Express press service
Q. What is your 10 year vision for Assam?
A: There are many problems. In the social sector, Assam is not in the top tier of states. All my efforts will focus on how we can improve the ranking of Assam in the areas of infrastructure, SDG index or indices like maternal mortality rate, infant mortality rate, etc. These are among the main objectives of the government.
Assam has the typical problem of flooding and erosion and we must work to find a permanent solution. We are talking about infrastructure development and the development of the human resources index, but unless the problem of flooding and erosion is solved, we will not be able to do much.
Assam is the gateway to the North East. Thus, the development of Assam is linked to the development of the North East. The states in the region have failed to adopt unified policies on various fronts due to state border disputes and a kind of rivalry in the case of maintaining borders. It acted as a stumbling block towards forming a unified policy and establishing a unified effort for the development of the region. Thus, resolving border disputes and unifying various policy approaches such as tourism infrastructure development, connectivity, etc. will be another goal.
Assam has another unique problem. We have managed to manage our annual population growth around 1.6%, but if you go beyond the statistics, you will realize that the Muslim population is growing by almost 29%. The last two censuses showed that the growth is 29% while the Hindus are only growing at 10%. This means that poverty and illiteracy will increase among Muslims. We must therefore take certain measures to slow down the growth of the population. To do this, I think we need to multiply initiatives in the areas of health and education. So those will be pretty much my main goals.
Q. Tribal communities and tea gardens will be exempt from the two-child population policy. Doesn’t that defeat the whole purpose?
A: You should see our policy settings. First, we said there will be incentives including free education for girls in universities, financial inclusion of minority women, establishment of colleges and universities for women in areas minorities, reservation in panchayats, government jobs, etc. So these are political parameters. who will talk about incentives. But if you just focus on the incentives, I think any policy is doomed. Simply put, if you punish a criminal in a particular case, you should reward people who have done good things. In a society, you have to have an approach where the two work together.
Q Do you think the government should also work on the ground to control the Muslim population?
I am in constant contact with various leaders of Muslim society. Eradicating poverty and illiteracy requires an approach that comes from within the community. If we go from the outside and take measures, they will always be interpreted along political lines. But this is not a political question. It is simply about the well-being of our mothers, our sisters and the community. I will be meeting with the leaders of various Muslim organizations next month to create some sort of initiative or leadership within the community.
Q The tribes have a small population and exempting them from the population policy is understandable. But why exempt the tea garden community?
A: People belonging to the tea garden community are also tribes. If you look at their history, they are not constitutionally declared a tribal community within Assam, but they are Adivasis. They are Munda, Ghatowar, Kurmi, Tanti, etc. They are ST or SC in their home country but we could not grant them ST status in Assam for constitutional reasons. But when mentioned in the context of India, it is the Adivasis. So our policy is consistent. We have seen the tribal population decline in Assam.
Q. What is your vaccine roadmap?
A: Initially, there was a lot of hesitation about vaccines in Assam. It was mainly because we didn’t have any Covid cases until April 10th. There was a mindset among people that they are living in a post-Covid scenario. However, from May the demand for vaccines increased. We tried to meet the demand, but there was a constraint on the supply side. A few days ago, a member of Niti Aayog and the Union health secretary indicated that Assam should be ready to vaccinate 2.6 lakh people every day. They basically wanted to see our performance. So, on June 21, 22 and 23, we vaccinated a total of 10.5 lakh people. It shows our strength.
We have created model vaccination counters; our MNAs are working overtime; we have deployed technicians directly in the vaccination centers so that digital illiteracy does not interfere with vaccination. In addition, we incentivize our health professionals and motivators. I am fortunate that various social organizations and some political parties are taking steps to raise awareness about vaccination.
Q Do you address the issue of the drug threat at the CM level or at the interstate level with states such as Nagaland, Manipur and Mizoram since the smuggling originates from these states?
A: Every time we, the leaders of the Northeast, meet, we discuss this issue. We say we have to control it. However, I haven’t officially engaged in any discussions mainly because the (Union) Home Secretary is coming to Shillong in July. An agenda of discussions will be coordinated among the North Eastern states to bring the drug threat under control. Issues such as trafficking in women will also be addressed.
Q Addressing flooding and erosion was your survey engagement. Are you making efforts in this direction?
A: To solve the problem, you need a lot of money and technology. It also requires an institutional structure. We are working in this direction. Of course, we will be largely dependent on the central government. I’m sure support will be available.
Q Your campaign against encroachment is considered targeted to a particular community. Is it true ?
A: It looks like this from the outside. Who in the country will allow forest encroachment? There is an order passed every day by the Supreme Court or the High Courts to ensure that the forest cover of the country does not decrease. It is a national concern. I’m just acting according to national policy. It was only by chance that some of those expelled belonged to the minority religious community. We also expelled Hindus two days ago in Guwahati. So we are not targeting any community, but unfortunately the encroachment is higher on this (Muslim) side. To me, invaders are a class. As CM, my duty is to protect the forests. I don’t need to see what religion they are. There is unanimity on the political spectrum against the encroachment of the land of sacred places.
Q What is the status of the National Register of Citizens?
A: The NRC coordinator filed a petition with the Supreme Court asking for a review of the document. It is now entirely up to the court.
Q Do you think statehood in Kashmir will come soon?
A: I don’t follow Kashmir issues closely, but I’m glad the Prime Minister has started a political process. At the same time, I am also very happy that the leaders of Kashmir are talking with Delhi without setting the reinstatement of Article 370 as a precondition. We must pay tribute to the Prime Minister and the Minister of the Interior.
Q Is there progress in the decision to grant ST status to six communities in Assam?
A: This is a difficult question. It’s hard to talk about some things. The moment we give ST status to the tea garden community, our local tribes will start to oppose. I don’t want a clash between the communities. We need to approach the issue tactfully.
Q ULFA declared a three-month ceasefire following your appeal. Is a peace process with the insurgent group possible?
A: (ULFA military leader) Paresh Baruah wants Assam sovereignty talks and I have sworn to protect the sovereignty of the country. Nevertheless, there are people I know who have been in contact with the group to discuss substantive issues without insisting on sovereignty.