in fighting inequality and initiatives taken by the government to address the issue.
As India participates at G7 Summit for the first time ever, fighting inequality is the key focus that President Emmanuel Macron has set for the agenda. How is Gujarat fighting inequality? Which are the key challenges that the state faces in terms of reducing inequality in general?
Sabka Sath, Sabka Vikas (collective efforts, inclusive growth) is the motto of our government and we constantly strive to live up to this noble aim. The state government is working for the upliftment of its people in every field, every sector and in society as well.
We have a number of schemes and programmes in place to address various anomalies – social or economic, that exist across sectors, and encompass people of all the classes of the society. If you look at the economic front, Gujarat is one of the few states where the share of salaried jobs has increased. The government is helping the youth for their higher education and assisting budding entrepreneurs with their start-ups and other business initiatives.
As far as gender inequalities go, women in Gujarat are independent and confident because we make an effort to ensure their physical, economical as well as social security. They are leading in every field today. While women in urban areas are securing jobs in multi-national companies, women in rural areas are helped by the government to form Sakhi-mandals (self-help groups),where they take up activities like weaving, embroidering among others. Achieving a degree of financial independence goes a long way in helping women get equal status and respect in their social circles. The government also helps these Sakhi-mandals in securing loans and cash credit if they require for starting their business.
When our motto is development of all, I do not see the inequality issue arising in the state. My government is always there for each and every citizen, when they need us.
Being one of the more prosperous states in the country, do you feel that inequality is particularly accentuated here?
As I said earlier, we work for the development of each and every citizen in the state. Economic migrants from different states are coming to Gujarat for employment and social benefits. We have embraced them, and given them full support. The state government is taking every measure and coming up with number of schemes to bring the economically backward people in the main stream. Certainly there are still social and financial gaps in our society, and our government is constantly working on that. But I do not see the inequality as an issue particular to only Gujarat. We always focus on providing good health facilities, better education and employment to each and everyone in the state along with quality standard of living.
On the issue of access to health and education, how has Gujarat ensured proper access for all sections of the society? Which have been your key initiatives in this domain and how have they performed? As some parts of the state continue to suffer from malnourishment of children and women,what measures has your government taken to address these?
As far as healthcare is concerned, Gujarat is leading in the implementation of Ayushman Bharat. In July 2019, the state had filed close to 500,000 claims worth INR 8.62 billion under the National Health Protection Scheme. The scheme provides up to INR 500,000 per family per year in direct benefits to economically weaker sections of society.
In Gujarat, we have been running Mukhyamantri Amrutum (MA) Yojana and MA Vatsalya Yojana, which offered health cover of upto INR 300,000 per family per annum to economically weaker sections. After the launch of Ayushman Bharat, we merged the schemes with the national health programme, increasing our coverage to over six million families of Gujarat. In fact, Ayushman Bharat package offers assistance for 1400-odd health procedures, whereas in Gujarat, we have added 400 plus more services to cover more types of illness.
Our government is also focusing to ensure comprehensive coverage of primary health care services at a community level through health and wellness centres across the state. These centres provide a wide range of medical services at community level. Government also provides certificate courses to the youth across the state covering all the aspects of public and community health. These youth are then appointed at the health and wellness centres as community health officers and raise awareness particularly among the rural and remote areas of Gujarat.
This entire system is working quite effectively. Gujarat is also among the country’s leading medical services provider in terms of quality and cost. A wide range of top class hospitals is making Gujarat a hub for medical tourism, as people travel to Gujarat for various medical treatments.
As far as reducing malnourishment in women and children is concerned, we are running Poorak Poshan Programme, under which there are many schemes like Baalbhog and Doodh Sanjeevani Yojana. These schemes ensure to provide required nutrition to women and children free of cost.
On the education front, our government has launched number of schemes for the benefit of the students in the state. We provide loans and scholarships for higher studies in foreign universities. Many students who belong to economically backward sections have benefitted from this programme. We are also running Mission Vidya, where we help government school students, who fall behind in developing reading, writing and mathematical skills.
On employment, how has Gujarat fared? In which sectors do you see the maximum job creation? Is the youth, local or migrant from other states, moving up the value chain?
Gujarat is one of those states in the country which provides highest employment. We are number one in our country for providing employment through employment exchange centres. We organise job fairs every year to provide assistance in finding and securing jobs to the people of the state. Besides, the state government also invites applications for new vacancies every year. We provided more than 125,000 government jobs last year, and intend to appoint more people in near future.
Skill upgradation and industry-specific skill set is essential for our youth to get good jobs. We, in order to incentivise the youth to undergo training, launched Mukhyamantri Apprenticeship Scheme. The government contributes by providing stipend while the training is provided by professionals/ companies according to market demand. With manufacturing and service sectors being strong in the state, the scheme has given opportunity to learn as well as get financial support to thousands of youth.
We also recognise that the entrepreneurial spirit runs strong in the state and therefore we provide support for the start-ups and other business initiatives taken by the youth of the state. Thereby government is encouraging self-employment in the state. In order to promote entrepreneurs in the industrial sector, the government of Gujarat has established a separate commissionerate to tackle the issues faced by Medium Small and Micro Enterprises (MSME). The mission is to make Gujarat a front-runner in terms of entrepreneur development and to provide a fertile environment for industrial production and investment.
With the evolution of the tech economy, how is Gujarat positioning itself in the domain? What steps have you taken to ensure the state does not get left behind in the knowledge economy? Which are the sectors of economy where Gujarat is well placed and where do you think the state needs to do more?
Technology based economy is a basic requirement in today’s world and Gujarat adopted technology in governance and in state economy long ago. When the people of state are tech-savvy, it becomes easier for state government to implement digitisation. Our Prime Minister has laid out the vision of a Digital India and I can proudly say that we have created digital Gujarat today.
Gujarat is a very good example of e-governance. We have made all the government procedures online. People avail the benefits of various government programmes by simply applying online. They can register their complaints online too. People of state can directly connect to the government through digital platforms.
Youth of Gujarat is now mostly doing e-transactions. A large percentage of payments are now made digitally, technology is seen everywhere. In this year’s budget, the state government has announced a Science, Technology and Innovation (SIT) policy. Under this policy, assistance upto INR 5 million is available for research, technology demonstration and pilot project deployment.
We have launched an urban Wi-Fi programme under which, Wi-Fi services have been made accessible to 55 cities of the state. As a result, people are getting civic services through the internet.
The state government is promoting the institutions such as iCreate, Biotechnology University and others to make new innovations in the Information Technology & Bio Technology sectors to meet the demands of coming days. We have also launched command and control centre for state’s school system. This allows us to remotely track and verify attendance of students and teachers and take necessary actions to improve where it is lacking.
Regarding knowledge economy, Gujarat has universities that specialise in almost every sector, this includes Pandit Deendayal Petroleum University, Children University, Sanskrit University in Somnath, Swarnim Gujarat Sports University, Swarnim Start-up & Innovation University among others. This is apart from the prestigious IIM Ahmedabad, IIT Gandhinagar and Entrepreneurship Development Institute in Ahmedabad. The government also provides tablets to the students who have passed 12th grade, so that they are not left behind in this world of technology. Government of Gujarat has established Industrial Training Institutes in different districts of the state to train the manpower and make them skilful in order to meet the requirements of the industries.
What were the key takeaways from the Vibrant Gujarat meet in January? How many of the investment proposals have progressed?
This year we had more than 135 participating nations, more than 100,000 delegates and close to 200 events during the Vibrant Gujarat Summit. Various projects worth INR 1,110 billion were signed in the form of Memorandums of Understanding (MoU) during the Vibrant Gujarat Global Summit-2019.
Our government is focusing on conservation of water and sustainable energy. Our government believes that next five years will be golden era for renewable energy in Gujarat. So by focusing on the theme of Shaping a New India, we organised a session on Renewable Energy- Opportunities in Gujarat and India. We also organised a seminar on Sustainable Technology Driven Agriculture for New India on the final day of Vibrant Gujarat Global Summit. These seminars with leading practitioners from around the world go a long way in bringing global best practices to Gujarat.
MoUs were signed for investment in various industries during the Vibrant Summit-2019. In March 2019, I inaugurated projects worth INR 1,660 billion which were announced in Vibrant Gujarat. In total 459 inaugurations, commencement of 1030 projects and foundation laying ceremony for 248 projects were made in the presence of industry captains and business tycoons at Mahatma Mandir in Gandhinagar.
14 projects were in Agro and Food processing, 20 in dairy, fisheries and co-operative sector, 20 in chemicals, 30 in petrochemicals and GIDC, 32 in automobiles and engineering, 59 in healthcare and pharmaceuticals, 26 in IT, 21 mineral based projects, 161 in MSME, seven port and port based, five in renewable energy, oil and gas, nine in textile and apparel, 11 private investments in housing and urban infrastructure and 69 other projects were kick started.
What is the position of women and how are you addressing the gender balance challenge in education, health, society and employment?
Gujarat is among the most secured state for the women. When I say secured, it does not only mean security against crime but also against financial, social, health and educational insecurities of women. Gujarat is the best example of overall development of women.
Regarding educational security, we run a dedicated girl-child school enrollment drive called Kanya Kelavani, that promises primary education to all girls. Government is aiming to achieve 100 pc enrollment of girls in primary classes across the state. We also provide free of cost education to the girls studying in vocational training institutes. Apart from that, we have set up hostel facilities for working women and girls studying in government polytechnic.
Gujarat is doing its best in providing healthcare facilities to the women. We believe that healthy women lead to a healthy state and subsequently to a healthy nation. We have Janani Suraksha Yojana for pregnant women.
The crime ratio against women is low in Gujarat. Our government is committed to the safety and security of girls and women in the state. We run 181 Abhayam (Fearless) Helpline, which helps the women in times of difficulties. Rescue vans are on call 24×7 in the state and we have also developed a mobile app, to serve as a helpline. Women of Gujarat are also financially secured. Women are now employed in every sector and in every field. Government has established an Industrial Park for women entrepreneurs to encourage them to be active entrepreneurs. I wish women of Gujarat to lead in the industrial sector.
Gujarat is a treasure trove for tourism, but the state does not yet figure prominently as a key destination in the world? Which are the key sectors of tourism where you are promoting it and which are the key markets for Gujarat, outside India?
This is not at all true. Tourism in Gujarat is flourishing. Not only people within India, but an increasing number of people from various parts of the world are visiting Gujarat. Gujarat’s Ahmedabad is declared as India’s first world heritage city. Many tourists come to visit Ahmedabad for its historical places, for the international kite festival and Vibrant Navratri festival organised by the state government. We are also promoting tourism at world heritage sites like Rani ki Vav in Patan, Champaner and Pavagarh, as well as the Stepwell of Adalaj, sites like Dholavira which are from the Ancient Indus Valley Civilisation.
We have beautiful religious places like Ambaji temple, Somnath Mahadev temple, Mahudi Jain temple, Modhera Sun temple, Bahucharaji temple, Neelkanth dhaam at Poicha etc. in Gujarat. Gujarat is home to the white desert in Kachchh. The state government organises Ranotsav to promote tourism there and number of tourists come from every corner of the country to enjoy Ranotsav. Foreign tourists too flock in large numbers to see the beauty of our Safed Rann (White Desert).
The recently inaugurated Statue of Unity in Kevadiya is a major tourist attraction these days. It has been pulling huge crowds since it is the tallest statue in the world. Due to rise in footfall, the management has increased the visiting time of the place. We are hoping that the Statue of Unity will boost Gujarat’s annual tourist count.
The Gujarati diaspora in English-speaking nations is fairly well integrated with the state, but there are several parts of the world, like in the Reunion Island or other parts of Africa where Gujarati diaspora lives in French, Spanish or Portuguese speaking nations. Are you also reaching out to them?
It is true that members of Gujarati diaspora can be found across the globe. Whether it is African countries, Middle East, Europe or the United States, Non-Resident Gujaratis (NRGs) are respected residents in the host regions, and are also well connected with the roots. We have a highly efficient NRG cell, which reaches out to NRGs all over the world. Our culture and traditions have such a strong pull, that they come down to Gujarat during Navratri, Kite Festival and other traditional festivals, and share a deep connect with the state.